Darwin published hundreds of pages of text, but he also kept notebooks many of which come down to us today. They can be roughly divided into two aspects, the Beagle field notebooks of 1831 – 1836, and his later notes. Sometimes these notes are found in a single book, and one way they are told apart (when otherwise undated) is by the orientation of the notes themselves. Darwin wrote “portrait” style in the field, but “landscape” style in the lab.
repost from gregladen.com
Many of the notebooks are preserved at Down House, Darwin’s residence. Down House has 14 Beagle notebooks, one crossover, and one post-voyage notebook, as well as a fragmentary notebook which is believed to contain post-voyage notes.
The complete transcription of all but one of the Down House Notebooks is available on The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. The exceptions are previously published books, for which the publication is available at the same web site.
It is in these notebooks (as well as letters) that one can get a glimpse of Darwin’s thinking about evolution and the evolution of his thinking. It is clear that Darwin was not prepared to sit down and write “The Origin of Species” the day he stepped off the Beagle, nor was he prepared after months of sorting out specimens from the voyage. I am not qualified to suggest when he might have been. However, I have argued elsewhere (and this is so obvious that I’m not trying to take credit for special insight) that Darwin’s style was to be comprehensive almost to the point of defensiveness. From this I would argue that he was prepared to sit down and write The Origin on the very day that he actually did so, and possibly not before.
Reviewing, understanding, and doing scholarship of Darwin’s Notebooks and letters, in the context of his other writing and contemporary thought, is probably more daunting than reviewing and understanding Evolutionary Theory itself. All I want to do here is to provide a series of quotes from the notebooks that I find interesting, and I hope you do as well.
From “Rio de Janeiro excursion . city Monte Video Bahia Blanca” (1832)
Forest like but more glorious than those in the engraving; gleams of sunshine: parasitical plants: lianas: large leaves: sun sultry. all still. but large & brilliant butterflies: much water: surprised to see guinea fowls: our calvacade very quixotic: the banks most teeming with wood & beautiful flowers; village of Ithi regular like the Hottentots: the poor blacks thus perhaps try to persuade themselves that they are in the land of their fathers. The rock from which old woman threw herself.
Of an encounter while traveling on land with some Fuegians, in “Buenos Ayres (city) Beagle Channel account…. (in notebook covering part of 1831-1833)
Having put up tents ([at the] mica slate place) unfortunately a party of 7 Fuegians appeared: perhaps had never seen Europeans. no way of frightening them, only rubbed theirs heads when pistols were fired close to them. & laughed at flourish cutlass. obliged to pack up from these fearless barbarians, fight like animals: found in the dark a quiet nook. kept watch. solemn scene till one oclock – distant bark of dog.
J. Button forget languages not prejudices: not eat land birds. only the lower trees change colour of leaf in autumn
Buenos Ayres … Chile notebook, entry dated: 21 October 1833
Arrived very early at the Camp; horrible looking set of men. – Rolor traitor.
…got order to go to General chief. difficult to procure horses. – often obliged to show Licence.
… Arrived at rebel Camp.
General Rosas brother at last got permission to go with a party with white flag to bridge. – from thence on foot leaving recon &c behind to proceed if I could on foot to the city, passed centinel by pulling out old passport & making circuits at last reached the city. – They are downright scurrilous set & the town is much alarmed about being ransacked. I am in bad predicament. my servant & peon is out in the country with my goods … the vessel coming down the river has my collections …one million cattle died …
M. Video. big bottles
paper cork. Iron rust
8 by 8 inches Spirits.
Bladders: Mr. Maclean.
And finally, his is from “The Galapagos Pages” (pages 18b-51b) of a notebook microfilmed in 1969, but solen in or before 1983. The first phrases in this block quote are the first words recorded in the notebook. The rest is highly selected.
Eel dark reddish purplish brown with pale or whitish brown spots. Eyes Bluish. [This eel was Darwin’s specimen no. 1286 collected in September 1835 on Chatham Island, Galapagos.]
Saturday left our anchorage & stood out to outside of Island, did not anchor
(Sunday) Continued to beat to windward high side of island rather greener waterfalls of Water ! — Came to an anchor in harbour where whaler was. — —
Monday A boat being sent to some distance, landed me & servant, 6 miles from the ship. Where we slept. — I immediately started to examine a black — Volcanic district deserving name of Craterized — Met an immense Turpin [froz:] took little notice of me. — They well match the rugged Lava. Eating a Prickly Pear — which is well known to contain much liquid —
[Pages of craters, lava, rocks, etc. then the following word association exercise …]
Dry sand — Lizards —
Black Mud & parasites —
Brazil without big trees.
Feast. Robinson Crusoe
[frogs] — [leaches] —
[then back to the rocks, craters and lava…]
12th [October 1835] Monday
Walked up to the Houses — Slept there, Eating Tortoise meat. By the way delicious in Soup. —
Followed down the ravine with water — scon [dry] very green & pleasant …Extraordinary numbers of Turpin — When drinking bury head above eyes — Will drink when a person is within 2 yards of them about 10 gulps in minute. noise during cohabitation & length of time certain — Eggs covered by sand soil from 4 to 5 in number — require a long time before they are hatched. — Quickness of travelling certain — now said come every three days for Water — Eat Cacti in the dry Islands.
Yellow Iguana intestine full of Guyavitas & some large leaves eggs in a hole —
Whaler gave us Water — extraordinary kindness of Yankys
14th [October 1835]
Wandered about Bird collecting —
Iguana — shakes head vertically; sea — one no = dozes hind legs stretched out walks very slowly — sleeps — closes eyes — Eats much Cactus: Mr Bynoe saw one … walking from two other carrying it in mouth — Eats very deliberately, without chewing — Small Finc[h] picking from same piece after alights on back —
[this refers to Halley’s Comet]
[Calculations on the speed of tortoises, written in ink.]
30 yard in 5 minutes
360 — in 1 hour
This is part of the following series of posts on gregladen.com:
Charles Darwin Bicentennial
Charles Darwin Bicentennial – A Tangled Bank
Charles Darwin Bicentennial- Beagle and The Voyage
Charles Darwin Bicentennial – Coral Reefs
Charles Darwin Bicentennial – Finches
Charles Darwin Bicentennial – Gauchos
Charles Darwin Bicentennial – Iguanas, a “most disgusting, clumsy lizard…
Charles Darwin Bicentennial – Notebooks