The Voyage of the Beagle, 1836
In calling up images of the past, I find that the plains of Patagonia frequently cross before my eyes; yet these wretched plains are pronounced by all wretched and useless.
They can be described only by negative characters; without habitations, without water, without trees, without mountains, they merely support a few dwarf plants. Why then, and the case is not peculiar to myself, have these arid wastes taken so firm a hold on my memory? Why have not the still more level, the greener and more fertile Pampas, which are serviceable to mankind, produced an equal impression?
I can scarcely analyze these feelings: but it must be partly owing to the free scope given to the imagination.
The plains of Patagonia are boundless, for they are scarely passable, and hence unknown: they bear the stamp of having lasted, as they are now, for ages, and there seems no limit to their duration through future time. If, as the ancients supposed, the flat earth was surrounded by an impassable breadth of water, or by deserts heated to an intolerable excess, who would not look to these last boundaries to man's knowledge with deep but ill-defined sensations?