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The book 'Darwin of the Beagle' by Bern Dibner was donated to the Mednansky Institute by the BURNDY LIBRARY to which we are forever grateful.  In 2006 the 'Burndy Library' was donated to 'The Huntington Library' where it now resides.

"During the 1930s [Bern] Dibner worked on his command of foreign languages, traveled extensively in Europe, made the acquaintance of booksellers in many countries, and visited the sites of great achievements in science and engineering.  In 1940 he enrolled as a special student at Columbia University to pursue a formal study of the history of science.  Meanwhile, his collection was fast becoming one of the world’s great private libraries.  In 1941 he created the Burndy Library, and he immediately began to open its great resources to scholars, scientists, and engineers." – From 'Inside the Burndy Library' by I. Bernard Cohen, in the 'American Heritage of Invention & Technology' Fall 1985, Volume 1, Issue 2

A precious account: 'Darwin of the Beagle' by Bern Dibner

Author: M. Crasnier-Mednansky, Ph.D., D.Sc. (martine@minst.org)
Copyright 2009 Mednansky Institute, Inc.

As long as it consists solely of description it is pretty easy; but where reasoning comes into play a difficulty of which I had no idea – Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

At not quite 23 years of age, Charles Robert Darwin had accepted a self-funded position as Naturalist1 on board of H.M.S. Beagle, a 242-ton brig assigned to cartographic service, which had been prepared for yet another voyage under command of Captain Robert FitzRoy.  Darwin was to cover his own expenses but 'he could dispose of zoological, botanical and geological collections' in any manner he chose.  H.M.S. Beagle sailed from England on December 27, 1831 on route for a five-year voyage during which Darwin collected varieties of insects, birds, reptiles, plants, fungi and fossil bones of vanished species (1529 specimens were sent to England).  He journeyed inland, climbed uncharted mountains and reached virgin territories.  In 1833 Darwin wrote "I trust and believe that the time spent in this voyage… will produce its full worth in Natural History.  And it appears to me, the doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge, is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue" (emphasis added).

1 Darwin's son, Francis Darwin, wrote "He was a Naturalist in the old sense of the word, that is, a man who works at many branches of the science, not merely a specialist in one"

The Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe

Multiple details of the voyage (from various sources listed in the biography section of the book) and recollection of Darwin’s own narrative of the voyage make for a fascinating reading of 'Darwin of the Beagle' by Bern Dibner. The book includes copy of a manuscript page from Darwin and facsimile of the 'Darwin-Wallace papers of 1858' communicated to the Linnean Society in 1858.


The book also contains numerous illustrations including portraits of Darwin and several drawings from Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, Between the Years 1826 and 1836, Describing their Examination of the Southern Shores of South America, and the Beagle's Circumnavigation of the Globe (1839).  'Darwin of the Beagle' is an excellent introduction to Charles Darwin's life and work as an explorer and true observer.

Beagle voyage

In the Falkland Islands, The Origin of SpeciesDarwin compared species between mainland and adjoining islands.  It undermined his previous comprehension of life processes, and the assumption of the immutability of species, which will later be the basis for writing his most significant book 'The Origin of Species'.  Differentiation of species grew clearer in his mind in the volcanic Galapagos Islands where life was unlike anything known to him.  After his voyage, he went home where for about 20 years he never ceased collecting facts for elaboration of his ideas in support of 'the origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life'.

Thomas Henry Huxley, a defender of Darwin against the attacks that followed publication of 'The Origin of Species' in 1859, warned posterity that "in history it was the fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions" and reminded to his listeners that "the essence of the scientific spirit is criticism".

Suggested Reading:

At DARWIN ONLINE: Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of his Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, between the Years 1826 and 1836, Describing their Examination of the Southern Shores of South America, and the Beagle's Circumnavigation of the Globe, Vol. II, 1839 (Voyage of the Beagle from entry page)

Charles Finney Cox Papers (PP) at The New York Botanical Garden, Archives and Manuscripts, Mertz Library.  See also a catalogue of 'The Charles Finney Cox Collection of Darwiniana', in 'Journal of the New York Botanical Garden', January 1913, Volume 14, EBOOK FREE at Google Books

Among other titles at Project Gutenberg: Volume 1 (EText-No 2087) and 2 (EText-No 2088) of The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, by Charles Darwin including an autobiographical chapter edited by Darwin's son, Francis Darwin

On the reception of 'The Origin of Species' by Thomas Henry Huxley, EText-No 2089 at Project Gutenberg

Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection by Alfred Russel Wallace, 2nd Edition with Corrections and Additions, 1871, EText-No 22428 at Project Gutenberg

'Menagerie Manor' by Gerald Durrell, 1964

They have, in fact, come down from prehistoric times virtually unchanged, and so if anything in the world can be dignified with the term prehistoric monster, the tuatara can — Gerald Durrell in 'Menagerie Manor' 1964

Illustrations in 'Menagerie Manor' are by Ralph Thompson

Suggested Performance:

Ralph Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending - Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent - YouTube

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