UCB Libraries


Past Exhibit

Mercator-Hondius Atlas, 1630


Discoverers: Adventurers, Philosophers, Scientists, and Scoundrels




Alfred Russel Wallace


Wallace and Darwin simultaneously developed the theory known as natural selection (a term coined by Herbert Spencer). Ironically, Wallace's submission of his paper "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type" to Charles Darwin, seeking Darwin's assistance in getting the paper published, resulted in Darwin getting his own notes in order and publishing "The Natural Selection of Species." Darwin also read a paper to the Linnean Society that used Wallace's material, with full credit, and published it the same year. Each courteously shared credit for theories of natural selection throughout their lives. Darwin's friends ensured Wallace's financial benefit as the recipient of a governmental pension.


Alfred Wallace independently came up with an evolutionary selection theory. This book, Tropical Nature, and Other Essays (1878) contains high praise for Darwin. Dana K. Bailey Collection.

Charles Darwin


Title Page
On the Origin of Species, 1859


Charles Darwin’s family profession was medicine, but Charles was unable to stomach the concept or reality of dissection, or surgery without anesthesia. Since default profession was the clergy, after Charles received his degree he signed on as an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle for a five-year scientific expedition. When Charles returned with the notes and observations he had made in Teneriffe, Patagonia and the Galapagos Islands, among other locations, he spent several years studying and writing, coming to a conclusion he knew would be incendiary.


In 1859, after some trepidation, he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Evolution had been discussed by prior scientists, including Charles’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, but the theory of natural selection added to the hypothesis made evolution a well-grounded scientific theory. It was immediately attacked, and it continues to be a target for religious purists. Charles himself refused to discuss his own religious beliefs in public. Darwin wrote other books, with valuable contributions to biology and botany, but it was the theory of natural selection that earned for him the distinction of being buried in Westminster Abbey.


On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 1859. Darwin’s rivalry with Wallace is mentioned in his introduction.

Anne Ophelia Dowden


Anne Ophelia Dowden was born in Denver, and grew up in Boulder. She credits the Colorado countryside with instilling her appreciation of the wonders of nature. Since the University of Colorado did not have an art department in the 1920s, she attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology to study painting. After graduation in the midst of the Great Depression, Dowden moved to New York City, where she and a group of friends founded the American Design Group. She designed fabrics and wallpaper for fifteen years, as well as teaching art. It was not until the nineteen-fifties that Dowden began working fulltime as a botanical illustrator. Quick recognition of the artistic quality and scientific clarity of her drawings has brought her continued success. Dowden retired back to Boulder several years ago. Some of her books were co-written with fellow Boulderite Hal Borland. Special Collections has artwork relating to two of her books: The Golden Circle, and From Flower to Fruit.


Boulder botanical artist Anne Ophelia Dowden has delighted generations with her exquisite paintings and published books. The several paintings shown here are original artworks from her 1977 book, The Golden Circle: A Book of Months (text by Hal Borlund). Gifts of Anne Ophelia Dowden.




Erasmus Darwin


Erasmus Darwin was one of the more diverse intellectual lights of eighteenth century England. By profession a medical doctor, he also wrote well-received poetry (The Botanic Garden), did important work in the fields of botany, astronomy, and evolution, among others, and developed a number of mechanical devices, including the steering technique still used in automobiles. As a physician, he was an advocate for sanitation and vaccinations, and promoted temperance.


Personally, he was sociable and humorous, had many lifelong friends, two wives, one mistress in the interim, and fourteen children. His grandson, Charles Darwin, used some of Erasmus’s theories in support of his own theory of natural selection. Erasmus’s open-minded approach to some of the social issues of the day, such as democracy and free love, led to his fall in popularity when England became more repressive during the war with Napoleon. His works were satirized and misquoted, and his main reputation is now more from his relation to Charles than on his own merits.


The Botanic Garden; A Poem, in Two Parts: Part I: containing The Economy of Vegetation; Part II: The Loves of the Plants, 1791. This book also has an article about the original cameo Portland Vase, which was reproduced by Erasmus’s friend Josiah Wedgwood. Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life (ours the 1809 American Edition) shows the breadth of Darwin’s scientific knowledge. Botanic Garden is part of the George L. Creamer Library donated by Anna and Nathan H. Creamer in memory of their son.




