A research team has published details of Charles Darwin's extensive personal library for the first time. It contained completely different publications: from an article about epileptic guinea pigs to a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, beloved by scientists, writes The Guardian.
These researchers' project took nearly two decades of painstaking detective work to locate thousands of books, magazines, pamphlets and articles in the naturalist's library.
John van Wy, the academic who led the work, said it showed the extraordinary scope of Darwin's research in relation to the work of others.
“It also shows how wildly eclectic Darwin was,” Van Wy said.
Darwin had a huge number of articles about ducks, aggressive grasshoppers and so on.
The 300-page catalog, published on Darwin Online, details 7,400 book titles and 13,000 magazine titles, pamphlets and reviews.
Some of the books date from Darwin's school days, such as Oliver Goldsmith's History of England (1821), which he won as a prize, or his headmaster's textbook on ancient geography.
For example, auction sales records show that Darwin had a copy of ornithologist John James Audubon's 1826 paper, An Account of the Habits of the Turkey Buzzard (Vultura aura).
In 2019, a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1880 novel Wives and Daughters appeared at auction. A note on it says: “This book was Charles Darwin's favorite book and the last book read aloud to him.”
Research shows that Darwin had volumes on a dizzying array of subjects, including biology, geology, philosophy, psychology, religion, agriculture, art, history and travel.
More than half of the works are written in English, and the rest are in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Danish.
One of the items is a German periodical containing the first known photograph of bacteria.
Other booklets are titled: “Anatomy of the Four-Legged Chicken,” “Epileptic Guinea Pigs,” and “The Hateful or Colorado Grasshopper.”
Darwin's 1859 masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, outlined a theory to explain how life evolved on Earth. It is seen as a book that changed the world, that mattered then and that matters now.
Van Wye, a science historian at the University of Singapore and director of Darwin Online, said all this shows that Darwin was "not an isolated figure working alone, but an expert of his time, drawing on complex science, research and other knowledge of thousands of people."
"The size and range of works in the library demonstrate the extraordinary breadth of Darwin's research into the works of others."
The library's publication coincides with Darwin's 215th birthday on February 12.