Excerpt from Darwin's Armada by Iain McCalman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Darwin's Armada

Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution

By Iain McCalman

Darwin's Armada
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Aug 2009,
    432 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2010,
    432 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Three men in late middle age who also gripped the brass handles of the coffin were there because they'd been Darwin's closest friends and intellectual collaborators. Biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, aged fifty-seven, was tall and thickset with a beaklike nose and massive side whiskers. Next to him stooped botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, sixty-five, slight and fragile with a leonine ruff of white hair circling his face, which was pale from angina. At the rear was zoogeographer Alfred Russel Wallace, fifty-nine, tall and gangly with a heavy white beard around a kindly mouth.

The modest co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, Wallace was a man whom Darwin had revered, despite Wallace's reputation for radical eccentricity. Privately, George Darwin thought it would have been more in keeping with his father's feelings to have positioned Wallace 'at the other end' of the coffin with his two colleagues. These three scientists belonged together: they were not only the dead man's most committed scientific supporters, but, as fellow southern voyagers, they had also shared with him a special bond of the 'salt'.

As if to remind them of that formative period in all their lives, Darwin's coffin came to rest next to another southern traveller, whom Darwin had first met at the Cape of Good Hope half a century earlier. This neighbour in death was the eminent astronomer--philosopher Sir John Herschel. The two old travellers nudged each other in the confined space of the Abbey. As a seaman, Darwin had been familiar with constrictions of space. One of his mourners, Admiral John Lort Stokes, had written to The Times five days earlier to tell readers how he had worked beside Darwin on the Beagle's poop-cabin table while their hammocks swayed overhead. Sudden bouts of seasickness would force Darwin to leave his microscope and lie down, saying, 'Old fellow, I must take the horizontal for it.' And here he was taking the horizontal for the last time.

The organ sounded a final anthem, Canon Prothero pronounced the Benediction, and Charles Darwin, that most reluctant sailor and fighter, embarked on his last voyage to meet the worms he'd been so recently studying.

Locals from Darwin's tiny Kentish hamlet of Downe were represented by two long-time family servants, Mary Evans, who'd looked after Darwin since he was a boy, and old Mr Parslow, the almost equally long-serving butler. Provision had been made for other villagers to attend the funeral, but none did so. Most believed that Darwin would have hated the Abbey ceremony. Had it been held at the local church of St Mary's as they'd hoped, and as he'd intended, the pallbearers would not have included all these stiff society folk. Family members, neighbours, and old friends like Hooker, Huxley and Wallace would have carried the coffin to the resting spot Darwin had requested.

The Downe church was small, just a nave and a chancel below a white plaster ceiling and an old timbered roof, but it was dignified in its simplicity. The dwarf tower and tall spire were the first thing travellers glimpsed through the horse chestnut trees as they made their way down from Keston Hill, along a steep winding path cut into the chalk, then across a level meadow and into the village. A huge old elm with a 23-foot girth shadowed the entrance to the church and the adjacent yard. This was the burial spot of Darwin's two children who died in infancy, Mary Eleanor and Charles Waring. Here too, in a grassy patch under a large old yew tree, lay two of Darwin's Wedgwood cousins, sharing with his elder brother Erasmus a specially commissioned family vault designed to hold twelve. In spite of Charles's lack of religious feeling, he'd felt this tiny churchyard to be 'the sweetest place on earth'. So when his stuttering heart finally stopped beating at four pm on 19 April, after a week of pain, both the family and the village took it for granted that a quiet local ceremony would be held. Darwin had expressed this wish to his wife Emma a year earlier, when gripped by an intimation of death.

Reprinted from Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution by Iain McCalum copyright (c) 2009 by Iain McCalum. with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...
  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.