A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life

chestnut

Missing home: I compare the stately mango trees with the horse-chestnuts of England

C. Darwin to Miss S. Darwin.

Bahia, Brazil, August 4, 1836

It has been almost painful to find how much good enthusiasm has been evaporated during the last four years. I can now walk soberly through a Brazilian forest; not but what it is exquisitely beautiful, but now, instead of seeking for splendid contrasts, I compare the stately mango trees with the horse-chestnuts of England. Although this zigzag has lost us at least a fortnight, in some respects I am glad of it. I think I shall be able to carry away one vivid picture of inter-tropical scenery. We go from hence to the Cape de Verds; that is, if the winds or the Equatorial calms will allow us. I have some faint hopes that a steady foul wind might induce the Captain to proceed direct to the Azores. For which most untoward event I heartily pray.

Both your letters were full of good news; especially the expressions which you tell me Professor Sedgwick used about my collections. I confess they are deeply gratifying – I trust one part at least will turn out true, and that I shall act as I now think – as a man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. Professor Sedgwick mentioning my name at all gives me hopes that he will assist me with his advice, of which, in my geological questions, I stand much in need. It is useless to tell you from the shameful state of this scribble that I am writing against time, having been out all morning, and now there are some strangers on board to whom I must go down and talk civility. Moreover, as this letter goes by a foreign ship, it is doubtful whether it will ever arrive. Farewell, my very dear Susan and all of you.

by Charles Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882)
Letter to his sister Susan
from Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume 1

Darwin: at sea on The Beagle, with his research

When Darwin wrote this letter in 1836, excited about his research but at the same time homesick and bored with being at sea, he was 23 long, busy years from publishing the famous Origin of the Species. Here, he’s finally on his way home, after sailing on The Beagle for five years. At this point, he’s not even sure this letter will reach his sister Susan, but he still writes it up and sends it off.

In the same situation, what would you do? It’s all fine and good to admire Darwin’s achievements in hindsight, but consider how you yourself would hold up in a similar situation. How would you keep yourself interested in your goals? Would you get distracted, sidetracked? Would you both write home and work towards the big picture?

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