On The Origin of Darwin
January 8, 2009 8:39 AM   Subscribe

2009 marks not only the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species* but the 200th anniversary of his birth as well. To celebrate, BBC Radio 4 presents a special series of Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time exploring Darwin's life and work: Episode 1 explores Darwin's unhappy childhood, his time at Cambridge University and his failure to become a priest, episode 2 focuses on Darwin's round the world voyage on the Beagle and the objects and the ideas he bought back, episode 3 looks at the publication of Darwin's masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, and the controversy it stirred, and episode 4 is set in Down House where Darwin lived out the final years of his life and which became both family home and experiment lab.

The BBC also presents Dear Darwin, a collection of letters written to Darwin by modern academics and scientists. If you prefer to read actual correspondence between Darwin and his contemporaries, you may enjoy perusing the Darwin Correspondence Project*.
posted by Alvy Ampersand (14 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I've been listening to these on podcast, and it's enlightening: Darwin was prone to seasickness! The entire excursion was a ruse to keep him on dry land!
posted by boo_radley at 8:47 AM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by humannaire at 8:48 AM on January 8, 2009

Also, Cambridge will hosting the 2009 Darwin Festival in July!
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:49 AM on January 8, 2009

I've been listening to the Darwin series via the IOT podcast. Very interesting stuff, as always. IOT never fails to deliver the goods.

The description of Darwin's time as a student at Cambridge was especially entertaining and amusing.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:49 AM on January 8, 2009

This could also be an interesting project: An evolutionary biologist is reading the Origin of Species for the first time, and will be giving a running commentary
posted by crickets at 8:57 AM on January 8, 2009

This is a great post. Thanks for sharing, Alvy.
posted by toastedbeagle at 9:30 AM on January 8, 2009

If there is such a thing as evolution? Why are there still humans walking around?
posted by doctorschlock at 9:31 AM on January 8, 2009

posted by lumpenprole at 10:45 AM on January 8, 2009

Oh, how I am looking forward to all the Darwin festivities this year. More Darwin audio goodness: a sampling of Darwin's Beagle Journal Entries provide a great taste of life aboard the Beagle.
Dec 26:
An excellent day for sailing, but the opportunity has been lost owing to the drunkenness of nearly the whole crew.
posted by lucidprose at 10:47 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anything in there about stealing some of Alfred Russel Wallace's ideas, after Wallace wrote Darwin to ask his opinion on a few things? and rushing his book out in order to be first before Wallace published, after sitting on it for 20 years or so?
posted by Aversion Therapy at 1:05 PM on January 8, 2009

Aversion, Do you have any specifics on the stolen ideas? I did some searching and came across this New Yorker essay on Wallace and a Guardian essay on the 150 anniversary of Wallace's paper. They mention the 'Delicate Arrangement' but don't delve into specifics.
What followed has been called the “Delicate Arrangement.” The term, drawn from a phrase used by Huxley’s grandson, provides the title of a 1980 book by Arnold C. Brackman arguing that Darwin received Wallace’s paper earlier than he acknowledged, incorporated aspects of it into his own work, and then sent it on to Lyell pretending that it had just arrived. Much poring over postmarks and manuscripts is involved in this argument, but the recent biographies all make it pretty clear that, at its root, this was primarily an instance—perhaps the greatest—of great minds thinking alike. But there’s no question that Hooker and Lyell—Darwin’s friends, both of whom were powerful and wellborn members of the Royal Society—took action to protect Darwin’s “priority.” And although Darwin wrote to Lyell that “I would far rather burn my whole book, than that he or any other man should think that I had behaved in a paltry spirit,” he turned the matter over to Lyell and Hooker with enough hints to help them resolve things favorably for him. Lyell and Hooker arranged a reading, at a meeting of the Linnean Society, on July 1, 1858, of three items: the first was an unpublished sketch by Darwin written in 1844; the second was a letter he had written to a Harvard biologist in 1857 describing aspects of his theory; the final, making a sort of coda to Darwin, was Wallace’s paper.

Wallace, still in the Tropics, did not even know about the meeting—nobody told him until it was all over. When he found out, he expressed the humble satisfaction of a servant invited to eat at the master’s table, writing to his mother, “I sent Mr. Darwin an essay on a subject on which he is now writing a great work. He showed it to Dr. Hooker and Sir C. Lyell, who thought so highly of it that they immediately read it before the Linnean Society. This assures me the acquaintance and assistance of these eminent men on my return home.” One wonders what he might have written had he known the reason for such speedy publication. But later, when he had divined more of the circumstances, he retained his generosity, adding only that he wished he had been given a chance to proof his article.
posted by lucidprose at 5:24 PM on January 8, 2009

Aversion Therapy: They do discuss the events leading up to and following the Linnean Society reading; although I am not a Darwin scholar (I was mostly motivated by my love of IOT), it's my understanding that the evidence of Darwin's alleged plagiarism and implied mendacity isn't all that definitive. Wallace certainly didn't seem like a guy who felt ripped off and given the shaft, to mix metaphors.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:10 PM on January 8, 2009

No the evidence isn't especially definite, as Darwin apparently routinely destroyed any correspondence he received from Wallace, though Wallace kept what he got back from Darwin. There's a lot of debate in "history of science" circles over how the whole affair went. There's a good chapter on it in David Quammen's "Song of the Dodo," which makes a pretty good argument for Darwin acting somewhat preciptously, at the very least, in the whole affair.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 5:06 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

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