Monday, January 15, 2018

Reading Darwin: Voyage of the Beagle


I decided that I'd like to read more of Darwin's work, rather than read *about* Darwin. So as part of the 101in1001 project, I've added several of his books to my reading list. Unsurprisingly, I decided to start with Voyage of the Beagle.

It's been charming to read his narrative -- shocking sometimes, of course, given how much times have changed. But I was surprised to hear him use the phrase "people of color" -- albeit to indicate different non-white races who co-existed in one area with whites. And he often praised the natives -- again, though it was often tinged with a "noble savage" feel.

My favorite section, unsurprisingly, was the chapter on the Galapagos -- so funny to hear him talk about the differences in, say, the finches on the different islands, but not knowing why. Darwin didn't have an "a-ha!" moment while there -- indeed, that wouldn't come for some time -- but it's funny to feel like you're the clever one, rather than Darwin. "It's evolution, you ninny!"

This edition includes two appendices: a copy of the instructions from the Admiralty regarding the voyage, and a lengthy essay by Captain Fitzroy attempting to reconcile the geological record he saw with the biblical account of the flood. The first appendix was remarkable to me largely because the visit to the Galapagos wasn't part of the main mission -- it was listed as a "nice to have if you're in the neighborhood" sort of thing. The second appendix was remarkable since poor Fitzroy is left turning intellectual somersaults to soothe his soul, having found some of Darwin's work "ungodly".

I love reading Victorian scientific works -- science at a time where people didn't have formal training, but used their powers of observation. Lyell's "Principles of Geology" -- written by a man who wanted to be a barrister, but had poor eyesight so turned his focus to geology -- is an excellent example of this. Just thinking about him is making me want to dust off my old "Controversy in Victorian Geology: the Cambrian Silurian Debate". And just re-reading the title of that book by James Secord makes me feel a little nerdy. Happily nerdy, mind you, but nerdy.

Now trying to decide whether to re-read "On the Origin of Species" next, or read Alfred Russel Wallace's independently arrived at paper on natural selection first. I've always had a soft spot for Wallace, you see.

But I'm happy to say that this marks the completion of a #101in1001 project. Off to a good start!

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