In this episode we discuss the extensive library on the HMS Beagle that was created by Charles Darwin and Robert Fitzroy. Over 400 books were in the ship's library and the catalog had a heavy emphasis on travel accounts (travelogues), natural history and geology. We discussed Humboldt and his influence on Darwin and Jeremy told the story about the dragon tree and Darwin's wish to travel the lands of Humboldt to see the same sights as Humboldt.
|Dragon trees in the canary islands (picture from http://pixdaus.com/canary-islands-dragon-tree-or-drago-tree/items/view/267293/)|
Although we were acquainted, from the narratives of so many travellers, with the dragon-tree of the garden of Mr. Franqui, we were not the less struck with it's enormous magnitude. We were told, that the trunk of this tree, which is mentioned in several very ancient documents as marking the boundaries of a field, was as gigantic in the fifteenth century, as it is at the present moment. It's height appeared to us to be about 50 or 60 feet; it's circumference near the roots is 45 feet. We could not measure higher, but Sir George Staunton found, that, 10 feet from the ground, the diameter of the trunk is still 12 English feet; which corresponds perfectly with the assertion of Borda, who found it's mean circumference 33 feet 8 inches, French measure. The trunk is divided into a great number of branches, which rise in the form of a candelabrum, and are terminated by tufts of leaves, like the yucca which adorns the valley of Mexico. It is this division, which gives it a very different appearance from that of the palm-tree*. [Humboldt, Alexander von. 1814-1829. Personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of the New Continent, during the years 1799-1804. pgs 144-145]
Since 36% of the books in the Beagle library were travelogues, and Darwin's own Voyage of the Beagle is a travelogue, we invited Dr. Jeremy Paden, professor of Spanish Literature at Transylvania University, to discuss with us the role of travelogues in the 16th-19th century as a literature form.
During our discussion Jeremy highlighted Thomas Falkner as an influential travelogue writer who wrote A description of Patagonia, and the adjoining parts of South America (1774). Falkner described the region of Patagonia, a rugged area at the tip of of South America that also encompassed the Streights of Magellan.
|The Streights of Magellan from Narborough, John. 1694|
We noted that the tip of South America looks more like a spongiform brain that has mad cow disease as shown in the image below, left image is a brain with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and brain on the right is normal brain.
James highlighted an unusual book in the collection - Werner's Colours, a small book that includes colour swatches that Darwin used as reference when he was taking notes of specimens.
|Excerpt from Werner's Colours|
You can peruse the entire Beagle library at the Darwin Online website.
At the end of the podcast we spoke with Dr. Paden about his own research and interest in poetry. James mentioned his appreciation of Jeremy's poem on the liver fluke parasite and we reprint it here-
Falling from the masticating jaws of ungulates
that clip the tips of grass blades, the black ant
escapes this evening’s immolation
and the circuitous route of cud-balls,
from stomach to teeth, stomach to teeth.
Ignorant of why it leaves the sweet feast
of slime balls secreted by common land snails,
come dusk, the ant climbs again the broad green
leaf to spend the night in sirshasana,
pinschers clamped to the end of a grass blade.
Larval lancet liver flukes, encysted
in snail-trail droppings, once eaten, move to
the ganglion below the gullet, and force
Formica fusca to climb the blade and
wait for the grazing cattle to come home.
If you are interested in reading more of Jeremy Paden's poems you can find his published book of poems concerning mining in Chile here or here.
Interlude music was Procreation by Little Glass Men