The Book That Colored Charles Darwin’s World

In nearly five years aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, Charles Darwin catalogued a dizzying array new creatures. But how to show them to the back home? Illustration by . Fresson “I been struck by the beautiful colour the sea when seen through the chinks a straw hat,” Charles Darwin wrote, in late March, 1832, as H.M.S. Beagle threaded its way through the Abrolhos Shoals, off the Brazilian coast. The water, he wrote, was “Indigo with a little Azure blue,” while the sky above was “Berlin with [a] little Ultra marine.” Darwin, then twenty-three, was only three months into the nearly five-year adventure would transform life , eventually, the way that humans saw themselves other species. As the voyage’s so-called scientific person, he would collect masses of rocks, fossils, animals, plants, periodically shipping specimens to Cambridge in containers ranging from barrels to pillboxes. Like other naturalists of time, though, primary documentary tool was the word , and during the voyage he drew many of words from a slim volume called “ Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours ,” published in 1814 by the Scottish artist Patrick Syme. Syme’s […]

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