James Cook


Map of oWhyhee
A Voyage to the Pacific, 1784


James Cook is predominantly known for his three voyages to explore and chart new lands in the Pacific. After his excellent charting of the St. Lawrence River and the eastern coast of Canada, he was selected to lead his first Pacific voyage in the ship Endeavor. He charted New Zealand and claimed eastern Australia. On his second voyage, he proved that any Great Southern Continent would be frigid and unproductive, although due to ice, he didn't actually reach the Antarctic continent. During this voyage, Captain Cook's experiments in improving crew diet and cleanliness were successful, with only one death. His first voyage had had 43% mortality. On his third voyage, he found the Hawaiian Islands (then called the Sandwich Islands) and continued along the west coast in pursuit of the Northwest Passage. However, it was too late in the season, and the ice prevented further progress. Cook returned to the Hawaiian Islands and was killed in an altercation with the natives.


A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean undertaken by the Command of His Majesty, for Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere: vol. III and Atlas, 1784. Two of the several volumes of “Cook’s Voyages” that Special Collections owns. The nine volumes cover voyages from 1772-1780. Gift of Michael John Bowen.




Josiah Wedgwood


Photo of vase
Wedgwood Portland Vase


Josiah Wedgwood was part of the fourth generation of an English potter family. While not highly educated, he had initiative, a linear approach to his craft, and an interest in many fields not obviously applicable to pottery. His carefully documented experiments in clay bodies and glazing eventually lead to beautiful new ceramic lines, including the famous Jasperware, basalt, and the cream-colored earthenware known as Queen's Ware, due to Queen Charlotte's patronage. His friendship with Thomas Bentley led to the use of classical models for much of the Wedgwood line, and Bentley's knowledge helped refine Wedgwood's vision.


Wedgwood was usually one of the first people to attempt to utilize new inventions in his factories, or old inventions in new ways. Some of his pottery was decorated with geometric patterns incised by Boulton's engine-turning lathe. He loaned money to Matthew Boulton while he was working with James Watt on the steam engine, and was the first to install a Watt engine in his Etruria factory in 1782. Wedgwood invented the pyrometer, to make his firings more consistent, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He and his brother Thomas were the patrons whose annuity enabled Coleridge to devote himself to writing. Wedgwood was friends with Erasmus Darwin: Josiah's daughter Susannah married Erasmus's son, and one of their children was Charles Darwin. The Wedgwood potteries continued as a family business into the ninth generation.


This piece is a jasperware “Portland Vase,” Wedgwood’s interpretation of the 1st century BCE Roman cameo glass original in the British Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Vollintine.

Otto Achleitner


Watercolor of Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls by Achleitner


Botanical illustrator and Denver resident Otto Achleitner was a native of Athens. He studied art there, in Rome, and other European cities before immigrating to the United States. His delicate watercolor paintings of Colorado wildflowers often include vignettes of the plants’ places of origin.


Pike’s Peak and Rainbow Falls gifts of Dr. and Mrs. Eugene Heller.

Isabella Bird


Isabella Bird spent most of her life going places a well-bred lady would not go, having adventures a well-bred lady would not have, and, as a well-bred lady, writing about them for the enjoyment of others of the same ilk. As a child she went on rounds with her clergyman father, and in her early adulthood took a trip to Canada and America that showed her how exciting life could be. The resulting book she wrote brought in much money which could be spent on charitable pursuits -- it would be unladylike to use the profits for one's own maintenance or gratification. Her father's death shortly after her return from one of her trips made her feel she had indulged her personal pleasure at the expense of her duty and familial obligations. She decided never to travel again.

Her physical condition deteriorated, making her a near-invalid. Finally a doctor recommended "a change of air." Travel! She bought a ticket to Australia and New Zealand and set off. Though she did not enjoy Australia much, her health recovered somewhat. She recovered fully during a horrendous sail to Hawaii. From there, she went to San Francisco, and traveled to Colorado, becoming the third woman to ascend Long's Peak. She later traveled through Asia, and wrote books about Korea, Japan, and Tibet, among others. Her vigorous and vivid writings include A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.

