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Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882). The Voyage of the Beagle.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

A SKETCH of Darwin’s life and some indication of the importance of his work have been given in the edition of “The Origin of Species” published in the Harvard Classics.

The text of the present volume shows without further comment the nature of Darwin’s labors and their results on this momentous voyage. A few sentences gathered from his autobiography will, however, throw some additional light upon the more personal aspects of the expedition.

“The Voyage of the ‘Beagle’ has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career.… I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved, though they were always fairly developed.…”

“The above various special studies were, however, of no importance compared with the habit of energetic industry and of concentrated attention to whatever I was engaged in, which I then acquired. Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen or was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science.”

“Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste. During the first two years my old passion for shooting survived in nearly full force, and I shot, myself, all the birds and a and more, and finally altogether, to my servant, as shooting interfered with my work, more especially with making out the geological structure of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously and insensibly, that the pleasure of observing and reasoning was a much higher one than that of skill and sport.…”

“As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in Natural Science. But I was also ambitious to take a fair place among scientific men,—whether more ambitious or less so than most of my fellow-workers, I can form no opinion.”—(Life and Letters, I. pp. 61–65)

Even if the Journal of the voyage were not one of the most interesting and informing of books, this statement by its author of the importance of the expedition in making possible his later epoch-making generalizations would give it a distinctive place in the literature of science. But its amazing wealth of information and its unconsciously painted picture of disinterested zeal in the search for scientific truth have made it for intrinsic reasons a classic in its kind.