New graphic novels about Humboldt’s and Darwin’s travels

Humboldt & Darwin graphic novels

Two recent books take the world travels of two of the most important figures in the history of science and digest them into readable and visually appealing formats. As graphic novels, these books have the potential to reach audiences who would not necessarily pick up Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of America: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World or Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle.

Andrea Wulf and Lilian Melcher (illustrator), The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt (Pantheon, 2019), 272 pp. [Amazon|Powell’s|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound]

Publisher’s description Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, but his most revolutionary idea was a radical vision of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. His theories and ideas were profoundly influenced by a five-year exploration of South America. Now Andrea Wulf partners with artist Lillian Melcher to bring this daring expedition to life, complete with excerpts from Humboldt’s own diaries, atlases, and publications. She gives us an intimate portrait of the man who predicted human-induced climate change, fashioned poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and influenced iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, and John Muir. This gorgeous account of the expedition not only shows how Humboldt honed his groundbreaking understanding of the natural world but also illuminates the man and his passions.

Links: reviews from Nature, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus; an animation for the book; story on Science Friday (and excerpt)

Fabien Grolleau and Jérémie Royer (illustrator), Darwin: An Exceptional Voyage (Nobrow, 2019), 184 pp. [Amazon|Powell’s|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound]

Publisher’s description This sweeping, intelligent and immersive biographical graphic novel from award-winning creators, joins legendary scientist Charles Darwin as a young man, as he embarks on his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. ~ It is the year 1831. A gifted but distracted young man named Charles Darwin has been offered a place aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, in a chain of events that will change both his life and the course of modern science. Join him on an epic journey of thrilling discovery as he explores remote corners of the natural world and pieces together the very beginnings of his revolutionary theory of evolution.

Links: review from Multiversity Comics; excerpt from The Comics Journal

BOOK: Darwin: The Man, His Great Voyage, and His Theory of Evolution

In 2011 I reviewed the The Darwin Experience: The Story of the Man and His Theory
of Evolution by John van Wyhe (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Press, 2008) for the Reports of the National Center for Science Education (PDF), calling the book a “wonderful window into the life and work of Charles Darwin, suitable for newcomers to the topic as well as those already familiar because of its display-like presentation and the illustrations and facsimile documents.” It was a large format book and came in a sleeve, its 64 pages and removable documents meant to be touched and poured over in a different manner than just reading a traditional book. While I still enjoy occasionally perusing that book, I am finding the newly published version for the Natural History Museum in London – Darwin: The Man, His Great Voyage, and His Theory of Evolution (London: Carlton/André Deutsch, 2018, 160 pp.) – to be a more rewarding reading experience.

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While van Wyhe’s text is the same, I find the the new publisher’s presentation of images and documents to be more pleasant. The scans of the primary documents are placed on the pages, and are reproduced much better than those of the first version of the book. I highly recommend this new version for Darwin aficionados, and it would have been the perfect book for me when I first became interested in Darwin as a teenager.* Here are a few photos from inside the book:

* If I recall correctly, the first book I read about Darwin (around 1995), was Roy Gallant’s Charles Darwin: The Making of a Scientist (1972), because this was available in my high school library.

 

 

BOOK: Buckets from an English Sea: 1832 and the Making of Charles Darwin

Here’s a new Darwin title that takes a very focused view on his life, just a single year…

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Louis B. Rosenblatt, Buckets from an English Sea: 1832 and the Making of Charles Darwin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 216 pp.

Order through Powell’s City of BooksOrder through Amazon.com

Publisher’s description Darwin did not discover evolution. He didn’t trip over it on the way to somewhere else the way Columbus discovered the New World. Like the atom, planetary orbits, and so many other scientific constructs, evolution was invented in order to explain striking phenomena. And it has been most successful. A century and a half has not simply confirmed Darwin’s work, it has linked evolution to the mechanisms of life on the molecular scale. It is what life does. Where Darwin had drawn his theories from forest and field, we now set them in the coiling and uncoiling of twists of DNA, linking where they might, with a host of molecular bits and pieces scurrying about. Darwin, himself, however, has been a closed story. A century and a half of study of the man and his work, including close readings of his books, his notebooks and letters, and even the books he read, has led to a working appreciation of his genius. The ‘success’ of this account has, however, kept us from seeing several important issues: most notably, why did he pursue evolution in the first place? Buckets from an English Sea offers a new view of what inspired Darwin and provoked his work. Stunning events early in the voyage of the Beagle challenged his deeply held conviction that people are innately good. This study of 1832 highlights the resources available to the young Darwin as he worked to secure humanity’s innate goodness.

BOOK: Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure

I always love a new children’s book about Darwin. This new one following Darwin on the HMS Beagle voyage and his land excursions is no exception.

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Jennifer Thermes, Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure (New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016), 48 pp.

