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Still Something to be Learnt

A fascinating insight into Charles Darwin, man and scientist, is to be found in an exhibition dedicated to him at Ruthin Library. Originally part of the British Library's exhibition in London, banners and display boards use maps, lists, illustrations and text to provide biographical material. AII are colourful, clearly set out and informative. Much has been said about Darwin on television and radio in this, the bicentenary of his birth, but I found there were still new fads to be learned from this exhibition. Scientific events that led up to his great work ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ being published in 1859 are chronicled in detail. Darwin’s intelligence and curiosity, his dedication and obsessive search for knowledge shine through, but glimpses of his personality and personal life are included too, and bring the man alive. For ex- ample, added to the details of his great journey of 1831-36 circumnavigating the globe on HMS Beagle, is a list Darwin made of the objections his father had raised to his taking up the invitation to be the naturalist on the voyage! That reminds us that Darwin was not always the grave elderly, white- bearded scholar frequently portrayed. A large chart, designed by Dr Steven Ramm, who delivered a public lecture to launch the exhibition, tells of the young Darwin’s visit to
North Wales in 1831, with geologist Adam Sedgwick in search of old red sandstone (they didn’t find any—though there is old red sandstone in Anglesey). They spent the night of August 6th at the Castle Hotel. Darwin wrote afterwards that he had “never ceased being thankful for that short tour in Wales”. A collection of some 20-30 books by or about Darwin accompanies the display—plenty of ideas for follow-up reading. Two minor drawbacks. Part of the exhibition is housed in the meeting room of the Library, to which access is not always available; it would be wise to check whether the room is in use before you leave home. Secondly, to read the banners one has to stand on the staircase and crane up at them. Despite these quibbles, the exhibition is well worth an hour or so of one’s time. According to one of the banners, Darwin said, of marriage, “these things are good for one’s health but terrible loss of time”.
RUTH BACON reviewed the 2009 Darwin exhibition