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The Voyage of the Beagle [Penguin Classics,…

The Voyage of the Beagle [Penguin Classics, abridged]

by Charles Darwin

Other authors: Janet Browne (Editor), Michael Neve (Editor)

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An enjoyable introduction to Darwin.

(Note, this is a review of the Recorded Books Audio version of excerpts from Voyage.)

I picked up this e-audio-book from my library and enjoyed it. Read by a distinguished English actor, Darwin here presents his tour on the Beagle and the observations of a thouroughly 19th century Englishman, hardly the bête noire anti-god iconoclast some may imagine him to be. It was delightful to hear his descriptions of Patagonia, and interesting to hear his observations on the politics of the less civilized world. He's not afraid to call people savages - and ends "thanking God" that he'll never again travel to a country where slavery is practiced. Though, of course, scientific in his observtions, he's also not afraid to refer to animals as "ugly" or unpleasant. ( )
  mrklingon | Apr 22, 2019 |
Charles Darwin

Voyage of the Beagle

Penguin Classics, Paperback [1989].

8vo. x+432 pp. Abridged, and with Introduction [1-26] and Appendices [378-424] by Janet Browne and Michael Neve. Preface by Charles Darwin [33-34]. Biographical Guide [425-32]. Maps “The Principal Locations Mentioned in Darwin’s Text” and “South America in 1830” [30-32]. No index.

First published, 1839.
This edition first published, 1989.


List of maps and illustrations
A note on this edition

Journal of researches into the geology and natural history
of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle,
under the command of Captain FitzRoy, R.N.
from 1832 to 1836
by Charles Darwin, Esq., M.A. F.R.S.

Appendix One: Admiralty instructions for the Beagle voyage
Appendix Two: Robert FitzRoy’s ‘Remarks with reference to the Deluge’

Biographical Guide


First of all, a note on the edition. To Penguin’s everlasting shame, it is abridged. As the editors themselves admit, some one third of the original text is missing. The omissions are mostly whole paragraphs and neatly marked with rows of asterisks, but the reason for them remains elusive. It is explained that Darwin’s volume had to be brought “into a Penguin format” – whatever that means. Having read the Penguin Classics edition of Darwin’s Autobiographies, I expected nothing good from Michael Neve. But Janet Browne is a Darwin scholar of formidable reputation, and I am surprised she lent her name to senseless butchery like this. The Penguin Classics edition of Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871) is complete, runs to well over 800 pages, and seems none the worse for that.

The abridged text is reprinted from the First edition of 1839. This was printed twice in the course of several weeks, first as the third volume – titled “Journals and remarks 1832–1836” – of The narrative of the voyages of H.M. Ships Adventure and Beagle, and then, separately, as Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle. The only difference was the title page. In later editions, the second from 1845 and the third from 1860, Darwin made many changes, adding new passages here, rewriting others there. Janet and Michael thought it worth while to give us the text – two thirds of it anyway – in its original form. Fair enough.

Enough about the editorial crimes. Now a few words about the authorial delights.

Scientifically speaking, The Origin is, of course, the greater work. But literary speaking, The Voyage is the more remarkable book. It is hard to believe that Darwin was thirty when it was first published. It is written with lucidity and liveliness that belie the author’s complete inexperience with the written word. Considering that this is just a travelogue, containing nothing else but Darwin’s observations and reflections on geology, zoology, botany and, to a lesser extent, anthropology (in simple words: rocks, animals, plants and people), it is fantastically readable and often engrossing. Darwin never loses his infectious enthusiasm and insatiable curiosity about nature. When he makes his first landing, on the shores of Cape Verde after 19 days at sea, the young Charles (a month before his 23rd birthday) wonders “if, indeed, a person, fresh from the sea, and who has just walked, for the first time, in a grove of cocoa-nut trees, can be a judge of any thing but his own happiness.” When he enters the Brazilian rainforest, he is positively poetic:

The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has been wandering by himself in a Brazilian forest. Among the multitude of striking objects, the general luxuriance of the vegetation bears away the victory. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, all tend to this end. A most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady parts of the wood. The noise from the insects is so loud, that it may be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from the shore; yet within the recesses of the forest a universal silence appears to reign. To a person fond of natural history, such a day as this, brings with it a deeper pleasure than he ever can hope again to experience.