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Publisher’s description In 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his first voyage. Though he was a scientist by profession, he was an explorer at heart. While journeying around South America for the first time aboard a ninety-foot-long ship named the Beagle, Charles collected insets, dug up bones, galloped with gauchos, encountered volcanoes and earthquakes, and even ate armadillo for breakfast! The discoveries he made during this adventure would later inspire ideas that changed how we see the world. Complete with mesmerizing map work that charts Darwin’s thrilling five-year voyage, as well as “Fun Facts” and more, Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure captures the beauty and mystery of nature with wide-eyed wonder.

This book show beautifully the extent to which Darwin traveled, and the maps are detailed and charming. I can imagine the idea of traveling around the world for years could be a difficult thing for young kids to get their minds around – Jennifer Thermes provides a fun and informative account.

Enjoy these images from Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure:

BOOK: Darwin’s First Theory: Exploring Darwin’s Quest to Find a Theory of the Earth

This new book about Darwin will surely interest those who appreciate his work in geology, can’t get enough of the Beagle voyage, or like to follow along a current geologist as he travels in the footsteps of Darwin in South America.

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Rob Wesson, Darwin’s First Theory: Exploring Darwin’s Quest to Find a Theory of the Earth (New York: Pegasus Books, 2017), 384 pp. 

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Publisher’s description Everybody knows—or thinks they know—Charles Darwin, the father of evolution and the man who altered the way we view our place in the world. But what most people do not know is that Darwin was on board the HMS Beagle as a geologist—on a mission to examine the land, not flora and fauna. Retracing Darwin’s footsteps in South America and beyond, geologist Rob Wesson treks across the Andes, cruises waters charted by the Beagle, hunts for fossils in Uruguay and Argentina, and explores sites of long vanished glaciers in Scotland and Wales. As he follows Darwin’s path—literally and intellectually—Wesson experiences the land as Darwin did, engages with his observations, and tackles the same questions Darwin had about our ever-changing Earth. Upon his return from his five-year journey aboard the Beagle, after examining the effects of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and more, Darwin conceived his theory of subsidence and uplift‚—his first theory. These concepts and attitudes—the vastness of time; the enormous cumulative impact of almost imperceptibly slow change; change as a constant feature of the environment—underlie Darwin’s subsequent discoveries in evolution. And this peculiar way of thinking remains vitally important today as we enter the human-dominated Anthropocene age. Expertly interweaving science and adventure, Darwin’s First Theory is a riveting and revelatory journey around the world with one of the greatest scientific minds in history.

Brief reviews of Darwin’s First Theory from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Nature.

ARTICLE: Darwin the geologist in southern South America

New in Earth Sciences History:

Darwin the geologist in southern South America

Robert H. Dott, Jr. and Ian W. D. Dalziel

Abstract Charles Darwin was a reputable geologist before he achieved biological fame. Most of his geological research was accomplished in southern South America during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1831–1836). Afterward he published four books and several articles about geology and coral atolls and became active in the Geological Society of London. We have followed Darwin’s footsteps during our own researches and have been very impressed with his keen observations and inferences. He made some mistakes, however, such as appealing to iceberg rafting to explain erratic boulders and to inundations of the sea to carve valleys. Darwin prepared an important hand-colored geological map of southern South America, which for unknown reasons he did not publish. The distributions of seven map units are shown. These were described in his books wherein he also documented multiple elevated marine terraces on both coasts of South America. While exploring the Andean Cordillera in central Chile and Argentina, he discovered two fossil forests. Darwin developed a tectonic theory involving vertical uplift of the entire continent, which was greatest in the Andes where magma leaked up from a hypothetical subterranean sea of magma to form volcanoes and earthquakes. The theory had little impact and was soon eclipsed by theories involving lateral compression of strata. His and other contemporary theories suffered from a lack of knowledge about the earth’s interior. Finally with modern plate tectonic theory involving intense lateral compression across the Andean Cordillera we can explain satisfactorily the geology so carefully documented by Darwin.

BOOK REVIEW: Tiny Thinkers: Charlie and the Tortoise

The first title in a new book series for kids called Tiny Thinkers – where real life scientists are depicted as kids – is about Charles Darwin.

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In Tiny Thinkers: Charlie and the Tortoise (Garland, TX: Secular Media Group, 2015, 40 pp.), written by M.J. Mouton and illustrated by Jezreel S. Cuevas, a Beagle named Hitch (perhaps a reference to atheist Christoper Hitchens, given the name of the publisher) accompanies a young Darwin on his famous voyage around the world. They land in the Galapagos Islands, and Darwin of course loves all the plants and animals there are to study. The illustrations are cute and the text given in rhyming form.

Charlie and the Tortoise unfortunately continues the notion that Darwin recognized a group of birds with varying beak sizes and shapes and eating habits as all different species of finches. He did not know they were all finches until an ornithologist in London examined specimens following the Beagle‘s return. Also, another group of birds were more instrumental in his thinking about variation and adaptation, the archipelago’s mockingbirds. Scientific myths remain hard to abandon. (See Frank Sulloway’s 1982 paper on Darwin’s finches and this essay from John van Wyhe.) As an historian of science, such details are important. I am not sure if this new book series has any history consultants. If not, they should. Not only should science books for kids get the science right, they should get the history right, too. I do give credit to the author, however, for not writing that Darwin had a Eureka moment about evolution on the Galapagos – that’s what usually follows his apparent observation of the different species of finches.

