RECORD: Anon. 1890. [Review of Journal of researches]. Popular Science Monthly (June): 271-272. 

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 10.2022. RN1


[page] 271

Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries visited during the voyage round the World of H. M. S. Beagle, under the Command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N. By Charles Darwin. A new edition, with Illustrations. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 551, with Maps. Price, $5.

There are only a few books that have the qualities of an originality and freshness that never wear out. Darwin's Naturalist's Voyage must be conceded a prominent place in the list. It has been a little more than fifty years since it was first published. That is a very long time in the life of a book of science and even of a book of travels. Either is likely to become antiquated and obsolete in that period. The book of science comes to be read largely as a curiosity, and to derive its chief interest as being a landmark from which the advance accomplished may be measured. The book of travels becomes a kind of history, and is valued for the illustrations it furnishes of the scenes and conditions that once prevailed. Mr. Darwin's Journal, in whichever aspect we regard it, seems as life-like, real, and sagacious as if it were the fresh record of the latest observer. The prediction made by the Quarterly Review on its first appearance, that "it must always occupy a distinguished place in the history of scientific investigation," is more than fulfilled. The work accomplished by Darwin on this voyage has been gone over, in its various parts, many times, with all the advantages of increased knowledge and approved appliances and methods of investigation; and it is surprising how little of it has to be rewritten. So far from any of its science seeming obsolete, we find all through the narrative observations which are in effect unconscious predictions, the product of the author's peculiar way of looking at things, of what has since been determined; and we are also constantly reminded that the later determinations are to

[page] 272

the largest extent the outcome of Mr. Darwin's own subsequent work. The track of the voyage and its principal features are well known to all persons who are conversant with the scientific literature of the last half-century, for hardly any book has been more frequently referred to in that literature. The places visited were not as familiar then as they have since been made, and of the natural life of many of them hardly anything was known. So Mr. Darwin enjoyed the advantage of being one of the first visitors and often the first scientific observer. Much of the book is, therefore, the original record by a discoverer of his discovery. Of the manner in which that record has been composed, we need say no more than quote Mr. John Murray's remark in the Prefatory Notice to the present edition, that "the extraordinary minuteness and accuracy of Mr. Darwin's observations, combined with the charm and simplicity of his descriptions, have insured the popularity of this book with all classes of readers, and that popularity has even increased in recent years." Not only are Mr. Darwin's observations as a rule accurate and anticipatory of much that has since been established; they also comprehend nearly everything that should fall under the ken of a thorough-going investigator. Seeing all that the experienced traveler sees and a great deal more than most of this class think of looking for, he portrays the scenery with a few well-defined traces; studies the geology; looks after the animal and vegetable life, with an eye that discerns as much in a few hours of sojourn at a place as duller observers might hardly discover after months of study; peers with equal keenness into the habits and most trifling actions of the animate world; takes note of the human life, of society, of manners and customs, the conditions of civilization, and of the prospects for the future of the countries he visits; and interweaves the whole with pertinent yet undogmatic speculations as to the meaning of the various features that came under his eye such as mark all the man's work— most of which have been verified, or are in course of verification by investigations to which he gave the start and on lines of research which he himself marked out. Perhaps the point to which the present interest is attached is embodied in his observations on coral reefs, which have come under discussion again in consequence of the new results obtained by the Challenger Expedition. Some of his observations— in cases where the aspect is affected by the progress of human settlement— are in more or less striking contrast with what is to be seen now. One of the strongest contrasts, perhaps, is offered in the picture of New Zealand, where the natives at the time of his visit lacked the charming simplicity of the Tahitians, and the greater part of the English were "the very refuse of society." But in the more detailed fillings of even this picture we find foreshadowings of the higher civilization that has overtaken the Maoris, and the prosperity that has attended the English colony. The present edition of Mr. Darwin's narrative is illustrated by views not in the previous editions, most of which were made on the spot by Mr. R. T. Pritchett with the book by his side, and others are taken from engravings which Mr. Darwin himself had selected for their interest as illustrating his voyage.

 


This document has been accessed 106 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

File last updated 10 November, 2022