Nor is it true that Darwin is a humourless fellow. Many people seem to assume automatically that a scientist must be dry and dull. Many are, no doubt, but this one is not. Subtle streaks of amusement aren’t absent either from The Origin or from Autobiography. Many remarks in The Voyage also betray a charming sense of humour, not the type to keep you laughing until you get a headache, but rather the type that spreads a slow smile on your face. For example:

Fuentes is a pretty village, with a small stream; and every thing appeared to prosper well, excepting, indeed, that which ought to do so most – its inhabitants.

In England any person fond of natural history enjoys in his walks a great advantage, by always having something to attract his attention; but in these fertile climates, teeming with life, the attractions are so numerous, that he is scarcely able to walk at all.

[On the ignorance in the deep pampas:]
The greater number of the inhabitants had an indistinct idea that England, London, and North America, were different names for the same place; but the better informed well knew that London and North America were separate countries close together, and that England was a large town in London!

[And one famous example missing from this edition:]
The number of minute and obscurely-coloured beetles is exceedingly great. The cabinets of Europe can, as yet, boast only of the larger species from tropical climates. It is sufficient to disturb the composure of an entomologist's mind, to look forward to the future dimensions of a complete catalogue.

Indeed, there are several comic scenes hidden in this book. If Darwin had not been a scientist, he could have written very decent fiction under the form of exquisite social comedies. He would have been forgotten today, but I don’t think he would have been unreadable. My favourite example in The Voyage comes again from the deep pampas. During one of his numerous journeys inland, Darwin was entertained in one estancia by a rich landowner and an army captain. “Considering their station, their conversation was rather amusing”, says the author who never allows you to forget that he is an English gentleman. In the end, his hosts said they had but one last question to ask him and they demanded an honest answer. “I trembled to think how deeply scientific it would be” – and indeed it was. The gentlemen wanted to know whether the ladies of Buenos Aires were not the handsomest in the world. “Charmingly so”, replied the naturalist of the Beagle: “My excellent judgment in beauty procured me a most hospitable reception; the captain forced me to take his bed, and he would sleep on his recado [saddle]”.

One must give Darwin credit for not shying away from some unpleasant issues. Most of the book (17 out of 23 chapters) takes place in South America which was passing through a stormy period at the time. For one thing, General Rosas, the notorious governor of Buenos Aires, was trying to exterminate the local Indians. Everybody regarded this war, if that’s the word, as just because it was against “barbarians”, but Darwin was profoundly shocked at the carnage that included, most shockingly of all, killing in cold blood all women above twenty. When he remarked that this “appeared rather inhuman”, it was replied to him: “Why, what can be done? they breed so!” Several other stories of similar gruesomeness are related. “Who would believe in this age, in a Christian civilized country, that such atrocities were committed?” is Darwin’s rhetorical summing-up. Though he has no “noble savage” illusions about the native population of South America, Darwin does retain a certain admiration for them, as evident from this Byronic episode:

The cacique escaped in a manner which astonished every one. The chief Indians always have one or two picked horses, which they keep ready for any urgent occasion. On one of these, an old white horse, the cacique sprung, taking with him his little son. The horse had neither saddle nor bridle. To avoid the shots, the Indian rode in the peculiar method of his nation; namely, with an arm round the horse's neck, and one leg only on its back. Thus hanging on one side, he was seen patting the horse's head, and talking to him. The pursuers urged every effort in the chase; the Commandant three times changed his horse, but all in vain. The old Indian father and his son escaped, and were free. What a fine picture one can form in one's mind – the naked bronze-like figure of the old man with his little boy, riding like a Mazeppa on the white horse, thus leaving far behind him the host of his pursuers!