Bird led an enviable life, adventuring through the Rocky Mountains, Tibet, Japan, and many other locales not usually receptive to lone woman travelers. Representing her here are A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879) and Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: an Account of Travels in the Interior Including Visits to the Aborigines of Yezo and the Shrines of Nikko and Ise (1880). Lady’s Life gift of Paul and Dorothy Thompson.




Sir Richard Francis Burton


Burton was the son of an army colonel, and spent his boyhood traveling with his parents on the European continent. He and his brother were wild, and Burton’s brief university career ended with expulsion from Oxford. He had no use for Oxford anyway, deeming it dull. He then joined the army of the East India Company and was posted to the Sindh. Burton had a gift for languages and was very disciplined in his approach, eventually learning 25 languages and a number of dialects during his adventures. His intelligence career was derailed by an assignment to investigate male brothels. His findings that many customers were British officers put a shadow on his career, and led to his eventual return to his family.


After several years of writing about his time in India, he conceived a scheme to enter Mecca in disguise. The penalty for a non-Muslim was execution, by beheading or crucifixion. He achieved his goal, and wrote of it in Pilgrimage to Medinah and Meccah. Burton respected and admired Muslim customs and beliefs, and so the Muslims downplayed the intrusion with the comment that Burton was in reality an Arab. Burton also went on several expeditions with John Speke to determine the source of the Nile, and discovered Lake Tanganyika. Burton married Isabelle Arundel, a well-born and very Catholic woman. It seems to have been a good, however unlikely, marriage.


He then went to the wilds of America, to Utah, to speak with Brigham Young, and reported on polygamy in City of the Saints. Burton continued to adventure, with consular duties in Africa and Brazil, before returning to the Middle East. Burton’s interest in and reporting of the sexual customs of other cultures, his translations of eastern erotica, and the bawdiness of The Thousand and One Nights overshadowed his other work, and he was not buried in Westminster Abbey.


Burton’s audacity resulted in his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah, 1855 (gift of Donald Baker). The City of the Saints, and Across the Rocky Mountains to California (1862) describes his interaction with Mormons (gift of Dorothy Gardner).


Burton was notorious for his unexpurgated publications, including his translations of The Thousand and One Nights, or of Sheikh Nefzawi’s The Perfumed Garden. Note the Latin motto on the cover of this 1963 version.




Edmund Culpeper


Culpeper microscope, 18th c.


Edmund Culpeper designed a type of microscope which became very popular during the eighteenth century. His design had a double tripod base, the lower level of which had a mirror to illuminate specimens on the upper level. The lenses were contained in an upright tube, which was focused by sliding the outer tube on the inside tube. In some ways, this microscope was a step back in microscope design, as the upright aspect was difficult to use and illuminate, plus the ease of focus also meant ease of losing focus. However, the Culpeper type microscope was simple to construct and not exceptionally costly. Therefore it opened up the world of microscopy to a larger audience.


This Culpeper microscope is made of brass. The slides are mica encased in ivory.

Antony Van Leeuwenhoek


Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch tradesman, was inspired to take up the hobby of microscopy after perusal of Robert Hooke's Micrographia. He learned to grind his own lenses, and used them in a very simple microscope, essentially a plate with the lens embedded, and a basic arrangement of screws which adjusted a spike on which the specimen was mounted. Compound microscopes had been invented before, but the technology only allowed magnification of 20-30 times natural size.


Leeuwenhoek was able, with patience, skill in lens grinding, and undoubtedly excellent natural eyesight, to achieve magnification of some 200 times natural size. He described his findings with delight and accuracy, and commissioned an artist to do illustrations. Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria (from the plaque on teeth), blood cells, living sperm cells, and foraminifera. He started sending letters with his findings to the English Royal Society, and was eventually elected a member. His letters were translated into English and widely published.


Epistolae ad Societatem Regiam Anglican et Alios Illustres Viros is van Leeuwenhoek’s revolutionary 1719 work about microscopic investigations. This plate shows blood cells, described in a letter from van Leeuvenhoek to Hans Sloane.

