Faraway: Get Out of Your World
One boat. Four hundred books. Five years. This was Charles Darwin’s life on board The Beagle as he toured the world. Do you think you could do that? You know, in today’s world, spend five years on a boat, stopping to explore new places, take notes, make sketches, get back on the boat and keep going - without television or the internet - just four hundred books to read, mostly nonfiction, a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, a few novels and some poetry. Your idea of a good time?
The Guardian published an article today, “Charles Darwin's evolutionary reading: HMS Beagle's library goes online.” Hundreds of titles that filled the shelves of the ship's library on Darwin's five-year circumnavigation of the globe in the 1830s have been brought together and made freely available through the Darwin Online Beagle Library project. Darwin was 22 years old in 1831 when he set off for the Amazon, Patagonia and the Pacific aboard the ship.
Here’s an interesting excerpt from the above referenced Darwin Online Beagle Library project site:
Darwin saw himself following in the footsteps of earlier voyage naturalists. As indeed he was. In May 1832 he recorded: "I have just finished Ansons voyage, my pleasure in reading such works is at least trebled by expecting to see some of the described places & in knowing a little about the sea." (Beagle diary, p. 66.) During one sluggish and "tedious" trip in July 1832 when the Beagle made slow time because of poor winds, Darwin noted "The only thing I have been able to do is reading Voyages & Travels.— these are now to me much more interesting than even novels." (Beagle diary, p. 83.)
The Beagle library was well-stocked with a magnificent collection of classic voyages such as Narborough's: An account of several late voyages (1694), Wafer's: A new voyage and description of the isthmus of America (1699), Dampier's: A new voyage round the world (1697), Pernety's: Journal historique d'un voyage (1769), Bougainville's: A voyage round the world (1772), Hawkesworth's: Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere (1773), Cook's: A voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784), La Pérouse's: A voyage round the world (1798-9) and Vancouver's: A voyage of discovery (1798).
As Darwin spent much of the voyage investigating the coasts and interior of South America, he studied the works of earlier travellers there with great care including Ulloa's: A voyage to South America (1806), Caldcleugh's: Travels in South America (1825), Molina's: Compendio (1788) and Spix and Martius': Travels in Brazil (1824).
Editor's note: all the above referenced books are digitized with links in the Beagle Library Project
Oh, the wonders of our digital age. Now we can browse all these books in the comfort of our own homes. Darwin would be most impressed!
One of my favorite quotes is by Jorge Luis Borges, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
Here is the link to the article in The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jul/15/charles-darwin-hms-beagle-library-online-evolution