Slavery is another striking example. There is no doubt about the author’s position. He equals slavery with “moral debasement”. In Brazil, incidentally the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery (1888), Darwin almost witnessed the distressing scene of separating women and children from the men they had lived with for years because the former were supposed to be sold. “Interest, and not any feeling of compassion, prevented this act” is Darwin’s laconic comment. He was perplexed that it didn’t even occur to the owner, who was by no means destitute of “humanity and good feeling”, that splitting families in this way is a cruel thing to do. Two other incidents, one from Darwin’s personal experience and one reported to him, are telling:

I may mention one very trifling anecdote, which at the time struck me more forcibly than any story of cruelty. I was crossing a ferry with a negro, who was uncommonly stupid. In endeavouring to make him understand, I talked loud, and made signs, in doing which I passed my hand near his face. He, I suppose, thought I was in a passion, and was going to strike him; for instantly, with a frightened look and half-shut eyes, he dropped his hands. I shall never forget my feelings of surprise, disgust, and shame, at seeing a great powerful man afraid even to ward off a blow, directed, as he thought, at his face. This man had been trained to a degradation lower than the slavery of the most helpless animal.

This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy.

The temptation to read this book in the light of later events is hard to resist. As both the Introduction and the Chronology in this edition state, Darwin began his notebooks on “transmutation of species” in July 1837, which means less than a year after his return but a month after he had finished – at the age of 28! – the manuscript of The Voyage. This cannot be a coincidence. It seems likely that the writing of his first book first planted the seeds of what, twenty years later, would become Darwin's greatest work. The iguanas, tortoises and finches of Galapagos are the most important examples, but they are not the only ones. Darwin often notes how evidently closely related species developed so differently on different continents, or even within one continent. For example, he observes that the Rhea, the South American cousin of the African ostrich, noticeably changes between La Plata and Patagonia. Perhaps even more importantly, Darwin is convinced that all those fossilised bones of giant South American animals are somehow related to modern lamas, armadillos and capybara. He still uses words like “creation” and its derivatives. Later he dropped them, but he was clearly troubled by them, and tried to excuse his heretical thoughts, as early as January 1835 in the Chonos Archipelago (off the coast of Chile):

When finding, as in this case, any animal which seems to play so insignificant a part in the great scheme of nature, one is apt to wonder why a distinct species should have been created. But it should always be recollected, that in some other country perhaps it is an essential member of society, or at some former period may have been so.

The opposite is also true, of course. Similar conditions in different parts of the world tend to produce similar adaptations. For instance, Darwin notes, the cowbirds from North America are remarkably similar in everything but size and colour to their relatives “from the plains of La Plata”. Yet cowbirds – or “molothri” as he calls them, from the genus Molothrus – have developed the same parasitic tactics as the European cuckoo, even though both birds are “opposed to each other in almost every habit”. Possibly the most fascinating example, however, comes from us, humans. Comparing the hospitality and etiquette of the Spanish in South America and the Dutch in South Africa, Darwin casually remarks: “It is curious how similar circumstances produce such similar results in manners.” The next sentence might have been: “As they do in nature via natural selection.” But this had to wait a little.

The transmutation of species was not, of course, Darwin’s chief contribution to the history of science. Many had been there before him: he himself listed them in “An Historical Sketch” written for the third edition of The Origin (1861). Darwin’s genius was to discover and describe in meticulous detail, if not the complete mechanism, certainly the major driving force of the process. This is the natural selection and it rests on two very simple facts: 1) more individuals of one species are produced than can survive; and 2) only the best adapted to the environment survive to transmit their useful traits to the next generation. This awfully simple process, working on a scale in time and space unimaginable to most people, ultimately leads to the formation of new species.

