Ships Adventure and Beagle is essentially a scientific report. As such, it must be clear and factual, untainted by opinion or bias. One of the primary issues the writer of such a piece faces is how to organize the data when there is no obvious or necessary organizational pattern. Given the details Darwin is going to relate in the four paragraphs of this passage, he selects an order of size or magnitude, from largest or most general, to smallest and most specific. He is also extremely careful to link the details in each paragraph to at least imply a relationship between them and contribute a sense of cohesion to the passage.
The four categories of detail that Darwin explores are geology, climate, plant life, and animal life. He deals with them in an order of decreasing magnitude, from that which could be observed of all the islands immediately upon their approach, to that which Darwin found on only one island during a relatively intimate examination.
The essay begins with Darwin’s referencing “this archipelago.” The paragraph that follows is an overall description of the islands, details that could be observed without too close a study of any particular island—the location, geologic features, mineral makeup, and so on. The overall view opens the passage, begins to give the reader an impression of the odd and exotic place, but serves almost as a backdrop to the more detailed descriptions that follow.
Second in magnitude, what would be next noticeable without too intimate a knowledge of any particular island is the climate. Darwin’s description of the lowhanging clouds and the difference between the humid upper elevations and the arid lower ground does require a closer examination than does his observation of the craters, but it is still not the intimate view that will come with the descriptions of the plant and animal life in the final paragraphs.
Darwin’s description of the archipelago’s plant life begins with the expedition’s landing on a specific island: Chatham Island. The description of the flora, however, stays relatively general, mentioning “wretched-looking little weeds” and “brushwood.”
Even when Darwin mentions specific plant species, he does not talk about any specific plant.
Finally, however, Darwin provides an intimate look at the island, beginning with his revealing that he actually spent a night on the island, rather than on the ship. It is the morning after this night that Darwin encounters the two tortoises, both of whom indicate an awareness of him as well. Clearly, then, from the first paragraph’s overall account of the islands’ geophysical situation to an intimate encounter with two of the islands’ exotic inhabitants, Darwin has increasingly narrowed his focus and led his reader to a close-up view of this unearthly archipelago.
As an aid in achieving…