The Voyage of the Beagle (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

The Voyage of the Beagle (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)


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The Voyage of the Beagle (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) by Charles Darwin

"I hate every wave of the ocean," the seasick Charles Darwin wrote to his family during his five-year voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. It was this world-wide journey, however, that launched the scientist’s career.

The Voyage of the Beagle is Darwin's fascinating account of his trip - of his biological and geological observations and collection activities, of his speculations about the causes and theories behind scientific phenomena, of his interactions with various native peoples, of his beautiful descriptions of the lands he visited, and of his amazing discoveries in the Galapagos archipelago. Although scientific in nature, the literary quality rivals those of John Muir and Henry Thoreau.

About the Author:
Charles Darwin is the author of one of the most controversial and influential works in Western thought, The Origin of the Species (1859). At age twenty-two, Darwin, who had dropped out of medical school in Edinburgh, became the gentleman companion (and only secondarily, naturalist) to the moody, irascible Captain Robert FitzRoy. Although his father had wanted him to become a pastor, Darwin’s journey on the H.M.S. Beagle led to him instead becoming the forerunner of evolutionary theory.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780760754962
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 06/11/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 184,349
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Date of Birth:

February 12, 1809

Date of Death:

April 19, 1882

Place of Birth:

Shrewsbury, England

Place of Death:

London, England


B.A. in Theology, Christ¿s College, Cambridge University, 1831

Read an Excerpt

Charles Darwin, at age 22, had by 1831 rejected careers in both medicine and the clergy when he was offered the position of naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle, a 90-foot sloop charged with charting South American waters. He was not the first choice for the job. His father stood in his way. Even the ship's captain was uncertain about him. Yet he made it onto the Beagle, and this five year voyage, he later wrote, was the most important event of his life and shaped his entire career.

This was a return trip to South America for the Beagle and Darwin left the placid landscape of England to journey to a land of dynamic terrain: high mountains, earthquakes, volcanoes, strange coastlines and even stranger animals and fossils:

"Everything in this southern continent has been effected on a grand scale: the land, from the Rio Plata to Tierra del Fuego, a distance of 1,200 miles, has been raised in mass...What a history of geological changes does the simply-constructed coast of Patagonia reveal!...At Port St. Julian , in some red mud capping the gravel on the 90-feet plain, I found half the skeleton of the Macrauchenia Patachonica, a remarkable quadruped, full as large as a camel. It belongs to the same division of the Pachydermata with the rhinoceros, tapir, and palaeotherium; but in the structure of the bones of its long neck it shows a clear relation to the camel, or rather to the guanaco and llama. From recent sea-shells being found on two of the higher step-formed plains, which must have been modelled and upraised before the mud was deposited in which the Macrauchenia was entombed, it is certain that this curious quadruped lived long after the sea was inhabited by its present shells."

Darwin spent thousands of hours making observations, collecting specimens, and recording data. He went ashore all along the South American coasts, often riding horseback into the interior in order to collect more data, and he also includes his observations about the people whom he met there, from army generals to local Indians. And of course, he visited the now famous Galapagos Archipelago, the 10 islands formed by volcanic action where Darwin noticed that several species of finches existed, with beak shapes that were vastly different. He thought deeply about the comment made by the vice-governor that there were many different varieties of tortoises to be found on the island, and came to the conclusions about evolution he later elaborated upon in his Origin of Species:

"It was most striking to be surrounded by new birds, new reptiles, new shells, new insects, new plants, and yet by innumerable trifling details of structure, and even by the tones of voice and plumage of the birds, to have the temperate plains of Patagonia, or rather the hot dry deserts of Northern Chile, vividly brought before my eyes. Why, on these small points of land, which within a late geological period must have been covered by the ocean, which are formed by basaltic lava, and therefore differ in geological character from the American continent, and which are placed under a peculiar climate, - why were their aboriginal inhabitants, associated, I may add, in different proportions both in kind and number from those on the continent, and therefore acting on each other in a different manner - why were they created on American types of organization?"

The Beagle went back to England via Australia and New Zealand, and Darwin continued to collect specimens there as well. He left England as student with a keen and open mind; he returned an experienced scientist with definite ideas about the workings of nature, and raw data to substantiate his theories. He would go on of course to refine them and publish On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, that famous and still controversial book. The direction of Darwin's thought is clearly evident in The Voyage of the HMS Beagle, as well as his exuberance. This is the second edition of the book, originally published in 1845. Fascinating reading from a truly original mind!

