London, Apr 17 : Here's a once in a lifetime chance for you to take a sneak-peek into the life of one of the most towering figures of modern science -Charles Darwin.
For decades one of the most important collections of primary materials in the history of science was available only to scholars at Cambridge University Library, which had been given the 90,000 papers and images by the Darwin family in 1942.
But, now the library has agreed to make some 20,000 items freely available through The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online.
When Darwin Online launched 18 months ago, it hosted electronic versions of everything that Darwin ever published. But these are just the end product of his avid research programme, says project director John van Wyhe, a historian of science at Cambridge University.
"Behind every one of Darwin's publications, there's a mountain of private papers, notes, reading notes, press clippings and things that people sent to him. Now at the click of a button much of that material will be available to everyone in the world," New Scientist quoted him, as saying.
Amongst the mass of new material on the site are several noteworthy documents, including scans of Darwin's ornithological notes from the Beagle voyage in which he penned his first recorded doubt about the stability of species.
Then there's his first sketch of his species theory, which he jotted down in pencil in 1842. This runs to 61 scanned pages, although almost half of them have been crossed through as he reworked the text.
There's also the memo written by Darwin's wife Emma in 1839 in which she expressed her concerns about his religious doubts.
The online dissemination of these private papers is extremely welcome, says Randal Keynes, a historian and Darwin's great-great-grandson.
But they are of limited value to all but the most well read scholars, he suggests.
"The manuscripts aren't easy to make sense of because Darwin's handwriting is just a scrawl. You also often need to understand the context and his ways of working to understand what he's writing about," said Keynes.
Adam Perkins, the archivist at Cambridge University Library in charge of the original papers, agrees.
"These manuscripts will be most useful for Darwin scholars. But others will also find plenty of interest in there," he said.