Charles Darwin


Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury,

Shropshire. He was the son of Robert Waring Darwin and his wife Susannah,
and the grandson of the scientist Erasmus Darwin. His mother died when
he was eight years old, and he was brought up by his sister. He was taught
the classics at Shrewsbury, then sent to Edinburgh to study medicine, which
he hated. Like many modern students Darwin only excelled in subjects that
intrigued him. Although his father was a physician, Darwin was uninterested
in medicine and he was unable to stand the sight of surgery. He did eventually
obtain a degree in theology from Cambridge University, although theology
was of minor interest to him also.

What Darwin really liked to do was tramp
over the hills, observing plants and animals, collecting new specimens,
scrutinizing their structures, and categorizing his findings, guided by
his cousin William Darwin Fox, an entomologist. Darwin's scientific inclinations
were encouraged by his botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, who was
instrumental, despite heavy paternal opposition, in securing a place for

Darwin as a naturalist on the surveying expedition of HMS Beagle to Patagonia.

Under Captain Robert Fitzroy, Darwin visited

Tenerife, the Cape Verde Island, Brazil, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Chile,
the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Tasmania. In the Cape Verde

Island Darwin devised his theory of coral reefs.

Another significant stop on the trip was
in the Galapagos Islands, it was here that Darwin found huge populations
of tortoises and he found that different islands were home to significantly
different types of tortoises. Darwin then found that on islands without
tortoises, prickly pear cactus plants grew with their pads and fruits spread
out over the ground. On islands that had hundreds of tortoises, the prickly
pears grew substantially thick, tall trunks, bearing the pads and fruits
high above the reach of the tough mouthed tortoises. During this five-year
expedition he obtained intimate knowledge of the fauna, flora, and geology
of many lands, which equipped him for his later investigations. In 1836,

Darwin returned to England after the 5 years with the expedition, and by

1846 he had became one of the foremost naturalists of his time, and he
also published several works on the geological and zoological discoveries
of his voyage. He developed a friendship with Sir Charles Lyell, became
secretary of the Geological Society, a position which Darwin held for four
years. In 1839 Darwin married his cousin Emma Wedgwood. But constantly
bothering Darwin was the problem of the origin of the species. Darwin sought
to prove his ideal of evolution with simple examples. The various breeds
of dogs provided a striking example of what Darwin sought to prove. Dogs
descended from wolves, and even today the two will readily crossbreed.

With rare exceptions, however, few modern dogs actually resemble wolves.

Some breeds, such as the Chihuahua and the Great Dane, are so different
from one another that they would be considered separate species in the
wild. If humans could cross breed such radically different dogs in only
a few hundred years, Darwin reasoned that nature could produce the same
spectrum of living organisms given the hundreds of millions of years that
she had been allowed.

From 1842 Darwin lived at Down House, a
country gentleman among his gardens, conservatories, pigeons, and fowls.

The practical knowledge he gained there, especially in variation and interbreeding
proved invaluable. At Down House Darwin addressed himself to the great
work of his life, the problem of the origin of species. After five years
of collecting the evidence, Darwin began to speculate on the subject. In

1842 he drew up his observations in some short notes, expanded in 1844
into a sketch of conclusions for his own use. These conclusions were the
principle of natural selection, the germ of the Darwinian Theory, but with
typical caution he delayed publication of his hypothesis. However, in 1858

Alfred Wallace sent Darwin a letter of his book, Malay Archipelago, which,
to Darwin's surprise, contained the main ideas of his own theory of natural
selection. Lyell and Joseph Hooker persuaded him to submit a paper of his
own, based on his 1844 sketch, which was read simultaneou! sly with Wallace's
before the Linnean Society in 1858. Neither Darwin nor Wallace was present
on that historic occasion.

Darwin then set to work to condense his
vast mass of notes, and put into shape his great work, The Origin of Species
by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in
the Struggle for Life, published in 1859. This great work, received throughout

Europe with the deepest interest, was violently attacked because

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