Charles Darwin was born on 12th February 1809 to Robert Darwin, a successful doctor, and Susannah Wedgwood, the daughter of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. Darwin's grandfather was the scientist and poet Erasmus Darwin, who had himself formulated theories on the evolution of the natural world (the heretical nature of which had brought him into some disrepute.) Though undoubtedly an important influence on his grandson's thinking, Charles Darwin was to repudiate Erasmus' theories and insist that his own ideas had arisen quite independently.
Despite his promising family background, Charles Darwin proved something of a disappointment at school in Shrewsbury. Moreover, his interest in collecting minerals, insects and birds eggs was regarded by as a self-indulgent waste of time by his father. In 1825 Darwin was sent to study medicine at Edinburgh University, but found little inspiration there: he thought the lectures dull and the surgical procedures he was forced to witness nauseating. However, he read widely and continued with his collections and study of natural history. In 1827 Darwin scraped through the entrance exam for Christ's College Cambridge where, though officially studying divinity, his interest in natural history (as well as hunting and gambling) deepened.
During the 1820s Darwin was still a Christian, and accepted the prospect of becoming a country clergyman (a not uncommon position at the time from which to continue amateur science). However, in 1831, on the recommendation of his friend John Stevens Henslow (ironically a firm adherent to the doctrine of Creationism), Darwin was offered the position of naturalist on board the survey ship HMS Beagle. Despite his father's objections, and the ship's Captain's suspicions about Darwin's character, he took the position.
On 10th December 1831, the Beagle sailed from Plymouth, and Darwin was not to set foot on English soil for another five years. Darwin was horrified by the rigours of naval discipline, and Captain Robert Fitzroy stood for all that which Darwin was to letter be set against - Fitzroy was an avowed Creationist, a champion of the political and social establishment, and he believed slavery to by the expression of the natural order of things. During the voyage, Darwin threw himself into his task, collecting vast hauls of specimens at each landfall, as well as conducting a number of long journeys overland. Whilst he did not formulate his most famous theory during the voyage, the journey was to prove a personal and professional watershed in Darwin's life.
On returning to England, Darwin found that the journey had bought him some fame, and he soon published his Journal of the Voyages of the Beagle, which gave him repute as a popular author. He prepared books on a number of other subjects, was lionised by the intellectual elite of London, and in 1838 he was elected to the secretaryship of the Geological Society. In November of the same year, after drawing up a list of the benefits and drawbacks of marriage, he proposed to his cousin Emma Wedgwood, and they were married the following January. It was around this time that he first began to develop his ideas on the transmutation of species, and by 1842 they were fully formulated when he sketched out a thirty- five page outline of his theory. Two years later he expanded this sketch into a 230 page essay, and left instructions that it was to be published in the event of his unexpected death. Indeed, he suffered from recurring poor health throughout his life, now thought to be partly psychological, but also possibly connected with Chagas disease which he may have contracted during the voyage of the Beagle.
It was not until 1859 that Darwin summoned up the courage to publish The Origin of Species, and this was in fact largely due to the his prompting by the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace (1823 - 1913). On 18th June 1858 Darwin had received a letter from Wallace, asking for advice on a theory of natural selection. "If Wallace had my ms. sketch written out in 1842," commented Darwin, "he could not have made a better short abstract!" The Origin of Species was greeted with both enthusiasm and hostility and prompted a debate that even nearly a century and a half later has not been fully laid to rest. Darwin was not given to public debate, and his chief propagandist was the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), who became known as 'Darwin's Bulldog'. The Origin of Species went through six editions (each noticeably revised) and in 1871 Darwin published The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex in which he first fully applied his ideas of evolution to the human species. As well the works directly related to
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