Darwin in 1854, 5 years before he published The Origin of Species.
Born 12 February 1809
Mount House, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
Died 19 April 1882
Down House, Kent, England
Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English
naturalist who achieved lasting fame by producing considerable evidence
that species originated through evolutionary change, at the same time
proposing the scientific theory that natural selection is the mechanism
by which such change occurs. This theory is now considered a cornerstone
an interest in natural history while studying first medicine, then theology,
at university. Darwin's observations on his five-year voyage on the
Beagle brought him eminence as a geologist and fame as a popular author.
His biological finds led him to study the transmutation of species and
in 1838 he conceived his theory of natural selection. Fully aware that
others had been severely punished for such "heretical" ideas,
he confided only in his closest friends and continued his research to
meet anticipated objections. However, in 1858 the information that Alfred
Russel Wallace had developed a similar theory forced an early joint
publication of the theory.
His 1859 book On
the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation
of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (usually abbreviated to The
Origin of Species) established evolution by common descent as the dominant
scientific explanation of diversification in nature. He was made a Fellow
of the Royal Society, continued his research, and wrote a series of
books on plants and animals, including humankind, notably The Descent
of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex and The Expression of the Emotions
in Man and Animals.
In recognition of
Darwin's preeminence, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to John
Herschel and Isaac Newton.
Charles Darwin in 1816, one year before the sudden loss of his mother.Main
article: Charles Darwin's education
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England on 12 February
1809 at his family home, the Mount House. He was the fifth of six
children of wealthy society doctor Robert Darwin and Susannah Darwin
(née Wedgwood). He was the grandson of Erasmus Darwin on his
father's side, and of Josiah Wedgwood on his mother's side, both from
the Darwin — Wedgwood family, a prominent English family which
supported the Unitarian church. His mother died when he was only eight.
He went to the nearby Shrewsbury School the next year as a boarder.
In 1825, after spending
the summer as an apprentice doctor, helping his father with treating
the poor of Shropshire, Darwin went to the University of Edinburgh to
study medicine. However, his revulsion at the brutality of surgery led
him to neglect his medical studies. He learned taxidermy from John Edmonstone,
a freed black slave who told him exciting tales of the South American
rainforest. In Darwin's second year he became active in student societies
for naturalists. He became an avid pupil of Robert Edmund Grant, who
pioneered development of the theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and of
Charles' grandfather Erasmus concerning evolution by acquired characteristics.
Darwin took part in Grant's investigations of the life cycle of marine
animals on the shores of the Firth of Forth which found evidence for
homology, the radical theory that all animals have similar organs and
differ only in complexity. In March 1827, Darwin made a presentation
to the Plinian society of his own discovery that the black spores often
found in oyster shells were the eggs of a skate leech. He also sat in
on Robert Jameson's natural history course, learning about stratigraphic
geology, receiving training in how to classify plants, and assisting
with work on the extensive collections of the Museum of Edinburgh University,
one of the largest museums in Europe at the time.
In 1827, his father,
unhappy that his younger son had no interest in becoming a physician,
shrewdly enrolled him in a Bachelor of Arts course at Christ's College,
University of Cambridge to qualify as a clergyman. This was a sensible
career move at a time when many Anglican parsons were provided with
a comfortable income, and when most naturalists in England were clergymen
who saw it as part of their duties to explore the wonders of God's creation.
At Cambridge, Darwin preferred riding and shooting to studying. Along
with his cousin William Darwin Fox, he became engrossed in the craze
at the time for the competitive collecting of beetles, and Fox introduced
him to the Reverend John Stevens Henslow, professor of botany, for expert
advice on beetles. Darwin subsequently joined Henslow's natural history
course, became his favourite pupil and came to be known as "the
man who walks with Henslow". When exams began to loom, Darwin focused
more on his studies and received private instruction from Henslow. Darwin
became particularly enthused by the writings of William Paley, including
the argument of divine design in nature. In his finals in January 1831,
he performed well in theology and, having scraped through in classics,
mathematics and physics, came tenth out of a pass list of 178.
kept Darwin at Cambridge until June. In keeping with Henslow's example
and advice, he was in no rush to take holy orders. Inspired by Alexander
von Humboldt's Personal Narrative, he planned to visit the Madeira Islands
to study natural history in the tropics with some classmates after graduation.
To prepare himself for this project, Darwin joined the geology course
of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick, a strong proponent of divine design,
then in the summer went with him to assist in mapping strata in Wales.