BOOK: The Voyage of the Beagle: The Illustrated Edition of Charles Darwin’s Travel Memoir and Field Journal

This is a nicely-produced, coffee table-style book:

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Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle: The Illustrated Edition of Charles Darwin’s Travel Memoir and Field Journal (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2015), 480 pp.

Publisher’s description The Voyage of the Beagle is Darwin’s fascinating account of his groundbreaking sea voyage that led to his writing On the Origin of Species. When the HMS Beagle sailed out of Devonport on December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin was only twenty-two and setting off on the voyage of a lifetime. His journal reveals him to be a naturalist making patient observations concerning geology and natural history as well as people, places, and events. He witnessed and visited volcanoes in the Galapagos, saw the Gossamer spider of Patagonia, sailed through the Australasian coral reefs, and recorded the brilliance of the firefly–these recollections are found in these extraordinary writings. The insights made on the five-year voyage set in motion the intellectual currents that led to the most controversial book of the Victorian age: On the Origin of Species. An introduction on the background to Darwin’s work, as well as notes, maps, appendices, and an essay on scientific geology and the Bible by Robert FitzRoy, Darwin’s friend and captain of the Beagle, provide context for this incredible story. This volume is the first fully illustrated edition of Darwin’s journal and includes excerpts of On the Origin of Species so the reader can connect the author’s journey with his discovery that made him famous.

Do note that this edition is abridged from Darwin’s second edition of 1845 (the first was published in 1839).

Darwin Day lecture in Portland

I hope to be able to attend this OMSI Science Pub lecture on February 16th:

Why Was Darwin on the HMS Beagle? The History of Evolution as World History
with Richard H. Beyler, PhD, Professor of History at Portland State University​

February 16, 7pm
Located at: Empirical Theater at OMSI
Doors Open @ 5PM | $5 Suggested Donation

HMS Beagle is famous today as the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed around the world in the years 1831 to 1836. This voyage sparked many of the ideas that led to his theory of evolution though natural selection. Yet the voyage of this British navy vessel was not planned in order to ferry this young naturalist across the oceans: his presence on board was almost a coincidence. This presentation is about how the story of Darwin’s early development as a naturalist intersects with the history of international politics, naval strategy, imperial expansion, global trade, and anti-slavery activism.

Richard Beyler is a professor of history at Portland State University, where he teaches history of science and intellectual history.

Dinner will be available in our restaurant, Theory, or from the Empirical Café. Guests can check-in at the theater entrance to reserve a seat before grabbing dinner and drinks. Food and drink are welcome in the theater. Parking is free for the event. Doors open at 5pm.

Disney to do Darwin

Disney has green-lighted a film about Charles Darwin, which will look at his years aboard HMS Beagle. The only information given so far is that the film will be an adventure, a la Indiana Jones, with a script and direction by Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana).

Variety: Charles Darwin Movie in the Works at Disney

Guardian: The dangers of Disney’s film about Charles Darwin

Guardian: Glenn Beck planning boycott of Charles Darwin movie

HMS Beagle to set sail for LEGO – only with your help!

Luis Peña has designed a LEGO set for HMS Beagle, complete with Charles Darwin and Captain Fitzroy minifigs, among others. He posted it to the LEGO Ideas website, in which set suggestions receive support and if they reach 10,000 supporters within a year of being posted, LEGO will consider making the set a reality.

I supported this set, and hope you will too. It’s necessary to create an account on the site in order to cast your support, but it’s quick and easy, and worth it, don’t you think?

Here are some images from Luis:

“CW Prepping Charles Darwin Drama,” perfect opportunity for a Darwin facepalm

From The Hollywood Reporter:

CW Prepping Charles Darwin Drama, CBS Readying Gothic Horror Show

Hot writer Adam Karp is prepping two big-swing dramas for The CW and CBS. First, Karp — who won the 2012 Humanitas Prize’s New Voices Award — is readying Unnatural Selection, a drama set to explore Charles Darwin and Captain Robert FitzRoy’s journey through the Amazon.

The CW has handed out a script commitment for the drama that focuses on a 21-year-old Darwin, and his childhood friend Capt. Fitzroy’s journey through the Amazon to return the woman they both love to her native home. During the journey, they encounter a land ripe with political conflict, mysterious creatures, mythical cities and dangerous foes beyond their wildest imagination. The drama is based on Darwin and FitzRoy’s five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, which established the former ahead of his Origin of the Species.

