Darwin's private papers get Internet launch

LONDON Thu Apr 17, 2008 2:56am EDT

Charles Darwin in an undated photo. The first draft of Darwin's ''On The Origin Of Species'' is among a wealth of papers being published on the Internet on Thursday for the first time. REUTERS/File

Charles Darwin in an undated photo. The first draft of Darwin's ''On The Origin Of Species'' is among a wealth of papers being published on the Internet on Thursday for the first time.

Credit: Reuters/File

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LONDON (Reuters) - The first draft of Charles Darwin's "On The Origin Of Species" is among a wealth of papers belonging to the intensely private man who changed science being published on the Internet on Thursday for the first time.

Comprising some 20,000 items and 90,000 images, the release on darwin-online.org.uk is the largest in history, according to the organizers from Cambridge University Library which holds all the Darwin papers.

"This release makes his private papers, mountains of notes, experiments, and research behind his world-changing publications available to the world for free," said John van Wyhe, director of the project.

"His publications have always been available in the public sphere - but these papers have until now only been accessible to scholars."

The collection includes thousands of notes and drafts of his scientific writings, notes from the voyage of the Beagle when he began to formulate his controversial theory of evolution, and his first recorded doubts about the permanence of species.

It also contains photographs of Darwin and his family, newspaper clippings, reviews of his books and much more.

Giving a more personal insight, there is also his wife Emma's cookbook including recipes for delicacies such as 'Ilkley pudding' and a rudimentary recipe for boiling rice, written by Darwin himself.

Other papers include caricatures and notes with his boyhood musings on birds.

Publication in 1859 of Origin of Species after years of prevarication established Darwin -- already known to the public after publication of The Voyage of the Beagle -- as a leading scientific thinker.

But it also sparked a major public debate and a bitter denunciation by the Church of England, which regarded the book as heretical.

"Darwin changed our understanding of nature forever. His papers reveal how immensely detailed his researches were," said van Wyhe.

"The release of his papers online marks a revolution in the public's access to - and hopefully appreciation of - one of the most important collections of primary materials in the history of science."

(Reporting by Jeremy Lovell; editing by Paul Casciato)

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