Darwin was surveying strata on his own when his plans to visit Madeira
were dashed by a message that his intended companion had died, but on
his return home he received another letter. Henslow had recommended
Darwin for the unpaid position of gentleman's companion to Robert FitzRoy,
the captain of HMS Beagle, on a two-year expedition to chart the coastline
of South America which would give Darwin valuable opportunities to develop
his career as a naturalist. His father objected to the voyage, regarding
it as a waste of time, but was persuaded by his brother-in-law, Josiah
Wedgwood, to agree to his son's participation. This voyage became a
five-year expedition that would lead to dramatic changes in many fields
Journey on the Beagle
As HMS Beagle surveyed the coasts of South America, Darwin began to
theorise about the wonders of nature around him.The Beagle survey took
five years, two-thirds of which Darwin spent exploring on land. He studied
a rich variety of geological features, fossils and living organisms,
and met a wide range of people, both native and colonial. He methodically
collected an enormous number of specimens, many of them new to science.
This established his reputation as a naturalist and made him one of
the precursors of the field of ecology, particularly the notion of biocoenosis.
His extensive detailed notes showed his gift for theorising and formed
the basis for his later work, as well as providing social, political
and anthropological insights into the areas he visited.
On the voyage, Darwin
read Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, which explained geological
features as the outcome of gradual processes over huge periods of time,
and wrote home that he was seeing landforms "as though he had the
eyes of Lyell": he saw stepped plains of shingle and seashells
in Patagonia as raised beaches; in Chile, he experienced an earthquake
and noted mussel-beds stranded above high tide showing that the land
had been raised; and even high in the Andes, he was able to collect
seashells. He theorised that coral atolls form on sinking volcanic mountains,
an idea he confirmed when the Beagle surveyed the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
In South America
he discovered fossils of gigantic extinct mammals including megatheria
and glyptodons in strata which showed no signs of catastrophe or change
in climate. At the time, he thought them similar to African species,
but after the voyage Richard Owen showed that the remains were of animals
related to living creatures in the same area. In Argentina two species
of rhea had separate but overlapping territories. On the Galápagos
Islands Darwin found that mockingbirds differed from one island to another,
and on returning to Britain he was shown that Galápagos tortoises
and finches were also in distinct species based on the individual islands
they inhabited. The Australian marsupial rat-kangaroo and platypus were
such strikingly unusual animals that on 19 January 1836, in New South
Wales, he recorded this in his journal:
I had been lying
on a sunny bank & was reflecting on the strange character of the
Animals of this country as compared with the rest of the World. An unbeliever
in every thing beyond his own reason, might exclaim ‘Surely two
distinct Creators must have been [at] work; their object however has
been the same & certainly the end in each case is complete’.
He puzzled over
all he saw, and, in the first edition of The Voyage of the Beagle, he
explained species distribution in light of Charles Lyell's ideas of
"centres of creation". In later editions of this Journal he
foreshadowed his use of Galápagos Islands fauna as evidence for
evolution: "one might really fancy that from an original paucity
of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified
for different ends."
Three native missionaries
were returned by the Beagle to Tierra del Fuego. They had become "civilised"
in England over the previous two years, yet their relatives appeared
to Darwin to be "miserable, degraded savages". Within a year,
the missionaries had reverted to their harsh previous way of life, yet
they preferred this and did not want to return to England. This experience,
his detestation of the slavery he saw elsewhere in South America, and
other problems he found about such as the effect of European settlement
on aborigines in New Zealand and Australia, persuaded him that there
was no moral justification for the mistreating of others based on the
concept of race. He now thought that humanity was not as far removed
from animals as his clerical friends believed.
While on board the
ship, Darwin suffered from seasickness. In October 1833 he caught a
fever in Argentina, and in July 1834, while returning from the Andes
down to Valparaíso, he fell ill and spent a month in bed. From
1837 onwards Darwin was repeatedly incapacitated with episodes of stomach
pains, vomiting, severe boils, palpitations, trembling and other symptoms.
These symptoms particularly affected him at times of stress, such as
when attending meetings or dealing with controversy over his theory.
The cause of Darwin's illness was unknown during his lifetime, and attempts
at treatment had little success. Recent speculation has suggested he
caught Chagas disease from insect bites in South America, leading to
the later problems. Other possible causes include psychobiological problems
and Ménière's disease.
