Charles Robert Darwin ( born 12 February 1809 )
The life cycle 124875
Important years of life
19 April 1882 = 1905
Painting of seven-year-old Charles Darwin in 1816.
Darwin’s neglect of medical studies annoyed his father, who shrewdly sent him to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree as the first step towards becoming an Anglican country parson. As Darwin was unqualified for the Tripos, he joined the ordinary degree course in January 1828. He preferred riding and shooting to studying.
His cousin William Darwin Fox introduced him to the popular craze for beetle collecting; Darwin pursued this zealously, getting some of his finds published in James Francis Stephens’ Illustrations of British entomology. He became a close friend and follower of botany professor John Stevens Henslow and met other leading parson-naturalists who saw scientific work as religious natural theology, becoming known to these dons as “the man who walks with Henslow”. When his own exams drew near, Darwin focused on his studies and was delighted by the language and logic of William Paley’s Evidences of Christianity (1794). In his final examination in January 1831 Darwin did well, coming tenth out of 178 candidates for the ordinary degree.
Darwin had to stay at Cambridge until June 1831. He studied Paley’s Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (first published in 1802), which made an argument for divine design in nature, explaining adaptation as God acting through laws of nature. He read John Herschel’s new book, Preliminary Discourse on the
Study of Natural Philosophy (1831), which described the highest aim of natural philosophy as understanding such laws through inductive reasoning based on observation, and Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of scientific travels in 1799–1804. Inspired with “a burning zeal” to contribute, Darwin planned to visit Tenerife with some classmates after graduation to study natural history in the tropics. In preparation, he joined Adam Sedgwick’s geology course, then on 4 August travelled with him to spend a fortnight mapping strata in Wales
…After delays, the voyage began on 27 December 1831; it lasted almost five years. As FitzRoy had intended, Darwin spent most of that time on land investigating geology and making natural history collections, while HMS Beagle surveyed and charted coasts
…Patrick Matthew drew attention to his 1831 book which had a brief appendix suggesting a concept of natural selection leading to new species, but he had not developed the idea
…When the ship reached Falmouth, Cornwall, on 2 October 1836, Darwin was already a celebrity in scientific circles as in December 1835 Henslow had fostered his former pupil’s reputation by giving selected naturalists a pamphlet of Darwin’s geological letters
…In 1882 he was diagnosed with what was called “angina pectoris” which then meant coronary thrombosis and disease of the heart. At the time of his death, the physicians diagnosed “anginal attacks”, and “heart-failure”.Today it is speculated that Darwin was suffering from chronic Chagas disease. This speculation is based on a journal entry written by Darwin, describing he was bitten by the “Kissing Bug” in Mendoza, Argentina in 1835
Henrietta Emma “Etty” Darwin ( born 25 September 1843 )
Leonard Darwin (born 15 January 1850)
Charles Waring Darwin (born 6 December 1856 – – 28 June 1858))
Charles Darwin, aged 46 in 1855, by then working towards publication of his theory of natural selection. He wrote to Hooker about this portrait, “if I really have as bad an expression, as my photograph gives me, how I can have one single friend is surprising.
By the start of 1856, Darwin was investigating whether eggs and seeds could survive travel across seawater to spread species across oceans. Hooker increasingly doubted the traditional view that species were fixed, but their young friend
Thomas Henry Huxley was firmly against the transmutation of species. Lyell was intrigued by Darwin’s speculations without realising their extent. When he read a paper by Alfred Russel Wallace, “On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species”, he saw similarities with Darwin’s thoughts and urged him to publish to establish precedence. Though Darwin saw no threat, on 14 May 1856 he began writing a short paper. Finding answers to difficult questions held him up repeatedly, and he expanded his plans to a “big book on species” titled Natural Selection, which was to include his “note on Man”. He continued his researches, obtaining information and specimens from naturalists worldwide including Wallace who was working in Borneo. In mid-1857 he added a section heading; “Theory applied to Races of Man”, but did not add text on this topic. On 5 September 1857, Darwin sent the American botanist Asa Gray a detailed outline of his ideas, including an abstract of Natural Selection, which omitted human origins and sexual selection. In December, Darwin received a letter from Wallace asking if the book would examine human origins. He responded that he would avoid that subject, “so surrounded with prejudices”, while encouraging Wallace’s theorising and adding that “I go much further than you.”
Puzzled by the geographical distribution of wildlife and fossils he collected on the voyage, Darwin began detailed investigations, and in 1838 conceived his theory of natural selection. Although he discussed his ideas with several naturalists, he needed time for extensive research and his geological work had priority. He was writing up his theory in 1858 when Alfred Russel Wallace sent him an essay that described the same idea, prompting immediate joint publication of both of their theories. Darwin’s work established evolutionary descent with modification as the dominant scientific explanation of diversification in nature
Darwin’s book was only partly written when, on 18 June 1858, he received a paper from Wallace describing natural selection. Shocked that he had been “forestalled”, Darwin sent it on that day to Lyell, as requested by Wallace, and although Wallace had not asked for publication, Darwin suggested he would send it to any journal that Wallace chose. His family was in crisis with children in the village dying of scarlet fever, and he put matters in the hands of his friends. After some discussion, Lyell and Hooker decided on a joint presentation at the Linnean Society on 1 July of On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection. On the evening of 28 June, Darwin’s baby son died of scarlet fever after almost a week of severe illness, and he was too distraught to attend
The Origin of Species was translated into many languages, becoming a staple scientific text attracting thoughtful attention from all walks of life, including the “working men” who flocked to Huxley’s lectures. Darwin’s theory also resonated with various movements at the time[V] and became a key fixture of popular culture. Cartoonists parodied animal ancestry in an old tradition of showing humans with animal traits, and in Britain these droll images served to popularise Darwin’s theory in an unthreatening way. While ill in 1862 Darwin began growing a beard, and when he reappeared in public in 1866 caricatures of him as an ape helped to identify all forms of evolutionism with Darwinism
…In 1862 Fertilisation of Orchids gave his first detailed demonstration of the power of natural selection to explain complex ecological relationships, making testable predictions. As his health declined, he lay on his sickbed in a room filled with inventive experiments to trace the movements of climbing plants
Award Cambridge (1877)
Died 19 April 1882 (aged 73)
Down House, Downe, Kent, England