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GUEST POST: Charles Darwin Infographic: The Voyage of the Beagle

This guest post comes from the life insurance company Beagle Street:

Charles Darwin Infographic: The Voyage of the Beagle

From the legendary Voyage of the Beagle to bringing us the On the Origin of Species, it goes without saying that Charles Darwin spent his life exploring and doing the things that he loved most. At Beagle Street, we believe that everybody should be doing more of the things that we love and so we thought we’d turn to the legendary Charles Darwin for a little inspiration, as we believe that there’s nobody who embodies that sentiment more.

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So, we’ve put together an interactive infographic charting Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle. The infographic tells the incredible story of an adventure that started in Plymouth in 1831 and by 1836 had taken Darwin all over the world.

View the full infographic here.

The infographic is a great introduction to Darwin and features lots of interesting facts and details about the famous trip, charting some of his more noteworthy experiences. Scroll down and follow the HMS Beagle on the historic journey that would offer Darwin the opportunity of a lifetime and lead him to write one of the most influential books of all time.

Darwin’s Beagle library now online

Darwin Online has made available digitizations of around 400 books comprising Darwin’s library that he had aboard the HMS Beagle. Says historian John van Wyhe, who oversaw the project: ““Darwin lived and worked in the Beagle library for five years. The library reveals the sources and inspirations that Darwin read day after day as he swung in his hammock during long sea crossings, or as he worked on his specimens at the chart table or under the microscope. For a long time this was lost to us, but the online library provides an unprecedented insight into the journey that changed science and our understanding of the world.”

Read an introduction, the list of books in the library, and see illustrations from the works.

ARTICLE: Why Charles Darwin really was the naturalist on HMS Beagle

Online first from Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

“My appointment received the sanction of the Admiralty”: Why Charles Darwin really was the naturalist on HMS Beagle

John van Wyhe

Abstract For decades historians of science and science writers in general have maintained that Charles Darwin was not the ‘naturalist’ or ‘official naturalist’ during the 1831–1836 surveying voyage of HMS Beagle but instead Captain Robert FitzRoy’s ‘companion’, ‘gentleman companion’ or ‘dining companion’. That is, Darwin was primarily the captain’s social companion and only secondarily and unofficially naturalist. Instead, it is usually maintained, the ship’s surgeon Robert McCormick was the official naturalist because this was the default or official practice at the time. Although these views have been repeated in countless accounts of Darwin’s life, this essay aims to show that they are incorrect.

BOOK: Charles Darwin’s Notebooks from the Voyage of the ‘Beagle’

Large jacket version

Charles Darwin’s Notebooks from the Voyage of the Beagle, edited by Gordon Chancellor and John van Wyhe (Cambridge: Cambirdge University Press, 2009), 650 pp.

This is the first full edition of the notebooks used by Darwin during his epic voyage in the Beagle. It contains transcriptions of all fifteen notebooks, which now survive as some of the most precious documents in the history of science. The notebooks record the entire range of Darwin’s interests and activities during the Beagle journey, with observations on geology, zoology, botany, ecology, barometer and thermometer readings, ethnography, anthropology, archaeology and linguistics, along with maps, drawings, financial records, shopping lists, reading notes, essays and personal diary entries. Some of Darwin’s critical discoveries and experiences, made famous through his own publications, are recorded in their most immediate form in the notebooks, and published here for the first time. The notebook texts are accompanied by full editorial apparatus and introductions explaining Darwin’s actions at each stage, focusing on discoveries that were pivotal to convincing him that life on Earth had evolved.

BOOK: Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World

Darwin in Galápagos: Footsteps to a New World, K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 362 pp.

In 1835, during his voyage on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin spent several weeks in Galápagos exploring the islands and making extensive notes on their natural history. Darwin in Galápagos is the first book to recreate Darwin’s historic visit to the islands, following in his footsteps day by day and island by island as he records all that he observes around him.

Thalia Grant and Gregory Estes meticulously retrace Darwin’s island expeditions, taking you on an unforgettable guided tour. Drawing from Darwin’s original notebooks and logs from the Beagle, the latest findings by Darwin scholars and modern science, and their own intimate knowledge of the archipelago, Grant and Estes offer rare insights into Darwin’s thinking about evolution in the context of the actual locales that inspired him. They introduce Darwin as a young naturalist in England and onboard the Beagle and then put you in his shoes as he explores remote places in the islands. They identify the unique animals and plants he observed and collected, and describe dramatic changes to the islands since Darwin’s time. They also explore the importance of Darwin’s observations and collections to the development of his thinking after the voyage.

Ideal for visitors to Galápagos and a delight for armchair travelers, Darwin in Galápagos is generously illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs and line drawings, as well as detailed maps of Darwin’s island itinerary and informative box features on the archipelago’s natural history.

ARTICLE: A Yahgan for the killing: murder, memory and Charles Darwin

A new Darwin article from the British Journal for the History of Science:

A Yahgan for the killing: murder, memory and Charles Darwin

Joseph L. Yannielli

Abstract In March 1742, British naval officer John Byron witnessed a murder on the western coast of South America. Both Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy seized upon Byron’s story a century later, and it continues to play an important role in Darwin scholarship today. This essay investigates the veracity of the murder, its appropriation by various authors, and its false association with the Yahgan people encountered during the second voyage of the Beagle (1831–1836). Darwin’s use of the story is examined in multiple contexts, focusing on his relationship with the history of European expansion and cross-cultural interaction and related assumptions about slavery and race. The continuing fascination with Byron’s story highlights the key role of historical memory in the development and interpretation of evolutionary theory.

