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The complete collection of books in Charles Darwin's personal library has been disclosed for the first time.
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The complete collection of books in Charles Darwin’s personal library has been disclosed for the first time.

The complete contents of Charles Darwin’s extensive personal library, including an article on guinea pigs with epilepsy and his beloved novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, are being released for the first time.

Over the course of nearly 20 years, extensive and meticulous efforts have been made to locate the numerous books, journals, pamphlets, and articles within the naturalist’s collection.

John van Wyhe, the scholar who has spearheaded the “overwhelming” effort, stated that it demonstrated the remarkable extent of Darwin’s investigation into the contributions of others.

Van Wyhe described Darwin as incredibly diverse in his interests. The collection includes a wide range of materials such as American and German news articles about topics like ducks and invasive grasshoppers. This has been the most enjoyable aspect, rather than just the formal books, as all of these materials came together to form the well-known theories and publications.

The 300-page catalog released by Darwin Online contains information on 7,400 titles and 13,000 items, including journals, pamphlets, and reviews.

Some of the books date back to Darwin’s school days such as Oliver Goldsmith’s A history of England (1821), which he won as a prize, or his headmaster’s textbook on ancient geography.

At times, researchers have utilized auction records to construct narratives.

As an illustration, a record of auction sales shows that Darwin owned a copy of a 1826 article written by ornithologist John James Audubon. The article discussed the habits of the Turkey Buzzard (Vultura aura), specifically aiming to debunk the commonly held belief of its exceptional sense of smell.

In 2019, a version of the novel “Wives and Daughters” by Elizabeth Gaskell from 1880 was sold at an auction. A written comment inside states that this book was highly cherished by Charles Darwin and was the final book that was read aloud to him.

According to van Wyhe, previous inventories of Darwin’s library only accounted for approximately 15% of its contents.

The updated list reveals that Darwin was well-versed in a diverse range of topics, such as biology, geology, philosophy, psychology, religion, farming, art, history, and travel.

Over 50% of the works are written in English, while the remaining are in a variety of languages such as German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Danish.

One of the items is a German periodical containing the first known photograph of bacteria.

Other papers in the library have titles such as “The anatomy of a four-legged chicken”, “Epileptic guinea-pigs” and “The hateful or Colorado grasshopper”.

The project involves creating a digital version of the library, containing 9,300 links to free copies of available materials.

According to his supporters, Darwin has had the greatest impact on our understanding of the natural world.

In his famous 1859 book, “On the Origin of Species,” he presented the theory that elucidates the process of evolution on Earth. This book is renowned for its significant impact on the world and remains relevant even today.

Van Wyhe, a historian of science at the University of Singapore and the director of Darwin Online, said it all showed that Darwin was “not an isolated figure working alone but an expert of his time building on the sophisticated science and studies and other knowledge of thousands of people.

Darwin’s extensive research on the work of others is evident in the large and diverse collection of works in the library.

The publication by the library aligns with the 215th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, which falls on February 12.

Countless literature has been dedicated to Darwin, but this is the initial instance of his complete library being documented.

Van Wyhe expressed his surprise and curiosity, stating that he wonders why this action was not taken much earlier. He also acknowledges that Darwin is one of the most extensively written about historical figures and jokes are made about the abundance of literature on him, referring to it as the “Darwin industry.”

Source: theguardian.com