At one point, several people in a Whatcha Reading thread mentioned that they had recently read, or were planning to read, The Voyage of the Beagle. I’ve had a copy in the queue for a while now, and I think it just moved to the on-deck position. (I’m currently reading By the Light of the Glow-Worm Lamp, which, amazingly enough, opened with an excerpt.
Anyway – would anyone be interested in participating in a Darwin reading group? I don’t have an elaborate scheme in mind, but can come up with some ideas if anyone is interested.
I’ve never been in a reading group, either. I haven’t read it before, but I downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg. I’m only on the second chapter, though. If we’re going to have tests, I’m going to cheat.
As I said, I didn’t have anything particular in mind – just that it might be interesting to swap ideas and opinions as we’re reading along. We don’t even need to be reading at the same pace, necessarily – no “read chapters 1-3 by date X” (unless someone wants to?).
I’d be happy to post some topics for discussion, or would be even happier if anyone else wanted to. Let me think about this some more – I really wasn’t sure anyone would be interested, so hadn’t come up with anything at all specific.
Okay, I found my copy (the “Penguin Classics” edition, edited with an introduction by Janet Browne and Michael Neve).
For a first topic for discussion – how about “why do you want to read this book, and what do you hope to get out of it?”
I read a fair amount of natural history, including but not limited to books about evolution, and also books of travel and exploration. These two genres overlap significantly, of course – esp. in the 19th century.
This book is the grandaddy of that combined field – the ultimate gentleman scientist on the adventure of a lifetime, during the course of which he gathered the data that would, 20 years later, coalesce as the theory of natural selection.
What I hope to get out of it is a look at the evidence being gathered that will become the clues with which he’ll work. I want to get a sense of what the world looks like in the last period before there’s a clear understanding of how evolution works.
And with that – I’ll start reading it tomorrow (I have an hour-plus train ride each way to work).
Well, I’m reading it because you invited us to. Hee hee. Really, that, plus much of what you said about the importance of this voyage to our world. Of course, all the crazy (to me, anyway) creationism stuff over the last several years keeps the topic important. I’ve never read it, but I’ve enjoyed similar books in the past; the whole ‘educated adventurer keeping a scientific journal’ thing. I ordered a copy of the version you have last night; I’ll use the downloaded one until the book arrives.
I figure there will be surprises in the book, along with a new look at things we already knew. Just a trivial factor, but the fact that Darwin set out on this at 22 seems somehow fascinating to me. I read some material yesterday on why Darwin was added to the crew, that the voyage was supposed to last 2 years but was almost 5 years instead…that’s a long time and it seems that it would really form the man to be involved in this from age 22 to 27. And yeah, all the ships of the time seem small to me, but when I looked up the Beagle, it was about 24 feet by 90 feet. Yikes! That’s the same width as my house and twice the length, but they circumnavigated the globe in that thing. It sure had to seem really tiny when they were out in the middle of the ocean somewhere.
Read the intro this morning, and one point they made was that Darwin actually spent more time on land than at sea – only 18 months at sea on the almost-five-year journey, with the longest stretch at sea being 47 consecutive days.
This was a good thing, because Darwin suffered from horrendous seasickness.
I get the impression that he was along as a peer – a passenger, more than a paid companion. Darwin’s father footed the bill for the journey.
Also, both Darwin and the captain were very interested in geology, so much of what Darwin was doing on land was of interest to the captain – whose job was primarily surveying and charting the coastline, i.e., what was on land.
“The 23 year old aristocrat FitzRoy proved an able commander and meticulous surveyor. In one incident a group of Fuegians stole a ship’s boat, and FitzRoy took their families on board as hostages. Eventually he held two men, a girl and a boy who was given the name of Jemmy Button, and these four native Fuegians were taken back with them when the Beagle returned to England on 14 October 1830.”
Jesus, what a start.
Fitzroy gave part of his accommodations to Darwin, which would be a big deal in a frigate, but there may have been no where else to put him in a ten gun brig. I am unable to cite where I read that Darwin was to be a companion for the “aristocrat FitzRoy.”
“The second voyage of HMS Beagle from 27 December 1831 to 2 October 1836 was the second survey expedition of HMS Beagle, under captain Robert FitzRoy who had taken over command of the ship on its first voyage after her previous captain committed suicide. FitzRoy, fearing the same fate, sought a gentleman companion for the voyage. The student clergyman Charles Darwin took the opportunity, making his name as a naturalist and becoming a renowned author with the publication of his journal which became known as The Voyage of the Beagle.”
I find the comments on the “savages” interesting – 19th-century attitudes seem so, well, 19th century.
(There’s a novel about Jemmy Button, the Fuegian: Savage, by Nick Hazlewood, which I’d like to read. And another novel, The Darwin Conspiracy, which I have read, and which isn’t very good.)
Most of what I’ve got is random comments:
I’m enjoying this, but am finding it a bit of a slog; after 25 pages or so I can’t concentrate any more. I’m skimming some of the geology stuff. It’s interesting, though, having just read Simon Winchester’s book on Krakatoa, to see the pre-plate-tectonic efforts to make sense of the movements of the earth.
I also wish there were answers to a couple of questions he raises – the whole section about the size of the large grazers on poor terrain in Africa, vs. smaller animals in a richer environment in South America in Chapter 5 – interesting. Why is that? Presumably there’s been some additional thought given to that since.
Plus, at one point he refers to a lizard as an amphibian, though it’s a reptile – at what point did the various classes (is that right?) as we know them get separated out? I may need to go back and finish that book on the history of taxonomy that I was finding a little dry (sigh). Maybe Colibri knows, I guess I should ask in GQ.
And – that’s what I’ve got so far. I’m in the middle of Chapter 16; they just got to the west coast of South America, so he’s still thinking about volcanos.