BSHS Monograph on Robert McCormick

BSHS Monographs volume 14

From the BSHS:

Steel, Emily. 2011. He is no loss: Robert McCormick and the voyage of HMS Beagle (London: British Society for the History of Science), 74 pages.

ISBN: 978-0-906450-18-5

This volume will be published 15 July 2011.

Who was the naturalist on HMS Beagle?

Robert McCormick (1800-1890) was ship’s surgeon and naturalist for the first four months of the second voyage of HMS Beagle, 1831-1836. In April 1832 he left the ship. McCormick was furious that, for all intents and purposes, a civilian passenger on board had usurped his rightful position as ship’s naturalist and confidant to the captain. That passenger, of course, was Charles Darwin.

This volume examines McCormick’s activities on HMS Beagle, his participation in the natural history of the voyage, and his relationships with both Darwin and FitzRoy. McCormick’s grudge stewed. Of his many exploits, service on the Beagle was all but omitted from his autobiographical writing. At the heart of this monograph is a conundrum: why did McCormick write himself out of, arguably, one of the most celebrated expeditions of the nineteenth century?

This study of McCormick is accompanied by previously untapped source material related to the Beagle voyage. The volume provides a transcription of McCormick’s Beagle journal from the time he arrived onboard in the summer of 1831 (while the ship was in harbour at Plymouth), through his departure from the ship at Rio de Janeiro in April 1832, and during his return voyage to England later that same year. This diary has not been published previously. McCormick’s activities on HMS Beagle are fascinating in comparison with Darwin’s notes, diary and later publications. They nicely illustrate an approach to natural history alternative to Darwin’s, and they offer a case study of excision’s impact on historical memory.

“Captured by C. Darwin, Esq”

Darwin's Room, Christ's College, University of Cambridge

Darwin's Room, Christ's College, University of Cambridge

Darwin, from his autobiography, on beetles:

But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one. [MB: for this passage using the names of the species he lost, go here]

I was very successful in collecting and invented two new methods; I employed a labourer to scrape during the winter, moss off old trees and place [it] in a large bag, and likewise to collect the rubbish at the bottom of the barges in which reeds are brought from the fens, and thus I got some very rare species. No poet ever felt more delight at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephen’s Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.” I was introduced to entomology by my second cousin, W. Darwin Fox, a clever and most pleasant man, who was then at Christ’s College, and with whom I became extremely intimate. Afterwards I became well acquainted with and went out collecting, with Albert Way of Trinity, who in after years became a well-known archæologist; also with H. Thompson, of the same College, afterwards a leading agriculturist, chairman of a great Railway, and Member of Parliament. It seems therefore that a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life!

I am surprised what an indelible impression many of the beetles which I caught at Cambridge have left on my mind. I can remember the exact appearance of certain posts, old trees and banks where I made a good capture. The pretty Panagæus crux-major was a treasure in those days, and here at Down I saw a beetle running across a walk, and on picking it up instantly perceived that it differed slightly from P. crux-major, and it turned out to be P. quadripunctatus, which is only a variety or closely allied species, differing from it very slightly in outline. I had never seen in those old days Licinus alive, which to an uneducated eye hardly differs from many other black Carabidous beetles; but my sons found here a specimen and I instantly recognised that it was new to me; yet I had not looked at a British beetle for the last twenty years.

The words “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.” did not really appear as such, for Darwin was probably summarizing his many mentions in Stephen’s work. Much information about Darwin and his early beetle-collecting is available at Darwin Online, including the 1987 monograph “Darwin’s insects: Charles Darwin’s entomological notes, with an introduction and comments by Kenneth G. V. Smith.”

Beetles, Finches and Barnacles, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Beetles, Finches and Barnacles, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

The above passage reflects Darwin’s passion for insects, and for the thrill of discovery – outside, in nature. Following his time at Cambridge was of course his time on and off HMS Beagle, followed by work in London to organize and research his collections from the voyage. Once he got heavy into his transmutation ideas, Darwin focused on collecting facts and writing, writing, writing in notebooks. In 1846, he turned to a study of barnacles, for several reasons: he felt he needed to cement his status as a naturalist, and he felt that a taxonimc study of a group of marine invertebrates would give insight to his developing transmutation theory. He thought the study would take him a year. Barnacles became such a part of not only Darwin’s life, but his family’s as well that, according to Darwin’s son Francis, one of the children once inquired of a friend, about his father, when visiting their home, “Then where does he do his barnacles?” Darwin expressed in letters to his botanist friend Joseph Dalton Hooker that he saw no end to this work, “but do not flatter yourself that I shall not yet live, to finish the Barnacles & then make a fool of myself on the subject of Species.” In the end, the barnacle work took him eight years, and produced 4 volumes, which resulting in his being awarded the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. Done with barnacles, Darwin was surely tired of sitting at a table peering through a microscope. He reflected in his autobiography:

