The C. Warren Irvin, Jr., Collection
of Charles Darwin and Darwiniana

Overview | Warren Irvin on Collecting Darwin | Boyhood and Edinburgh | Cambridge | The Voyage of the Beagle | Zoology and Botany | Geology | Vestiges and Lamarckianism | Marine Biology and the 1850s | The Origin of Species | After the Origin | After Darwin

Cambridge: Natural Theology and Natural History

Christ's College, Cambridge

In 1827, Darwin persuaded his father to let him transfer from Edinburgh to Christ's College, Cambridge, abandoning his prospective medical career for a possible career as a clergyman. He returned to Cambridge again in 1837, after H.M.S. Beagle's return to Britain.

Paley and the Divine Watchmaker 
James Paxton, 1786-1800.
Illustrations of Paley's Natural theology. With descriptive letter press.
Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins, 1827.

At Christ's Darwin lived in the rooms formerly occupied by the Revd. William Paley, whose textbook of Natural Theology, required reading in the English universities, likened God's design in creation to that of a divine watchmaker, whose intent and presence could be deduced from the complexity of the machine he had created.

Religious orthodoxy and Cambridge science
William Whewell, 1794-1866.
Astronomy and general physics considered with reference to natural theology. The Bridgewater treatises on the power, wisdom and goodness of God as manifested in the creation. Treatise III.
London: William Pickering, 1847.

The Revd. William Whewell, a leading Cambridge mathematician and later Master of Trinity College, was a daunting polymath who introduced German moral philosophy into Cambridge and wrote two major books on scientific method. His Bridgewater Treatise on astronomy, first published in 1833, exemplifies the close connection between Cambridge scientists and the church in the decades before Darwin, but asserts the regularity of natural processes.

Bug-hunting: the discovery and description of new species 
William Kirby, 1759-1850, and William Spence,
An introduction to entomology: or elements of the natural history of insects: with plates. 4 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Browne, 1815-1826.

Like Darwin's hometown of Shrewsbury, Cambridge afforded few opportunities for studying sea-life, and as an undergraduate Darwin found a point of contact with others interested in science when he resumed his schoolboy passion for collecting insects. The variety of insect species, and the complexity of classifying them, was one of the experiences introducing him to the species question.

The discovery of extinct species: the megatherium
William Buckland, 1784-1856.
Geology and mineralogy considered with reference to natural theology. The Bridgewater treatises on the power, wisdom and goodness of God, as manifested in the creation. Treatise VI.
2 vols. London: William Pickering, 1837.

The Oxford paleontologist and famous eccentric, the Revd. William Buckland, used newly- discovered fossil remains not only to reconstruct such extinct species as the Megatherium illustrated here, but also to support the Biblical account of a universal flood. Darwin himself would find similar fossil mammals in South America, and successive discoveries by Richard Owen and others through the middle decades of the century kept the dinosaur question before the wider public.

Finding a mentor: Professor Henslow's patronage and Darwin's big break
John Stevens Henslow, 1796-1861.
Descriptive and physiological botany: Cabinet cyclopædia. Natural history. Ed. Dionysius Lardner, 1793-1859.
A new ed. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, 1837.

At Cambridge, Darwin remained much more interested in natural history than in preparing for the church, and through entomology he got to know the young and well-connected Cambridge regius professor of botany, the Revd. John Henslow.  Like Grant in Edinburgh, Henslow inspired his students with the quest for discovery; one of the field-trips he took into the fens with his students during Darwin's time netted nearly 300 new species.  It was through Henslow that in 1831 Darwin was recommended to the Admiralty for the vacant post of naturalist on H.M.S. Beagle's expedition to survey the coasts of South America.

The model of the scientist as explorer and diarist
Alexander von Humboldt, 1769-1859,
Personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of the new continent, during the years 1799-1804 . . . translated into English by Helen Maria Williams.
Philadelphia: M. Carey, 1815.

Among the books which enthused Darwin for the proposed naval expedition to South America was the journal of the great German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. Darwin took a copy of Humboldt's account with him on the Beagle, and it provided a model for his own journal. Williams's English translation, shown here, covers only the first two of von Humboldt's original seven volumes.

The impact on Darwin of uniformitarian geology
Sir Charles Lyell, 1797-1875.
Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth's surface, by reference to causes now in operation.
3 vols. London: John Murray, 1830-33.

The first volume of Lyell's groundbreaking book, which appeared during Darwin's years in Cambridge, persuasively established the 'uniformitarian' approach to analyzing past geological change. Darwin took Lyell's book with him on theBeagle, and had Lyell's second volume (shown here in original boards from the Irvin collection) sent out to him by a mail ship. Lyell's approach to geology both provided Darwin with a model for his own later theorizing about the laws governing changes in plants and animals, and also greatly expanded the time-scale available for such change.

Darwin's first mention in print
Stephens, James Francis, 1792-1853.
Illustrations of British entomology; or, A synopsis of indigenous insects; containing their generic and specific distinctions; with an account of their metamorphoses, times of appearance, localities, food, and economy, as far as practicable. Vol. II, Mandibulata.  London, Printed for the author, published by Baldwin and Cradock, 1829.

Darwin's work with Henslow in tracking down insect species was first recognized in the appendix of this standard book.

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