Career in science,
inception of theory
While still a young man, Charles Darwin joined the scientific élite.While
Darwin was still on the voyage, Henslow carefully fostered his former
pupil's reputation by giving selected naturalists access to the fossil
specimens and printed copies of Darwin's geological writings. When the
Beagle returned on 2 October 1836, Darwin was a celebrity in scientific
circles. He visited his home in Shrewsbury and his father organised
investments so that Darwin could become a self-funded gentleman scientist.
Darwin then went to Cambridge and persuaded Henslow to work on botanical
descriptions of modern plants he had collected. Afterwards Darwin went
round the London institutions to find the best naturalists available
to describe his other collections for timely publication. An eager Charles
Lyell met Darwin on 29 October and introduced him to the up-and-coming
anatomist Richard Owen. After working on Darwin's collection of fossil
bones at his Royal College of Surgeons, Owen caused great surprise by
revealing that some were from gigantic extinct rodents and sloths. This
enhanced Darwin's reputation. With Lyell's enthusiastic backing, Darwin
read his first paper to the Geological Society of London on 4 January
1837, arguing that the South American landmass was slowly rising. On
the same day Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens to the Zoological
Society. The Mammalia were taken on by George R. Waterhouse. Though
the birds seemed almost an afterthought, the ornithologist John Gould
revealed that what Darwin had taken to be wrens, blackbirds and slightly
differing finches from the Galápagos were all finches, but each
was a separate species. Others on the Beagle, including FitzRoy, had
also collected these birds and had been more careful with their notes,
enabling Darwin to determine from which island each species had come.
In London, Darwin
stayed with his freethinking brother Erasmus and at dinner parties met
inspiring savants who thought that God preordained life by natural laws
rather than ad hoc miraculous creations. His brother's lady friend Miss
Harriet Martineau was a writer whose stories promoted Malthusian Whig
Poor Law reforms. Scientific circles were buzzing with ideas of transmutation
of species controversially associated with Radical unrest. Darwin preferred
the respectability of his friends the Cambridge Dons, even though his
ideas were pushing beyond their belief that natural history must justify
religion and social order.
sketch of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation
of Species (1837)On 17 February 1837, Lyell used his presidential address
at the Geographical Society to present Owen's findings to date on Darwin's
fossils, noting particularly the unexpected implication that extinct
species were related to current species in the same locality. At the
same meeting Darwin was elected to the Council of the Society. He had
already been invited by FitzRoy to contribute a Journal based on his
field notes as the natural history section of the captain's account
of the Beagle's voyage. He now plunged into writing a book on South
American Geology. At the same time he speculated on transmutation in
his Red Notebook which he had begun on the Beagle. Another project he
started was getting the expert reports on his collection published as
a multivolume Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, and Henslow used
his contacts to arrange a Treasury grant of £1,000 to sponsor
this. Darwin finished writing his Journal around 20 June when King William
IV died and the Victorian era began. In mid-July he began his secret
"B" notebook on transmutation, and developed the hypothesis
that where every island in the Galápagos Archipelago had its
own kind of tortoise, these had originated from a single tortoise species
and had adapted to life on the different islands in different ways.
Under pressure with
organising Zoology and correcting proofs of his Journal, Darwin's health
suffered. On 20 September 1837 he suffered "palpitations of the
heart" and left for a month of recuperation in the country. He
visited Maer Hall where his invalid aunt was being cared for by her
spinster daughter Emma Wedgwood, and entertained his relatives with
tales of his travels. His uncle Jos pointed out an area of ground where
cinders had disappeared under loam and suggested that this might have
been the work of earthworms. This led Darwin to the idea for a talk
which he gave to the Geological Society on 1 November, on the unusually
mundane subject of worm casts. This work is considered to be the first
scholarly treatment of soil forming processes. He had avoided taking
on official posts which would have taken up valuable time, but by March
William Whewell had recruited him as Secretary of the Geological Society.
Illness prompted Darwin to take a break from the pressure of work and
he went "geologising" in Scotland. In glorious weather he
visited Glen Roy to see the phenomenon known as "roads" which
he (incorrectly) identified as raised beaches.
to marry his cousin, Emma Wedgwood.Fully recuperated, he returned home
to Shrewsbury. Scientifically pondering his career and prospects he
drew up a list with columns headed "Marry" and "Not Marry".
Entries in the pro-marriage column included "constant companion
and a friend in old age ... better than a dog anyhow," while listed
among the cons were "less money for books" and "terrible
loss of time." The pros won out. He discussed the prospect of marriage
with his father then went to visit his cousin Emma on 29 July 1838.