My work on the Cirripedia possesses, I think, considerable value, as besides describing several new and remarkable forms, I made out the homologies of the various parts—I discovered the cementing apparatus, though I blundered dreadfully about the cement glands—and lastly I proved the existence in certain genera of minute males complemental to and parasitic on the hermaphrodites. This latter discovery has at last been fully confirmed; though at one time a German writer was pleased to attribute the whole account to my fertile imagination. The Cirripedes form a highly varying and difficult group of species to class; and my work was of considerable use to me, when I had to discuss in the Origin of Species the principles of a natural classification. Nevertheless, I doubt whether the work was worth the consumption of so much time.

Darwin then in September 1854 moved on “to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, and experimenting, in relation to the transmutation of species.” One such series of experiments were on the germination ability of various seeds after their immersion of saltwater, for Darwin desired to know how plants could disperse across oceans to islands. Like the barnacles, this work was also crucial for On the Origin of Species, in the chapters on geographical distribution. Studying seeds in 1855, however, was no more exciting for Darwin than barnacles. He complained in a letter to his cousin Fox: “Seeds will sink in salt-water – all of nature is perverse & will not do as I wish it, & just at present I wish I had the old Barnacles to work at & nothing new.” To Hooker he called them “horrid seeds” and “ungrateful rascals.” Darwin tired of the whole process. “Thanks, also, for your little note with all the terrible wishes about the seeds,” he wrote to a skeptical Hooker, “in which I almost join for I begin to think they are immortal & that the seed job will be another Barnacle job.” Again, Darwin’s work became a family affair, for the children asked their father if he “should beat Dr. Hooker?!!”

Darwin worked tirelessly in his home outside of London. Down House became a “country house” laboratory for his scientific endeavors, and he utilized many areas of the house and its grounds for his experiments. Yet while he worked away on his “one long argument,” all he really wanted to do was get outside. To the entomologist John Lubbock, also Darwin’s neighbor, he wrote in 1854:

I do not know whether you care about Beetles, but for the chance I send this in a Bottle, which, I never remember having seen, though it is excessively rash to speak from a 26 year old remembrance. Whenever we meet you can tell me whether you know it.—

… I feel like an old war-horse at the sound of the trumpet, when I read about the capturing of rare beetles— is not this a magnanimous simile for a decayed entomologist. It really almost makes me long to begin collecting again.

Darwin’s move to Downe marked an event in his life that had lasting influence. This transition in physical location mirrors the transition, although in an opposite direction, of his work from stationary barnacles to mobile seeds. Darwin biographers Adrian Desmond and James Moore suggested in Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (1992, p. 232) that thinking about transoceanic dispersal in the seed experiments allowed a solitary and confined Darwin to travel once more. “Thinking about blue seas took him back to the voyage,” they wrote. “During those years island-hopping himself, he would have given his right arm to be home. Now he was dreaming himself back to the sea again.” We return to Carson’s passage about dispersal in The Sea Around Us, and we can envision Darwin imaging himself as one of those plants “drifting on the currents” or an animal “rafting in on logs.” It seems daydreams sailing upon seeds were not enough to satiate a shut-in naturalist.

Caricature of Darwin by fellow beetle collecter Albert Way (from the Darwin Correspondence Project website: By permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library. Copyright CUL)

Darwin continued to reminisce about beetle-collecting. To Charles Lyell’s sister-in-law, Katharine, Darwin wrote in 1856: “With respect to giving your children a taste for Natural History, I will venture one remark, viz that giving them specimens, in my opinion, would tend to destroy such taste. Youngsters must be themselves collectors to acquire a taste; & if I had a collection of English Lepidoptera, I would be systematically most miserly & not give my Boys half-a-dozen butterflies in the year. Your eldest Boy has the brow of an observer, if there be the least truth in phrenology.” If he could not go back to collecting, he surely encouraged others to. In 1858, he shared with Fox, “I am reminded of old days by my third Boy having just begun collecting Beetles, & he caught the other day Brachinus crepitans of immotal Whittlesea-mere memory.— My blood boiled with old ardour, when he caught a Licinus,—a prize unknown to me.” To his caricaturist Way, in 1860: “It is a very long time since we met.— Eheu Eheu, the old Crux Major days are long past. I sincerely hope that you are well in health.” And finally, in 1862 Darwin wrote to Fox: “About two years ago I stumbled at Down on a Panagæus crux major: how it brought back to my mind Cambridge days! You did me a great service in making me an entomologist: I really hardly know anything in this life that I have more enjoyed that our beetle-hunting expeditions; Prince Albert told Lyell, that he looked back with more pleasure to collecting insects, than he had ever found in stag-shooting.”