Now, The Voyage is less rich in this direction, but there are several rather suggestive hints. In one of his numerous footnotes, almost Gibbonesque in their scope if not wit, Darwin wonders that a certain sea slug around the Falkland Islands should be “certainly not very common”, even though it produces some 600,000 eggs by the “most moderate computation”. At Keeling Island (aka Cocos Island) in the Indian Ocean, describing the elaborate but highly efficient eating habits of the coconut crab, Darwin marvels at an “adaptation in structure between two objects apparently so remote from each other in the scheme of nature as a crab and a cocoa-nut tree”. This transmutation of the species isn’t quite random, he might have reflected, but, like Hamlet’s madness, there is method in it. Probably the most tantalising example comes in the very end of Chapter XII where Darwin, inspired by what he calls “compound animals”, speaks of, or rather briefly mentions, “certain peculiarities (doubtless adaptations) [that] become hereditary and form races.” This sounds rather prescient.

If this book has any defects, this is Darwin’s passion for detail. Occasionally, it must be admitted, it is excessive and rather too technical. He tends to use obscure scientific terms or Latin names as if the reader is expected to be familiar with them. This would have been all very well had Darwin’s preface not made it clear that he intended the book for the general public. He doesn’t call it “an abstract”, as he does The Origin, but he does mention that “it was originally intended to have preceded any more detailed account” whose publication, however, “has been unavoidably delayed”. Furthermore, many parts are, of course, “dated”. We know a lot more about and are much more familiar with many plants and animals that seemed utterly strange to Darwin. In spite of his considerable descriptive powers, and sometimes despite the Latin names too, it’s not always easy to find out the species, or even the genus, in question.

In short, reading an annotated edition would save a good deal of browsing through the Web. Michael and Sharon provide an interesting introduction about the background of the voyage and its main achievements, and also a very helpful Biographical Guide for the many obscure names mentioned in the text, but no notes whatsoever to help you out with the scientific context.

I can understand why some readers are bothered by detailed scientific descriptions, but I can’t say they bother me. On the contrary, they are most interesting. In several longish digressions, ranging in subject from discolouration of the ocean to the fossil record, Darwin is at his formidable scientific best, collecting vast amounts of evidence, speculating judiciously on a vast scale, and suspending judgement where necessary. These qualities would serve him well twenty years later in his “long argument”. In a way, he remains one of the finest examples how a scientist should work: first investigating the data and then forming the theory, not the other way round. There is nothing wrong with pet hypotheses so long as one has the resolution to discard them if the evidence proves to be against their becoming theories. Almost forty years later, Darwin put it best of all in his Autobiography (Collins, 1958, ed. Nora Barlow, p. 141):

I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free, so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.

(The appendices are historically intriguing but otherwise dreadfully dull. History must be grateful to Captain FitzRoy for taking Darwin on this voyage, but that doesn’t make the Captain a more interesting character – or his biblical babbling less ridiculous. Ironically, FitzRoy unwittingly secured his own immortality. Without Darwin aboard, the voyage of the Beagle would have been today just a little footnote in the history of science.)

The voyage of the Beagle was one of those rare instances in history when the right thing happened to the right man at the right time. Quite apart from its momentous historical consequences, however, this is a stirring adventure around the world not to be missed by anybody whose adventurous spirit hasn’t been extinguished by the highly artificial life in big cities.

Just be sure to get a complete edition (or read it on Darwin Online). This one is a shameful affair that never should have been published. There are too many too fascinating passages missing. The five stars would be for Darwin alone, for the acuteness of his observation, the elegance of his style, and the charm of his personality. To Janet and Michael I would give no stars at all. And indeed I don’t!
  Waldstein | Aug 27, 2016 |
I didn't find this book tedious at all (as one reviewer below did). I found it enthralling from beginning to end.

Here is a young man setting out on a five-year voyage (not a quick return flight to the Costa del Sol then) to places where most of the locals have never strayed beyond 10 miles of their homes. The amazing thing is, Darwin lands on some out-of-the-way place where the locals are usually delighted to welcome this intrepid Englishman with free food and lodgings simply to hear stories about the world, and Darwin wants nothing more than to get out of there to look at beetles and fallen rocks and speculate about how they came to be there.

If it were me, I'd have been socialising with the people and chasing the local girls, but this guy is absolutely focused on one question: what is all this life everywhere, and how can I better understand it?

