A look at Darwiniana at Britain’s Royal Society

February 10, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Reader Bryan called my attention to this video from 2016 in which Brady and Keith, who “uncover science treasures”, visit the Council Room of Britain’s Royal Society. Among the treasures they examine are the famous portrait of Darwin that you’ve surely seen, and a nice scale model of H.M.S. Beagle.  As I noted in my Darwin lecture in Antarctica, the Beagle was very small: 27.5 m (90 feet) long and just 7.5 m (24 feet) across. That is tiny!

They then examine what appears to be a first edition of the four-volume account of the Beagle’s voyage (actually the voyages of two ships: the set is called The Narrative of the Voyages of H.M. Ships Adventure and Beagle), which includes the famous volume by Darwin known as The Voyage of the Beagle. This set was given to the Royal Society by Darwin and his captain, Robert FitzRoy.

Pity they didn’t look at a first edition of On the Origin of Species, for the Royal Society surely has that book as well.

10 thoughts on “A look at Darwiniana at Britain’s Royal Society

  1. My first impression/ expectation was not favorable- but this video really drew me in. It is difficult to express how rich, vivid, and concrete the voyage is made by viewing and being guided through the old materials. The right guide is invaluable here.

    There’s another Darwin history video from the channel: https://youtu.be/RQWfamOAesg

    1. Yes, indeed. It seems odd but in another video they do explain why. It is felt that wearing gloves while turning pages or handling paper reduces the necessary tactile sensation that would enable the handler to turn them safely. As long as you have clean hands, paper objects can be turned with less chance of an accidental tear.

      And by the way, sir, are you by chance a fairly recent interviewee on the In Defense of Plants podcast? A rather enjoyable episode, I must say!

      1. Thanks for the explanation. And yes, I am that person who was interviewed on “In Defense of Plants”. I was very impressed with the interviewer’s preparation and questions. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I’m guessing that crossing-the-equator ritual Darwin engaged in aboard The Beagle has been around ever since men began going down to the sea in ships and first figured out roughly where the equator is.

    My dad told me they had a similar ceremony aboard the destroyer he was on in the Pacific during WW2. The chief petty officer with the biggest, hairiest beer-belly would strip down to the waist and dress up as King Neptune. The crew would cover his gut with condiments from the ship’s galley and all the “pollywogs” — sailors for whom it was the first trip across the line — had to go up and kiss his belly, while the “shellbacks” who’d been across at least once before would shove ’em and goose ’em and push their faces into the gross mess on Neptune’s belly.

    1. There are photos of similar goings-on in my late grandfather’s Navy yearbook (if that’s what one calls it). He served on the USS Tennessee during WWII. I believe there were men wearing what looked to be soiled oversized diapers which they may or may not have been required to kiss on the wearer’s “stern”, unless I am misremembering the images.

      1. Standard in the US WWII Pacific fleet. I’d imagine almost all those ships crossed the equator repeatedly, with battles in both south and north Pacific.

        My father had a yearbook from USS Alabama featuring the equator crossing, including a bunch of major league baseball players who were in the crew. [My father worked in the Bremerton WA shipyard, and often brought sailors home for dinner.] Most of my earliest memories –before my fourth birthday — that weren’t contaminated by family input were of visits by these sailors. They’d bring toys for me — I remember especially wood and cardboard train sets. Metal was of course verboten for civilian leisure.

  3. There are several good Darwin videos on the Objectivity channel. (“Object” here meaning just that– artifacts, documents, physical items.) They do show the Royal Society’s original Origin in this video, and they show the London Zoological Society’s copy in the Zoo video linked to by ThyroidPlanet.

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