Texas Trip Day 2

So happy that my son is curious and willing to pick things up!

Christmas on HMS Beagle

hms beagle off the galapagos by john chancellor

HMS Beagle off the Galapagos, by John Chancellor

Charles Darwin spent Christmas day of 1831 in Devonport awaiting favourable weather for the departure of HMS Beagle. Darwin wrote in his diary for the voyage:

Christmas day is one of great importance to the men: the whole of it has been given up to revelry, at present there is not a sober man in the ship: King is obliged to perform duty of sentry, the last one sentinel came staggering below declaring he would no longer stand sentinel on duty, whereupon he is now in irons getting sober as fast as he can. — Wherever they may be, they claim Christmas day for themselves, & this they exclusively give up to drunkedness — that sole & never failing pleasure to which a sailor always looks forward to. —

The very next day, he recorded:

My thoughts most unpleasantly occupied with the flogging of several men for offences brought on by the indulgence granted them on Christmas day. —

For 1832, in Tierra del Fuego:

This being Christmas day, all duty is suspended, the seamen look forward to it as a great gala day; & from this reason we remained at anchor. —

1833, Port Desire:

Christmas After dining in the Gun-room, the officers & almost every man in the ship went on shore. — The Captain distributed prizes to the best runners, leapers, wrestlers. — These Olympic games were very amusing; it was quite delightful to see with what school-boy eagerness the seamen enjoyed them: old men with long beards & young men without any were playing like so many children. — certainly a much better way of passing Christmas day than the usual one, of every seaman getting as drunk as he possibly can. —

1834, Chonos. Arch: & Tres Montes:

Our Christmas day was not such a merry one as we had last year at Port Desire. — Between 30 & 40 miles of coast was surveyed & in the afternoon we found an excellent harbor. — Directly after anchoring we saw a man waving a shirt. A boat was sent & brought two men off. — They turned out to be N. American seamen, who from bad treatment had run away from their vessel when 70 miles from the land.

1835, New Zealand:

Christmas day. — In a few more days the fourth year of our absence from England will be completed. Our first Christmas day was spent at Plymouth; the second at St Martins Cove near Cape Horn; the third at Port Desire in Patagonia; the fourth at anchor in the peninsula of Cape Tres Montes; this fifth here, & the next I trust in Providence again in England. —

We attended Divine Service at P in the Chapel of Pahia; part of the Service was read in English & part in the New Zealand language.

For Christmas of 1836, Darwin had already returned to England. I’ll note that of all these recordings about Christmas while on the voyage, only the last one (“the fourth year of our abscence”) was included in the published Journal and remarks. 1832-1836, later retitled Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, or, as it is generally known day, The Voyage of the Beagle. Perhaps references to the men aboard the Beagle getting drunk were kept out on purpose. In fact, any reference to drunkedness concerned the people, indigenous or otherwise, of areas Darwin traveled to. Would it be ungentleman-like of Darwin to share with his readers that British men got drunk and stupid?

That said (or asked), check out this phylogenetic Christmas tree Darwin sketched the year following his return to England:

Actually, credit goes to Allison Banks (Update 12/21/12: this no longer appears on her website).

Happy Holidays!

Some links…

Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs: Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Gishosaurs

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution wins the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize

VIDEO – The Poetry of Science: Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Sandwalk: Dispatches from the Evolution Wars

Sandwalk: The National Science Foundation Version of “Understanding Evolution”

Galapagos Live: Introducing Galapagos 2.0 & The Beagle Project Blog: In Galapagos!

The Red Notebook: People want to see the Beagle

Two interviews with Laelaps’ Brian Switek, author of the soon-to-be-released Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

Clips from the new documentary First Life from David Attenborough, plus:

History of geology: Dragons and Geology

BBC Audio Slideshow: Jurassic woman (Mary Anning)

History of Science Centre’s blog: A note on transactions and Ubi Crookes Ibi Lux

The Bubble Chamber: Can History and Philosophy of Science be Applied in Socially Relevant Ways? and Planet Earth through Disney’s Lens

From the Hands of Quacks: For the Maker of the Stars: The Cultural Reception of Print

Whewell’s Ghost: Mr. X

History of science blog: Evocative objects

Darwin and Gender: The Blog: The Reluctant Bride Groom?

