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Darwin's Illness$
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Ralph Colp Jr.

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780813032313

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813032313.001.0001

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The Beagle Illnesses

The Beagle Illnesses

(p.8) 2 The Beagle Illnesses
Darwin's Illness

Ralph Colp Jr. M.D.

University Press of Florida

On 29 August 1831, through the influence of Professor Henslow, Charles Darwin was offered the position of naturalist on the HMS Beagle, which was preparing to sail around the world. When the Beagle twice attempted to sail but was driven back by heavy gales, there was a delay of two months. During these months, Darwin suffered what he later rated as a “most miserable” illness, consisting of a mixture of fluctuating psychiatric and psychosomatic symptoms: a “wearisome anxiety”, “giddiness” and feeling “giddy & uncomfortable” in the head, “palpitations and pain about the heart”, along with the conviction that he had heart disease, and feelings of depression that caused him to regard the weather as “inexpressibly gloomy” and to feel disinclined to wash his hands or read a book. The causes for the illness were mental conflicts between his resolve to go on the voyage, despite “all hazards”, and his burgeoning realizations and apprehensions of its hardships and hazards. He was also attacked by several Triatoma infestans. He thought “the golden rule for saving time was taking care of the minutes”.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, Beagle, Professor Henslow, heart disease, depression, Triatoma infestans

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