So yes, the book can be tedious on one level, but the enthralling part is getting inside the mind of this man who some would claim as the greatest man in history, the first man to actually understand what we are and where we came from. ( )
1 vote NeilRoyMcFarlane | Jun 1, 2014 |
I have the everyman 1945 Hardcover Edition. ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
For the Serious Darwin Fan Only: Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle is an interesting, but often tedious detail of his journey around the world. With this in mind, I would have to recommend this book to the Darwin enthusiast and to those who are just looking for a deeper grasp of Darwin, the man. It's not for anyone looking for a quick, easy, or particularly exciting or sensationalist read. If that's what you're looking for, I recommend Cyril Aydon's biography.

With this disclaimer, the book really does offer insight into Darwin and why this journey would be such a critical point in his life. Darwin is incredibly observant, and details flora and fauna throughout with sometimes discouraging detail. But this fact just gives us a clue as to what made this man different from all the other preeminent scientists of the day. Why did Darwin fully get evolution while the others didn't? Certainly this incredible power to really see things provided him with evidence that others might have missed.

My favorite parts would have to be Darwin's description of his time in the inside of South America and his interactions with the people living there. His reactions were varied. He often voices disgust at the barbarism of the settlers towards the Indians in the wars that occur there, while simultaneously describing the Indians as savages with terrible habits. Overall, however, he seems impressed with South America from the classical liberal point of view, saying "It is impossible to doubt that the extreme liberalism of these countries, must ultimately lead to good results." It would be interesting to see what Darwin would think of South America today. Throughout the book he adamately denounces the slavery sees with a keen insight, saying of an escaped slave woman who killed herself rather than be reenslaved, "In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinancy." Darwin was ahead of his time in this respect.

The part of the book covering his time in the Galapagos is surprisingly short, at least in respect to the emphasis Darwin later put on his time in the islands. It's also interesting to consider Darwin's reaction to them (he thought they were ugly and barren) when considering the impact the diversity of species on the islands played in his evidence for evolution.

All in all, the book has really good, insightful things to pick up, but other parts, such as Darwin's lengthy description of the masses of tiny floating sea creatures, I could have done without. Pick it up if you are really looking to put together a really complete picture of Darwin's life, with tedious details included.
1 vote | iayork | Aug 9, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Darwinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Browne, JanetEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Neve, MichaelEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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This version (ISBNs 014043268X, 1439509859, 0375756809, 1579124925, possibly others) is an ABRIDGED version of the Voyage in the Penguin Classics publisher series, edited by Janet Browne and Michael Neve. Do not combine with the full version of Voyage.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014043268X, Paperback)

"The Voyage of the Beagle" is Charles Darwin's account of the momentous voyage which set in motion the current of intellectual events leading to "The Origin of Species". This "Penguin Classics" edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Janet Brown and Michael Neve. When HMS Beagle sailed out of Devonport on 27 December 1831, Charles Darwin was twenty-two and setting off on the voyage of a lifetime. His journal, here reprinted in a shortened form, shows a naturalist making patient observations concerning geology, natural history, people, places and events. Volcanoes in the Galapagos, the Gossamer spider of Patagonia and the Australasian coral reefs - all are to be found in these extraordinary writings. The insights made here were to set in motion the intellectual currents that led to the theory of evolution, and the most controversial book of the "Victorian age: The Origin of Species". This volume reprints Charles Darwin's journal in a shortened form. In their introduction Janet Brown and Michael Neve provide a background to Darwin's thought and work, and this edition also includes notes, maps, appendices and an essay on scientific geology and the Bible by Robert FitzRoy, Darwin's friend and Captain of the Beagle. Charles Darwin (1809-82), a Victorian scientist and naturalist, has become one of the most famous figures of science to date. The advent of "On the Origin of Species" by means of natural selection in 1859 challenged and contradicted all contemporary biological and religious beliefs. If you enjoyed "The Voyage of the Beagle", you might enjoy Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", also available in "Penguin Classics".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:11 -0400)

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An account of the five years that English naturalist Charles Darwin spent traveling around the world on the HMS Beagle, a voyage that led him to develop his theory of the evolution of the species.

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