Darwin Correspondence Project: Alison Pearn to discuss ‘Darwin’s Women’ at Wesleyan University

Charlie’s Playhouse blog: Irresistible contest entry

Natural History @ 100: The Smithsonian/Roosevelt African Expedition 1909-1910

Ptak Science Books: Phantom in the Opera: Questions about Darwin and Einstein and Music

Robert Kohler reviews Steven Shapin’s Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority for Science

Melanie Keene reviews Peter Bowler’s Science for All: The Popularization of Science in Early Twentieth-Century Britain in Centaurus

Darwin and the Galapagos covered in PCAS supplement

The following articles can be downloaded as PDFs here:

PROCEEDINGS OF THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, SERIES 4, V61, SUPPLEMENT II

15 September 2010

MICHAEL T. GHISELIN and ALAN E. LEVITON. Acknowledgements

1 MICHAEL T. GHISELIN. Introduction. 1-3
2 ALAN E. LEVITON and MICHELE L. ALDRICH. Dedication: Irvin Bowman (1925-2006) Remembered. 5 figs. 5-12
3 JERE H. LIPPS. Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle: Besides Galapagos. 15 figs. 13-36
4 EDWARD J. LARSON. The Natural History of Hell: The Galapagos Before Darwin. 4 figs. 37-44
5 SANDRA HERBERT. “A Universal Collector”: Charles Darwin’s Extraction of Meaning from his Galapagos Experience. 6 figs., 1 table 45-68
6 SALLY A GIBSON. Darwin the Geologist in Galapagos: An Early Insight into Sub-volcanic Magmatic Processes. 11 figs., 3 tables 69-88
7 JONATHAN HODGE. Darwin, the Galapagos, and his Changing Thoughts About Species Origins: 1935-1837. 89-106
8 MICHAEL T. GHISELIN. Going Public on the Galapagos: Reading Darwin Between the Lines. 2 [12] figs. 107-116
9 DUNCAN M. PORTER. Darwin: The Botanist on the Beagle. 20 figs. 117-156
10 ROBERT VAN SYOC. Darwin, Barnacles and the Galapagos: A View Through a 21st Century Lens. 8 figs. 157-166
11 JOHN E. MCCOSKER and RICHARD H. ROSENBLATT. The Fishes of the Galapagos Archipelago: An Update. 16 figs., Appendix 167-195
12 MATTHEW J. JAMES. Collecting Evolution: The Vindication of Charles Darwin by the 1905-06 Galapagos Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences. 3 figs. 197-210
13 JOHN P. DUMBACHER and BARBARA WEST. Collecting Galapagos and the Pacific: How Rollo Howard Beck Shaped Our Understanding of Evolution. 19 figs., 1 table 211-243
14 PETER R. GRANT and B. ROSEMARY GRANT. Natural Selection, Speciation and Darwin’s Finches. 11 figs., Appendices

Thanks to Matthew James to pointing me to this publication!

Skinny Marinky Linky Links

National Library of Australia: Books and their owners: a tiny link with the past:

Joseph Dalton Hooker (who features in Creation) was most certainly not a beetle-collecting vicar, but a distinguished scientist in his own right. A tiny link with him surfaced in the NLA collections recently. Hooker was Darwin’s lifelong friend and confidant, and encouraged him to publish his Origin of Species. Hooker himself had a fascinating life, travelling on scientific expeditions to the Antarctic, the Himalayas, India, the Middle East and the US western states. He became director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, writing and publishing until well into his 90s. He died in 1911 at the age 0f 94.

petri dish: a child’s-eye view of charles darwin:

This isn’t a perspective on the history of science with which I’m particularly comfortable, as it draws a veil over the hard work of how scientific knowledge emerges, is debated, and then rendered authoritative in a dynamic interplay along many dimensions. And it does, again, tend to make for a “safe” presentation of Darwin and science, rehabilitating him, perhaps, from invidious perspectives that have convinced many that the word “Darwin” is synonymous with hidden agendas that aim to hijack scientific thought for the purpose of destroying faith in God on dishonest pretenses. A depiction of a robust and engagingly curious young Charles who is almost a blank slate, aside from his fondness for be[e]tles — indeed, who is an orthodox believer at the start of the voyage — as an alert conduit for Nature’s empirical truth is hard to square with a vision of a sinister and conniving Darwin out to dupe the devout as the devil’s chaplain. There’s an undertone of scientific apotheosis that I’m not eager to pass along with lessons on evolution if that’s what comes along with a child’s-eye view of Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s Intergalactic Adventure:

Guardian Science Blog: The Beagle, the astronaut and a party in Brazil put the awe back into science:

“Space stations, square riggers and marine biology: science does not get more exciting than this, and we need to get the inquiring young minds of today excited by science,” Barratt said. “The ISS circling the world while a scientific square rigger with Beagle’s pedigree rounds Cape Horn, making new discoveries at sea and on land, streaming footage back to labs and classrooms will be a great way to welcome young minds into the excitement and adventure of science.”

Darwin would have been proud.

Chronicle Herald: Thomas creates wonderful world, characters in pre-Darwin Britain:

One of Thomas’s greatest strengths in the novel is her ability to make us see the world from the eyes of people who do not know the concept of evolution — Anning’s astounding fossil finds were made years before Darwin’s ideas were published. The ideas of intellectuals and peasants alike were contained within a framework of theology and limited science. It was not until 12 years after Anning’s premature death, at the age of 47, that Darwin published On The Origin of Species in 1859. So the world in which Mary found the ammonites and “bezoars,” which she sold to wealthy tourists visiting her hometown of Lyme Regis, England, was one in which there was not an extensive scientific understanding or explanation for the fossils.