21 April 2011

Darwin's rooms update

Richard Carter of Friends of Charles Darwin emails (with no triumph whatsoever) to say he has been there, done that and got the photos. He and the Disperal of Darwin's Michael Barton were shown around by John van Whye (no less) who has done such great work with Darwin Online. And rides an echt cool bike.

Writery rooms: Darwin's rooms at Cambridge.

Charles Darwin was a very modest student at Christ's College Cambridge, suggesting that University performance is no guide to subsequent greatness. While many would consider him a scientist, the conservative UK political journal The Spectator dubs him a writer and includes his rooms at Christ's in their list of quirky or desirable writers' rooms and abodes.

Award for quirkiest writerly abode, meanwhile, is won by Charles Darwin. For Darwin at 200 in 2009, Christ's College, Cambridge made a motherly fuss over Darwin's old college rooms, redecorating the insides to best echo the original right down to chalking in Darwin's name outside the staircase (pictures included on the link above), an act of architectural homage afforded few.

Looking at his bibliography many a person now considered a writer has published far less, but then looking at the grounds of Down House gardeners may equally claim him one of their own. Perhaps we should call him a polymath or renaissence man and have done with pigeonholing him, despite his love of pigeons.

Anyway, for the 2009 Darwin Year bash Christ's titvated the rooms back to their 1820's state and the results can be seen here. According to the biographies, Darwin did lots of hunting and feasting while at Cambridge, while developing his eye for natural history at the point where he was called 'the man who walks with Henslow' (John Stevens Henslow). Darwin's friendship with Henslow was fateful, as it was Henslow who wrote to Robert Fitzroy prevailing upon him to accept Darwin as the Beagle's gentleman scientist. And the rest is (natural) history.

19 April 2011

On this day in 1882

Charles Darwin died. His wife Emma recorded the event in terse diary style:

'fatal attack at 12'

18 April 2011

J Smith (bosun's mate, HMS Beagle) would have been proud

of Andrew Smith (they've got to be related...) of the Indianapolis Smiths for his splendid 1:36 scale radio control model of the Beagle. Do go and have a gander: Mr Smith is recording progress by the week as he builds. He carved the hull from a pear tree bough using an axe. Most gonzo. And most recently disaster has struck as the 2011 Beagle suffered a main mast collapse on her maiden voyage.

Obviously we want to see more Beagles of all sizes in the world, so we here wish Mr Smith well in his rerigging of the Indianapolis Beagle and will be awaiting details of her next voyage.

J. Smith of the 1831 crew should be looking on with approval.

For those who want a model of HMS Beagle and don't have Mr Smith's dedication and skill, Premier Ship Models do a superb HMS Beagle.

So good that one was bought by Simon Keynes, Professor of Anglo Saxon history at Trinity Cambridge who also happens to be a Darwin descendent.

He pronounced himself happy with the result which Beaglers Karen James and I were lucky enough to see in Prof Keynes's rooms in Cambridge.

17 April 2011

Popular science book review sites: go look.

For those of us without the grey matter, patience or Nature subscription to get our science news from primary sources, popular science books are an intellectual lifeline.

As a very average zoology graduate from Liverpool University, I was clicked back onto the wonder of science by Wonderful Life: Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Stephen Jay Gould's book about the fossils of the Burgess Shale. My shelves now groan with the weight of popular science books and good-looking well-written books like these are absolutely vital in the cultural fight to prove that scientists are not the Einstein-alikes or evil world destroying megalomaniacs so beloved of Hollywood's clich├ęd screenwrtiting groupthink.

One of science writers on my radar (through my membership of the writers' colony Litopia) is the prolific Brian Clegg. He has done his bit to spread the pop-sci word through his site Popular Science. This site has done the biological thing and reproduced,its offspring being a discussion forum for popular science books, which is here. It's new, it's worthy and I hope Beagle Project supporters will get stuck in. For those of us looking through the bars, good popular science books are a must.