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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was born in on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, the same day as Abraham Lincoln.

His father, Robert Darwin, was a successful local doctor, but was stern and critical towards him.

Darwin's mother, Susannah Wedgwood, was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter. She died when he was eight. His three elder sisters reared him.

His other Grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, a naturalist, poet and philosopher who had put forward his own theory of evolution which Darwin disowned.

As a boy he was so enamored with chemistry that his young friends nicknamed him "Gas".

Painting of seven-year-old Charles Darwin in 1816.

Darwin attended Shrewsbury school after his mother died. His schoolwork later suffered due to spending time shooting and rat catching. His father complained "you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.”

Darwin studied medicine at Edinburgh University 1825-27. He dropped out as he could not stomach the operating theatre. Darwin found the two years there to be “intolerably dull”.

Finding himself squeamish at the sight of human blood and suffering, Darwin left Edinburgh and went to the University of Cambridge, in preparation for a life as a Church of England clergyman, which he thought would best allow him to pursue his increasing interest in natural history.

At Cambridge Charles Darwin preferred riding and shooting to studying, and along with his cousin William Darwin Fox became engrossed in the then current craze for the (competitive) collecting of beetles.

As a student at Cambridge, Darwin set up the Glutton Club to dine on "birds and beasts unknown to the human palate." He was particularly fond of puma.

At Cambridge he came under the influence of two figures: Adam Sedgwick, a geologist, and John Stevens Henslow, a botanist. Henslow not only helped build Darwin’s self-confidence but also taught his student to be a meticulous and painstaking observer of natural phenomena and collector of specimens.

When exams loomed Darwin focused on his studies, becoming particularly enthused by the set texts by Paley which included the argument of divine design in nature.

In his finals in January 1831 Darwin shone in theology and scraped through in classics, maths and physics, coming 10th out of a pass list of 178.

Darwin was 6ft tall with a big, bushy white beard.

Darwin spent five years between 1831-36 on board a Royal Navy exploring ship, the HMS Beagle. He was the guest naturalist, which meant that he was responsible for making collections and notes about the animals, plants, and the geology of the countries they visited.

Darwin paid his own way during the Beagle voyage at £500 per annum.

HMS Beagle was a 242 ton, 10 gun, 90 ft long,Cherokee-class ship of the Royal Navy. It was launched on 11 May 1820.

Darwin's father strongly opposed Charles going on theBeagle  voyage as he felt his son's calling was to the Church.

Darwin was nearly rejected as ship's naturalist on the Beagle because of shape of his nose. The captain, Robert Fitzroy was not certain that anyone with such a broad, squat nose would have the character to survive such an arduous journey.

Modest and kind,, the amiable Darwin was nicknamed "Philos" by the crew of the Beagle.

During his five-year voyage on the Beagle to the Pacific, Darwin shared a cabin with Robert Fitzroy. The commander of the Beagle subsequently became governor of New Zealand, and a vice admiral. Later he became one of Darwin's fiercest critics on scriptural grounds. He committed suicide in 1865 for the part he played in undermining the Bible.

Quite an action man on his South American trip, Darwin rode with the toughest hauchos of the Argentine Pampas and scaled the highest peaks of the Andes.

Darwin described the meat of the agouti, a South American rodent, as “the very best meat I ever tasted.”

His observations of animals and plants (including the giant tortoises) on Galapagos Islands were different to everywhere else and even differed from island to island. He spent a year studying there which suggested to him that animals and plants were not replicas created by a heavenly snap of fingers.

Darwin was lionised on his return to London from the Beagle as a brilliant geologist. Later his 1839 Journals of Researches during Voyage of the Beagle achieved excellent sales.

Darwin drew up a list with columns headed "Marry" and "Not Marry." Having come down in favour, he went to visit his cousin Emma Wedgwood and proposed to her.

On January 29. 1839 Darwin married Emma Wedgwood at Maer church in Staffordshire. (Her family lived in the Jacobean Maer Hall nearby) It was an Anglican ceremony arranged to also suit the Unitarians.

Emma Darwin, wife of Charles Darwin

Charles and Emma spent many happy years together. She did not share her husband's enthusiasm for his work and didn't pretend to find his experiments interesting.

Darwin enjoyed listening to his wife Emma playing Mendelssohn on the piano.

Between 1839-42 the Darwins lived at "Macaw Cottage,"110 Gower Street on what was then the northern edge of London.

In 1842 the Darwins moved to Down House, Downe Kent, which is situated in 16 acres in a village near Farnborough, Kent.

Originally a parsonage, Downe House wasn’t particularly inspiring but it suited Darwin’s needs. He conservatively decorated it apart from some William Morris wallpaper.

Darwin had a gravel path installed at Downe House that he would walk around each day as he thought about problems. He would stack stones at the start of his walk and the knock them down one by one as he went round, describing the difficulty of the problem as a three, four, or five-flint problem.