He did not get around to proposing, but against his father's advice
he told her of his ideas on transmutation. While his thoughts and work
continued in London over the autumn he suffered repeated bouts of illness.
On 11 November he returned and proposed to Emma, once more telling her
his ideas. She accepted, but later wrote beseeching him to read from
the Gospel of St. John a section on love and following the Way which
also states that "If a man abide not in me...they are burned".
He sent a warm reply which eased her concern, but she would continue
to worry that his lapses of faith could endanger her hope that they
would meet in afterlife.
Malthus's argument that human population increases more quickly than
food production, leaving people competing for food and making charity
useless. He later formulated this in the terms of his biological theory
as: "Man tends to increase at a greater rate than his means of
subsistence; consequently he is occasionally subjected to a severe struggle
for existence, and natural selection will have effected whatever lies
within its scope." (Descent of Man, Ch.21) He related this to the
findings about species relating to localities, his enquiries into animal
breeding, and ideas of Natural "laws of harmony". Towards
the end of November 1838 he compared breeders selecting traits to a
Malthusian Nature selecting from variants thrown up by "chance"
so that "every part of newly acquired structure is fully practised
and perfected", and thought this "the most beautiful part
of my theory" of how species originated. He went house-hunting
and eventually found "Macaw Cottage" in Gower Street, London,
then moved his "museum" in over Christmas. He was showing
the stress, and Emma wrote urging him to get some rest, almost prophetically
remarking "So don't be ill any more my dear Charley till I can
be with you to nurse you." On 24 January 1839 he was honoured by
being elected as Fellow of the Royal Society and presented his paper
on the Roads of Glen Roy.
Marriage and children
Darwin in 1842 with his eldest son, William Erasmus Darwin.On 29 January
1839, Darwin married his cousin Emma Wedgwood at Maer in an Anglican
ceremony arranged to also suit the Unitarians. After first living in
Gower Street, London, the couple moved on 17 September 1842 to Down
House in Downe. The Darwins had ten children, three of whom died early.
Many of his surviving children and their grandchildren would later achieve
notability themselves (see Darwin — Wedgwood family)
Several of their
children suffered illness or weaknesses, and Charles Darwin's fear that
this might be due to the closeness of his and Emma's lineage was expressed
in his writings on the ill effects of inbreeding and advantages of crossing.
Development of theory
Main article: Development of Darwin's theory
Darwin was now an eminent geologist in the scientific élite of
clerical naturalists, settled with a private income, while privately
working on his theory. He had a vast amount of work to do, writing up
all his findings and supervising the preparation of the multivolume
Zoology, which would describe his collections. He embarked on extensive
experiments with plants and consultations with animal husbanders, including
pigeon and pig breeders, trying to find soundly based answers to all
the arguments he anticipated when he presented his theory in public.
When FitzRoy's account
was published in May 1839, Darwin's Journal and Remarks was a great
success. Later that year it was published on its own, becoming the bestseller
today known as The Voyage of the Beagle. In December 1839, as Emma's
first pregnancy progressed, Darwin suffered more illness and accomplished
little during the following year.
Darwin tried to
explain his theory to close friends, but they were slow to show interest
and thought that selection must need a divine selector. In 1842 the
family moved to rural Down House to escape the pressures of London.
Darwin formulated a short "Pencil Sketch" of his theory, and
by 1844 had written a 240-page "Essay" that expanded his early
ideas on natural selection. Darwin completed his third Geological book
in 1846. Assisted by his friend, the young botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker,
he embarked on a huge study of barnacles. In 1847, Hooker read the "Essay"
and sent notes that provided Darwin with the calm critical feedback
that he needed.
Darwin feared putting
the theory out in an incomplete form, as his ideas about evolution would
be highly controversial if any attention was paid to them at all. Other
ideas about evolution — especially the work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
— had been soundly dismissed by the British scientific community,
and were associated with political radicalism. The anonymous publication
of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation in 1844 created another
controversy over radicalism and evolution, and was severely attacked
by Darwin's friends who stressed that no reputable scientist would want
to be associated with such ideas.