Table of Contents

Chapter 1St. Jago--Cape de Verd Islands1
Chapter 2Rio de Janeiro16
Chapter 3Maldonado34
Chapter 4Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca55
Chapter 5Bahia Blanca71
Chapter 6Bahia Blanca to Buenos Ayres93
Chapter 7Buenos Ayres and St. Fe108
Chapter 8Banda Oriental and Patagonia125
Chapter 9Santa Cruz, Patagonia, and the Falkland Islands156
Chapter 10Tierra Del Fuego180
Chapter 11Strait of Magellan--Climate of the Southern Coasts204
Chapter 12Central Chile224
Chapter 13Chiloe and Chonos Islands242
Chapter 14Chiloe and Concepcion: Great Earthquake259
Chapter 15Passage of the Cordillera279
Chapter 16Northern Chile and Peru300
Chapter 17Galapagos Archipelago331
Chapter 18Tahiti and New Zealand358
Chapter 19Australia383
Chapter 20Keeling Island:--Coral Formations402
Chapter 21Mauritius to England429


The voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle around the world, but with long stops in South America and a crucial five-week layover in the Galapagos Islands, launched the career of amateur scientist Charles Darwin. It also launched one of the most controversial and influential works in Western thought, Darwin's The Origin of the Species (1859), which was largely based on material gathered during the five-year journey (1831-1835). Darwin was the fourth choice to be the gentleman companion (and only secondarily, naturalist) to the moody, irascible Captain Robert FitzRoy who feared for his own mental stability because the previous captain had committed suicide -- which FitzRoy actually did succumb to post-voyage). Darwin was almost rejected because FitzRoy objected to the shape of his nose, believing that it denoted lack of perseverance. Moreover, Darwin's father, whose approval and financial support were essential, wanted young Charles -- an uninspiring student who had dropped out of medical school in Edinburgh -- to stay home and become a pastor. However, thanks to an uncle's intervention, FitzRoy's inability to find a more suitable companion, and Darwin's geniality and ability to hunt and ride (not his scientific expertise), at age twenty-two Charles signed on for what be believed was a two-year journey. Darwin persevered, despite intense seasickness the entire voyage (writing to his family, "I hate every wave of the ocean") and the troubling screams of sailors being flogged by FitzRoy, in large part because he spent three-fifths of the trip taking land expeditions. The Voyage of the Beagle is Darwin's fascinating account of his trip -- of his biological and geologicalobservations and collection activities, of his speculations about the causes and theories behind scientific phenomena, of his interactions with various native peoples, of his beautiful descriptions of the lands he visited (particularly Tahiti), and of his amazing discoveries in the Galapagos archipelago. Darwin explored the tropical rain forest of Brazil, climbed the Andes mountains of Chile, and experienced, first hand, both a volcano and an earthquake. During the five years young Darwin was gone, he matured from an undirected dilettante, whose only real passion was collecting beetles, into one of the preeminent scientists of his day. The trip was, in his own words, "by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career." This engaging scientific and literary text is crucial reading for anyone interested in Western thought.

Born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) in 1809, Darwin is arguably even more influential than the famous statesman. In fact, in the spirit of Lincoln, the first major argument between Captain FitzRoy and this son of abolitionists (with physicians on one side and the Wedgwood pottery family on the other) was over slavery. This decidedly average student eventually received a B.A. at Cambridge, where he became fast friends with his science professor, John Henslow, who "influenced my whole career more than any other." Darwin lived as a child in Shrewsbury, and then, after his voyage, for a few years in London, before retiring with his wife and eventually, numerous children, to Down village in Kent, where he spent his last forty years, in ill health, before dying in 1882. Scientific fame prevented him from being buried, as he had wished, in the local churchyard; instead, he lies at Westminster Abbey, a few feet from Isaac Newton. Thanks to his family's wealth, he was able to devote his entire life to his studies, which he did with Victorian diligence. All of his work was well received. First, upon his return from the voyage of the Beagle, he wrote The Voyage of the Beagle, officially titled Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by the H.M.S. Beagle, under the Command of Captain FitzRoy, R.N., from 1832 to 1836 (London: Henry Colburn, 1839) -- the third volume in a set published by FitzRoy. (Darwin's volume was independently published later that year, without payment to, or permission from the author.) This was followed by a five-volume set, Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle. Then, after the publication of a major work on coral and some other primarily botanical works, he began The Origin of the Species. Part way through, Darwin heard that another scientist, Alfred Wallace, was to publish an independent treatise putting forth similar ideas. Darwin therefore rushed to publish but a brief abstract of his ideas, which is the famous work we know today. It was eventually followed by a sequel, The Descent of Man (1871), as well as a continuing series of less-well-known scientific studies. Ironically, the forced brevity of The Origin of the Species, in Darwin's opinion, appreciably contributed to its popularity. Darwin attributes his overall success to his "love of science -- unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject -- industry in observing and collecting facts -- and a fair share of invention as of common-sense." It is impossible to overstate the impact of this man who revolutionized science.