The Darwins moved from London to Kent due to the riots in the streets of London at the time and they felt the city was no place to bring up children.

They had ten children of which three died in infancy. He used his children as laboratory assistants.

Among his sons, were George Darwin, Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, 1845-1913
Sir Francis, a moderately successful Reader in Botany at Cambridge 1848-1925
Leonard, entered Royal Engineers and took part in several scientific expeditions and became an authority on eugenics. MP for Lichfield 1892-95 1850-1943
Sir Horace, a make of scientific instruments at Cambridge 1851-1923.

One beloved daughter Annie, died tragically aged ten leaving her father and mother tremendously grieved. Her loss challenged his belief in a benevolent God.

Though Darwin recalled that "Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox" he later struggled with faith and became increasingly agnostic, particularly after the death of his daughter Anne.

Darwin first formatted his theory of evolution in 1844 but put it aside for eight years to study barnacles. He was stung into publishing his work when he realized a younger naturalist then working in Malaysia, Alfred Russell Wallace, had come up with the same idea.

An early draft of Origin of Species languished for 20 years in a broom cupboard by the back door of Downe house.

Darwin let his children use the original manuscript of Origin of Species as drawing paper.

AR Wallace sent his essay On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original type to Darwin and then agreed to back down and let Darwin take the glory (and brickbats).

Darwin's theory of evolution was the continuous process of change from a simple to a more complex form of life in which those species of plants and animals survive that most readily adapt themselves to their environment and therefore become stronger and more numerous than the rest. He then concluded from this that men evolved from the higher species.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection on the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was written in layman's terms and published on November 24, 1859. Darwin had agonised over his prose, constantly rewriting passages and the result was one of the clearest written, most lucid scientific books ever.

By the time Darwin published The Origin of Species he had has been a chronic invalid for twenty years, unable to work for days and weeks on end. He was prone to giddiness, fainting spells, shaking, nausea, dry retching and frequent migraines and suffers from panic disorder and agoraphobia.

A probable cause of Darwin's ill health was a bite by a bug during his trip to South America. The disease then possibly lay dormant in his blood for years though his health problems might well be largely psychosomatic.

In 1849 Darwin took the first of several water cures at Malvern to improve his health, however his illness has released him from many domestic and social responsibilities, thus enabling him to concentrate on his work.

On  the publication of The Origin of Species, Darwin fled to the Yorkshire moors and was covered in stress related boils. He was afraid of being thought a French Republican blasphemist with his evolutionary views and was upset that people were saying that his book claimed there is no God. Despite his own religious skepticism, Darwin believed that his theory revealed the way God created us all.

All 1250 copies of The Origin of Species sold out on first day of publication in November 1859. In Darwin's lifetime there were 35 printings translated into 11 languages. Today there have been over 400 printings in around 30 languages.

‘Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution’ is an anagram of ‘Oh-ho! Words verify Natural Selection’.

In 1867 the poet Matthew Arnold predicted a “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the “sea of faith” in a post Darwinian world.    
Darwin's second book on evolutionary theory, 1871's The Descent of Man, created another uproar with its assertion that human beings are of the same family as apes and chimpanzees. Bishop Wilberforce summed up the ecclesiastical indignation asking one Darwinist whether he was descended from apes on his grandfather's or grandmother's side.

Darwin never actually used the term "survival of the fittest". It was Henry Spencer who originated the term in his book Principals of Biology.

Darwin proposed in The Descent of Man that music developed from mating calls and preceded speech. "Human song is generally admitted to be the basis or origin of instrumental music. As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed."

Darwin was a gifted botanist who used his own gardens at Down to great effect. In the last two decades of his life he wrote five botanical books, describing a wide range of observational and experimental work. It included the role of insects on cross-fertilisation and the important function of the earthworm in breaking down leaves and turning earth into fertile soil.

By the end of his life Darwin was ruing over the use of his theory by Karl Marx to deny the existence of God. His Christian wife Emma was unhappy about her husband’s supposed challenge to the Bible and he regretted upsetting her.

A popular Christian urban legend known as the "Lady Hope Story" claims (variously) that he "converted" to Christianity on his deathbed after the evangelist Lady Hope visited him, but these claims were refuted by his children; Henrietta stated that Lady Hope was not present during Darwin's final illness.

Charles Darwin had a heart attack whilst calling upon a friend in 1881. This was followed by a series more of them and he died at Down House on April 19, 1882. His last words were "I am not in the least afraid to die".

Darwin had a state funeral accompanied by Beethoven's funeral march watched by representatives from all over the world.

Karl Marx considered Darwin had provided the biological basis for communism.

Darwin in Australia is named after the evolution pioneer.

In 1999 one leaf from The Origin of the Species was bought for £45,000 at an auction.

Charles Darwin's pet tortoise Harriet died in 2006.

Sources Encarta Encyclopedia,  Giant Book of Facts & Trivia

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