Galileo Galilei


Galileo started out studying medicine, then switched to mathematics and became a professor at the University of Padua. There he taught Euclid's geometry and enough astronomy to enable his medical students to do astrological diagnoses for their patients. When Galileo heard about new spyglasses, he was fascinated. He started building his own using his mathematical and experimental skills to produce a more effective instrument. Then he directed the lens at the heavens. His book Messages from the Stars describes the mountains of the moon, the stars which compose the Milky Way, and four satellites of Jupiter, which he named after the Medici. This enabled him to gain a rich and noble patron, the Duke of Tuscany. Galileo, at the time a closet Copernican, then observed the phases of Venus, which proved to his satisfaction that the planets, including the Earth, did orbit the sun.


This was in conflict with the religious beliefs of the day, and in early private conversations, Galileo and Church representatives agreed that Galileo would not defend Copernicanism. Galileo could not leave the point alone, however. Being contentious, arrogant and argumentative, he continued to challenge the Church through both personal conversations and letters to its representatives. His publication Dialogue Concerning the Two Greatest World Systems advocated Copernicanism. While Galileo's scientific work was very important, the symbolic value of his confrontation with the Church -- science and truth being repressed by superstition and hierarchy -- has also informed intellectual attitudes since. Galileo's clash with the Inquisition was possibly spurred as much by his abrasive personality as the nature of his theories. Since the result was only house arrest, it was not the harshest sentence possible. His books, as well as Copernicus's and Johannes Kepler’s, were put on the Church's forbidden list, but were removed in 1835. In 1992, the Roman Catholic Church formally admitted to erring in Galileo's case.


Galileo’s discoveries were less threatening when published in Latin, restricted to scholars; but when he published his views in Italian, readable by all his contemporaries, he caused turmoil: Sidereus Nuncius, in Opere di Galileo Galilei, 1655.




Sir Isaac Newton


Isaac Newton turned away from his family’s agricultural traditions to pursue clerical studies at Cambridge. Cambridge was closed for several years due to the plague, and during this enforced hiatus Newton spent the time with his own studies. Many of his more important insights happened during this time, but he did not publish them. After corresponding with Robert Hooke and Edmund Halley about orbits, he was persuaded to expand his calculations, and published them as Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) in 1687. In the Principia he presented the three laws of motion known as Newton's Laws (inertia, action & reaction, and acceleration in proportion to force). In addition, he presented the four rules he had developed for scientific reasoning. This method of using the analysis of experiments to synthesize and develop a comprehensive theory is still used today.


Newton also invented calculus, but did not publish the results at the time of discovery. This resulted in a later feud with Leibnitz, who did publish before Newton, and took originator's credit. Newton was famous for feuding with others, including Hooke, who delighted in argument. This caused Newton to delay publishing Opticks until after Hooke's death. Newton was elected president of the Royal Society after Hooke died, and used it to his own purposes. Newton's logic did not preclude the existence of God, and he also believed that the natural world could only exist due to a supreme Creator. Newton's later life included many alchemical experiments, being appointed Master of the Royal Mint, feuds, and trying to date Biblical events. He was buried in Westminster Abbey with a monument by the choir screen.


Newton was universally admired. Here we show Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica; auctore Isaaco Newtono, 1760; A Treatise of the System of the World, first English translation of 1728; and The Panegyrick of Sir Isaac Newton, [n.d.], one of a number of unrelated individual pamphlets bound together. Panegyrick from the James Field Willard Pamphlet Collection; Treatise from the library of Walter Veazie.




Sir Hans Sloane


Hans Sloane was educated as a physician, and because much medicine was based on "simples" or plants, he also was able to develop his interest in botany. He was friends with the botanist John Ray, with whom he had shared a collection of plants and curiosities he had gathered in France. Sloane was elected into the Royal Society. One of his contacts there introduced him to the Duke of Abermarle, who offered him a position as his personal physician, if he accompanied the Duke to Jamaica. With Ray's enthusiastic encouragement (no one had yet catalogued and collected Jamaican specimens of flora or fauna), Sloane went to Jamaica. After a short stay, barely two years, the Duke died and Sloane returned to England with his data. He published a two-volume natural history of Jamaica.


He also brought back cocoa beans and had the insight to add milk and sugar to make the bitter and oily cocoa powder palatable to the European palate. It was very successful. Sloane became a well-known and well-to-do physician, and along with the chocolate fortune, he devoted much of his wealth to increasing his library and collections. He left his collections to Britain, on the condition that the government should house, maintain and provide access to scholars for the collections. In 1753, by act of Parliament, the British Museum was established for Sloane's collection.


