Originally posted at ouhos.org, the now-discontinued blog of the OU History of Science Collections. Neither this post nor any of its content should be taken as an official communication of the University of Oklahoma.
Which of Darwin’s books was the most popular during his own lifetime?
Charles Darwin’s second book was a travel narrative, a lively account of the Beagle voyage originally published in 1839 as the third volume of the Journal of Researches. The Journal was a 4-volume report of the voyage edited by Robert Fitzroy, captain of H.M.S. Beagle.
Darwin’s journal became known in subsequent editions simply as the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin’s Voyage was an immediate best-seller. More people read this book in the 19th century than any of Darwin’s other works.
Darwin recounted adventures at sea: sailing around Cape Horn, passing by snow-topped mountains and volcanic islands.
And adventures on land: crossing icy bridges in the Andes and traversing treacherous mountain passages. He relayed visions of strange, far-away places and the exotic people who lived there.
Darwin’s travel narrative was widely admired, both in Britain and on the continent, as a description of the scientist as an explorer encountering the exotic and sublime.
The Voyage makes compelling reading, recounting stories about many of the specimens described in the Zoology. For example, the Voyage explains that Darwin caught the vampire bat beautifully colored in the Zoology as it alighted on the back of his horse near Coquimbo, in Chile.
It’s no wonder the Voyage of the Beagle has remained in print to this day.
Examine the Voyage of the Beagle in high resolution at the Online Galleries:
- Darwin, Journal of Researches (1839), F11.
- For an illustrated edition, see: Darwin, Journal of Researches (Voyage of the Beagle, 1890 edition), F64.
More info about Darwin’s first book, the Zoology.