To try to deal with
his illness, Darwin went to a spa in Malvern in 1849, and to his surprise
found that the two months of water treatment helped. In his work on
barnacles he found "homologies" that supported his theory
by showing that slightly changed body parts could serve different functions
to meet new conditions. Then his treasured daughter Annie fell ill,
reawakening his fears that his illness might be hereditary. After a
long series of crises, she died and Darwin lost all faith in a beneficent
He met the young
freethinking naturalist Thomas Huxley who was to become a close friend
and ally. Darwin's work on barnacles (Cirripedia) earned him the Royal
Society's Royal Medal in 1853, establishing his reputation as a biologist.
He completed this study in 1854 and turned his attention to his theory
publication of theory
Darwin was forced into early publication of his theory of natural selection.Main
article: Publication of Darwin's theory
Darwin found an answer to the problem of how genera forked in an analogy
with industrial ideas of division of labour, with specialised varieties
each finding their niche so that species could diverge. He experimented
with seeds, testing their ability to survive sea-water to transfer species
to isolated islands, and bred pigeons to test his ideas of natural selection
being comparable to the "artificial selection" used by pigeon
In the spring of
1856, Lyell read a paper on the Introduction of species by Alfred Russel
Wallace, a naturalist working in Borneo. Lyell urged Darwin to publish
his theory to establish precedence. Despite illness, Darwin began a
3-volume book titled Natural Selection, getting specimens and information
from naturalists including Wallace and Asa Gray. In December 1857 as
Darwin worked on the book he received a letter from Wallace asking if
it would delve into human origins. Sensitive to Lyell's fears, Darwin
responded that "I think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so
surrounded with prejudices, though I fully admit that it is the highest
& most interesting problem for the naturalist." He encouraged
Wallace's theorising, saying "without speculation there is no good
& original observation." Darwin added that "I go much
further than you." His manuscript reached 250,000 words, then on
18 June 1858 he received a paper in which Wallace described the evolutionary
mechanism and requested him to send it on to Lyell. Darwin did so, shocked
that he had been "forestalled". Though Wallace had not asked
for publication, Darwin offered to send it to any journal that Wallace
chose. He put matters in the hands of Lyell and Hooker. They agreed
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. Darwin's infant son died and
he was unable to attend.
The initial announcement
of the theory gained little immediate attention. It was mentioned briefly
in a few small reviews, but to most people it seemed much the same as
other varieties of evolutionary thought. For the next thirteen months
Darwin suffered from ill health and struggled to produce an abstract
of his "big book on species". Receiving constant encouragement
from his scientific friends, Darwin finally finished his abstract and
Lyell arranged to have it published by John Murray. The title was agreed
as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, and when
the book went on sale to the trade on 22 November 1859, the stock of
1,250 copies was oversubscribed. At the time "Evolutionism"
implied creation without divine intervention, and Darwin avoided using
the words "evolution" or "evolve", though the book
ends by stating that "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved." The book only briefly alluded
to the idea that human beings, too, would evolve in the same way as
other organisms. Darwin wrote in deliberate understatement that "light
will be thrown on the origin of man and his history."
A typical satire was the later caricature in Hornet magazine portraying
Darwin as a non-human ape.Darwin's book set off a public controversy
which he monitored closely, keeping press cuttings of thousands of reviews,
articles, satires, parodies and caricatures. Reviewers were quick to
pick out the unstated implications of "men from monkeys",
though a Unitarian review was favourable and The Times published a glowing
review by Huxley which included swipes at Richard Owen, leader of the
scientific establishment Huxley was trying to overthrow. Owen initially
appeared neutral, but then wrote a review condemning the book.
The Church of England
scientific establishment including Darwin's old Cambridge tutors Sedgwick
and Henslow reacted against the book, though it was well received by
a younger generation of professional naturalists. Then Essays and Reviews
by seven liberal Anglican theologians declared that miracles were irrational
(and supported the Origin), distracting attention away from Darwin.
The most famous
confrontation took place at a meeting of the British Association for
the Advancement of Science in Oxford. Professor John William Draper
delivered a long lecture about Darwin and social progress, then Samuel
Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, argued against Darwin. In the ensuing
debate Joseph Hooker argued strongly for Darwin and Thomas Huxley established
himself as "Darwin's bulldog" – the fiercest defender
of evolutionary theory on the Victorian stage. The story is that on
being asked by Wilberforce whether he was descended from monkeys on
his grandfather's side or his grandmother's side, Huxley muttered: "The
Lord has delivered him into my hands" and replied that he "would
rather be descended from an ape than from a cultivated man who used
his gifts of culture and eloquence in the service of prejudice and falsehood"
(this is contested). The story spread around the country: Huxley
had said he would rather be an ape than a Bishop.