The Beagle's voyage originated as a survey of the coast of South America, with the intent that the English government could plan future military and commercial operations, and was Darwin's initiating scientific expedition. During this eventual circumnavigation of the globe, most of the time was spent first on the east, and secondarily on the west coasts of South America. With Darwin signed on as the captain's companion, the vessel's senior surgeon, Robert McCormick, was its naturalist. However, after only four months at sea, McCormick returned to England, because it was obvious that Darwin, nicked named "Philos," short for "Ship's Philosopher," was FitzRoy's preferred naturalist. Darwin brought with him the works of Shakespeare and Milton (taking Paradise Lost with him on his land excursions), and, more importantly, numerous scientific texts, including Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology. (As subsequent volumes were published, Darwin had them sent from England.) The tiny cabin FitzRoy and Darwin shared contained a library of some 245 volumes. Even though Darwin missed England, he was not cut off from it; newspapers and journals arrived regularly, and, as much as possible, letters from home. While on shore, he and FitzRoy were "typical" Englishmen, having tea and paying social calls. Characteristic of Darwin's incessantly inquisitive nature, one of his major findings was made during a dinner: he discovered a crucial second species of ostrich -- a rhea -- but only after he had eaten half of it. He dutifully sent the uneaten portion back to England for further examination, and it was later named Rhea darwinii in his honor. He also regularly sent his journals home (carefully making a second copy, knowing the perils of the sea), as well as his collections. Henslow had Darwin's scientific letters published in his absence, as well as read before the Cambridge Philosophical Society, so that all of Britain was waiting for the return of the Beagle's naturalist.

While of course the backbone of The Voyage of the Beagle is Darwin's scientific descriptions and speculations, made virtually everywhere he traveled and pertaining to all facets of science, the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin spent five weeks in the fall of 1835, was of particular interest. Despite his initial impression, "Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava is every where covered by a stunted brushwood, which shows little signs of life," he soon realized the extreme value of the place, nothing that "The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself; the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else." This is exactly the setting Darwin needed to fuel his evolutionary theories. Of particular importance are the giant, cactus-eating reptiles; he is amazed to discover that locals can determine the precise island of a tortoises' origin, just by the shape of its shell. The work on these islands figures prominently in his Origin of the Species. Ironically, for all of Darwin's powers of close observation, back in England, Darwin realized that he should have paid close attention to not just the tortoises, but also the finches. Luckily, FitzRoy had a thorough collection, which was available for Darwin's use.

Even though Darwin is known for his natural, not social, science, a fair amount of The Voyage of the Beagle is devoted to descriptions of humans, particular their behavior, in which he demonstrates that he is not just an abolitionist, but also a pacifist. For example, regarding conflicts with Indians, he writes, "Every one here is fully convinced that this is the most just war because it is against barbarians. Who would believe in this age, in a Christian civilized country, that such atrocities were committed?" Predictably, he is also greatly concerned about the plight of both the miners and earthquake victims in Chile.

In addition to being a scientific text, The Voyage of the Beagle is also a literary one, with descriptions that rival, at times, those of John Muir, Henry Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold. The following passage is typical: "The vessel drove before her bows two billows of liquid phosphorous, and in her wake she was followed by a milky train. As far as the eye reached, the crest of every wave was bright, and the sky above the horizon, from the reflected glare of these livid flames, was not so utterly obscure, as over the rest of the heavens. Often, his writing is rich in metaphor. For example, when he is trying (unsuccessfully) to climb to the summit of San Pedro, creeping on hands and knees through dense vegetation, he writes, "Here we were more like fishes struggling in a net than any other animal."

Particularly in these descriptions of nature, we see not just an analytical scientist, but a sensitive young man, coming of age in the Romantic period and decidedly reaching maturity in the Victorian era. Throughout, we get to know our narrator, and find him to be indeed, excelling in the traits of congeniality that secured his place on the Beagle. For example, just two months into the trip, Darwin is impatient with local hospitality because it does not adhere to English schedules. Yet, just four months later he is able to graciously comment on differences and similarities in local manners, with total acceptance and curiosity. Throughout, he is extremely humble, typically stating, "Of course, after so very short a visit one's opinion is worth scarcely anything." The most charming revelation of his character comes with his declaration of the ultimate "cure" for altitude sickness: engagement with the natural environment -- in his case, with fossilized shells.

In spite of Darwin's many exciting experiences, when asked if one should undertake such a long voyage, he retorts that it would depend on a desire for gaining some particular knowledge -- most readily botanical -- because "the pleasures gained at the time do not counterbalance the evils." When he lists his favorite "scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind," "none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man; whether those of Brazil ... or those of Tierra del Fuego." Above all, "The map of the world ceases to be blank; it becomes a picture full of the most varied and animated figures." Thanks to Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle, readers are able to experience, through Darwin's perceptive eyes -- those of geologist, botanist, zoologist, social scientist, geographer, and sensitive, observant writer -- the wonders of the many places he visited.

Catherine A. Henze is a writer for Tekno Books.

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The Voyage of the Beagle 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Shadowman More than 1 year ago
I'm a travel writing reader, I work in medicine, and I love a well-written essay. Mr. Darwin has managed to achieve 5 stars in each category in my book. His inquisitive mind and keen observations of flora and fauna make fascinating science reading. His recounting of travels inland, notes on how the people lived, what they ate, what the land was like, provide insights to a time long lost of places I'll probably never see. And his ability to bend the written word to express wonder and amazement at what he experiences at times rivals the best nature writing I've ever come across. This is one of those few books I felt sad to finish, but glad I found at all and elated to have in my library. 5-stars all the way around.
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