Letters from the Library: Darwin at the Tower of Babel

21 May 20 /

Author: Edgardo Civallero

The figure of Charles Darwin — Darwin the scientific, but also the thinker, the believer, the citizen — has attracted the attention of specialists and laymen alike for more than a century. Not in vain his ideas revolutionized 19th-century academic thought, and even today they continue provoking debate, as well as inspiring studies and advances in countless fields and disciplines.

The gravity of such a star has drawn countless satellites around it: a myriad of authors determined to describe the Englishman, his life, his travels and his publications from every possible perspective, reaching levels of detail sometimes exaggerated. And this happens despite the fact that the voluminous Darwinian work already includes, among other texts, an official autobiography and the detailed diary of the travel aboard the Beagle — which incidentally turned that journey into one of the most famous scientific expeditions in Western history.

Understanding that the words of the "Father of Evolution" did not need more interpreters and apologists, some specialists in Darwin's work and life have made their contribution in a different way: translating his words. By transferring the ideas of the distinguished scientist to other alphabets, other grammars and other vocabularies, they have managed to extend the reach of his thoughts.

Among its many books, our library treasures a collection called precisely "Darwin", displaying all the texts produced by the British scientist in their original language, plus a good number of biographies, analyzes and comments written by other pens.

And yes: it also includes translations. One (small) Babel of them.

There are books in Italian — many of them — and in Spanish, obviously. But there are some works that result more "exotic" to the common reader. Like the translations of The Voyage of the Beagle into Korean (1993, 2006) by Soon-Keun Chang, an emeritus scientist at the Korean Polar Research Institute, who also wrote his own text (2003) about Darwin's theories — those theories developed throughout his trip around the world.

Alongside those volumes, printed in the curious Hangul alphabet, there is the translation of Darwin's autobiography — originally titled Recollections of the Development of my Mind and Character — by S. L. Sobol. It was the first one in Russian and was launched in Moscow in 1957 by the publishing house of the then famous USSR Academy of Sciences. Prof. Sobol translated Darwin's complete works; for the Recollections... He used the microfilmed version of the original manuscript, kept in the library of the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom).

Interestingly, that text served as the basis to prepare the Romanian translation, which is also in our library, and which was edited in 1962 by the Academic Publishing House of the Romanian People's Republic in Bucharest.

On the same shelf, a little further, there is a Japanese translation prepared by an expert in Darwin and the theory of evolution: Yasugi Ryūichi. The book was published in Tokyo in the early 50's of the last century and, like all Japanese books, it begins with what in the West would be considered the back cover.

Most of the books in the "Darwin" collection are dedicated to the Station and autographed by their authors. Aware that the CDF library is one of a kind, they wanted to leave a sample of their work — and their love for Darwin — on their shelves.

It is the work of the library (among many others) to safeguard those books and make them accessible to everybody. As far as the limits imposed by the mythical Tower of Babel allow, of course.


Andres Cruz

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