The Transactions of the Royal Philosophical Society provided a forum for innumerable discussions of natural philosophy. This issue from 1697 contains two articles by Hans Sloane. Similarly, Gentleman’s Magazine presented investigations of all sorts to the general public. In 1748 the magazine described Sloane’s meeting with the Prince of Wales, who thanked him both for his collections of curiosities and the richness of his library.

Gilbert White


The Reverend Gilbert White lived in the village of Selborne. He wrote The Natural History of Selborne in 1789. The book is composed of letters White wrote (some sent, some not) to naturalists Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington. They are based on White's observations of the flora, fauna, climate, and geology of the village and its surroundings. The book went through many reprintings. There is something in White's language and observation that struck the English fancy and perhaps their partiality for landscapes. The book continues as a classic of the lesser canon.


The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, 1789. This book is one of the English-speaking world’s best sellers, blending humor, curiosity and ecological sensitivity.




Maria Sybilla Merian


Maria Sybilla Merian came from a family whose members included artists, scholars and booksellers. At a very young age her talent for art was evident. When she was three her father died, and supposedly said he would be remembered for the genius of his daughter. Her mother remarried Jacob Marrell, who had trained with several well-known and respected flower and still-life painters. Marrell worked with Merian and fostered her talent. Her first business, after her marriage at 18, was selling painted silks. This led to a specific interest in the silk caterpillar and extended into other types of caterpillars, moths and butterflies. Her first book, at 22, was Wonderful Metamorphosis and Special Nourishment of Caterpillars, and she followed it two years later with A Study of New Flowers. She presented her subjects with a high degree of accuracy, instead of the more common random assemblages.


Merian then spent a number of years with various domestic issues, and after her divorce joined a religious community. Her daughter had married a merchant involved in trade in the Dutch colony of Suriname, thus Merian met collectors and heard many stories. At age 52 she was able to embark on a long, perilous and expensive journey to Suriname. Merian spent two years ranging the colony, from the settlements to the plantations to the wild interior of the area, sketching and painting the indigenous plants and insects. Unfortunately the climate did not agree with her, and she returned to Amsterdam. Her third book, Metamorphosis of Suriname Insects was published to great acclaim, though she had included anthropological commentary that did not comply with the demeaning attitude of most colonists towards the natives. Later critics dismissed her work in order to repress her commentary. Shortly before Merian's death, Peter the Great purchased her entire works and gave them to the Academy of Sciences.


Neues Blumenbuch [New Book of Flowers]. Exquisite 1999 Facsimile of 1680 original by illustrator Maria Merian.

John Ray


John Ray was both an eminent scientist and theologian. During his life, Ray published on plants, birds, mammals, fish and insects, in his continuing work on organizing the multitude of discovered organisms. He, like Linnaeus, hoped to discern the "natural system", the Divine order determined by God. As a scientist he worked to find the proper place to classify an organism by looking at the overall morphology, rather than choosing one attribute and sorting everything from that one point. As an example, due to observation of a dissection of a porpoise, he thought that porpoises and other cetaceans needed to be distinguished from other ocean denizens, against the tide of current opinion.


Ray's theology, which he expounded in several books, affected his science, and oddly, the course of evolutionary theory. Ray believed in natural theology, the theory that God's wisdom could be discovered through the study of His creations. First, this brought the natural world back into the Christians’ sphere, as prior theology held that the natural world was at best a distraction from the proper course of religious study. Secondly, the way an organism was designed to work in its proper place of environment, was the working of God's design, not chance. Ray believed that fossils, rather than being tricks to catch the unbelieving, were remnants of organisms that had once lived prior to the Deluge.


Natural philosopher and member of the Royal Society John Ray is best known for this work Historia Plantarum; species hactenus editas aliasque insuper multas noviter inventas & descriptas complecetens, 1678-1704. Ray was another versatile scholar: he describes visiting Stonehenge in his “Itineraries,” posthumously published in Select Remains of the Learned John Ray with his Life, by the Late William Derham, 1760. Purchased in honor of Dr. Jane Bock.

Captions by Cheryl Koelling