Many people felt
that Darwin's view of nature destroyed the important distinction between
man and beast. Darwin himself did not personally defend his theories
in public, though he read eagerly about the continuing debates. He was
frequently very ill, and mustered support through letters and correspondence.
A core circle of scientific friends – Huxley, Hooker, Charles
Lyell and Asa Gray – actively pushed his work to the fore of the
scientific and public stage, defending him against his many critics
in this key scientific controversy of the era, and helping to gain him
the honour of the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1864. Darwin's theory
also resonated with various movements at the time and became a key fixture
of popular culture. The book was translated into many languages and
went through numerous reprints. It became a staple scientific text accessible
both to a newly curious middle class and to "working men",
and was hailed as the most controversial and discussed scientific book
research and writing
Julia Margaret Cameron's portrait of Darwin.Despite repeated bouts of
illness during the last twenty-two years of his life Darwin pressed
on with his work. He had published an abstract of his theory, but more
controversial aspects of his "big book" were still incomplete.
These included explicit evidence of humankind's descent from earlier
animals, and exploration of possible causes underlying the development
of society and of human mental abilities. He had yet to explain features
with no obvious utility other than decorative beauty. His experiments,
research and writing continued.
When Darwin's daughter
fell ill he set aside his experiments with seedlings and domestic animals
to go with her to a seaside resort where he became interested in wild
orchids. This developed into an innovative study of how their beautiful
flowers served to control insect pollination and ensure cross fertilisation.
As with the barnacles, homologous parts served different functions in
different species. Back at home he lay on his sickbed in a room filled
with experiments on climbing plants. He was visited by a reverent Ernst
Haeckel who had spread the gospel of Darwinismus in Germany. Even at
Cambridge, students now supported his ideas. Huxley gave "working-men's
lectures" to widen the audience, and Wallace remained a supporter
but increasingly turned to spiritualism. Variation grew to two huge
volumes, forcing him to leave out humankind and sexual selection, but
when printed was in huge demand.
The question of
human evolution had been taken up by his supporters (and detractors)
shortly after the publication of The Origin of Species, but Darwin's
own contribution to the subject came more than ten years later with
the two-volume The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex
published in 1871. In the second volume, Darwin introduced in full his
concept of sexual selection to explain the evolution of human culture,
the differences between the human sexes, and the differentiation of
human races, as well as the beautiful (and seemingly non-adaptive) plumage
of birds. A year later Darwin published his last major work, The Expression
of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which focused on the evolution of
human psychology and its continuity with to the behaviour of animals.
He developed his ideas that the human mind and cultures were developed
by natural and sexual selection, an approach which has been revived
in the last two decades with the emergence of evolutionary psychology.
As he concluded in Descent of Man, Darwin felt that despite all of humankind's
"noble qualities" and "exalted powers":
bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."
His evolution-related experiments and investigations culminated in five
books on plants, and then his last book returned to the effect worms
have on soil levels.
Darwin died in Downe,
Kent, England, on 19 April 1882. He had expected to be buried in St
Mary's churchyard at Downe, but at the request of Darwin's colleagues,
William Spottiswoode (President of the Royal Society) arranged for Darwin
to be given a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey.
The 1851 death of Darwin's daughter, Annie, was the final step in pushing
an already doubting Darwin away from the idea of a beneficent God.Charles
Darwin came from a Nonconformist background. Though several members
of his family were Freethinkers, openly lacking conventional religious
beliefs, he did not initially doubt the literal truth of the Bible.
He attended a Church of England school, then at Cambridge studied Anglican
theology to become a clergyman and was fully convinced by William Paley's
teleological argument that design in nature proved the existence of
God. However, his beliefs began to shift during his time on board HMS
Beagle. He questioned what he saw—wondering, for example, at beautiful
deep-ocean creatures created where no one could see them, and shuddering
at the sight of a wasp paralysing caterpillars as live food for its
eggs; he saw the latter as contradicting Paley's vision of beneficent
design. While on the Beagle Darwin was quite orthodox and would quote
the Bible as an authority on morality, but had come to see the history
in the Old Testament as being false and untrustworthy.
Upon his return,
he investigated transmutation of species. He knew that his clerical
naturalist friends thought this a bestial heresy undermining miraculous
justifications for the social order and knew that such revolutionary
ideas were especially unwelcome at a time when the Church of England's
established position was under attack from radical Dissenters and atheists.
While secretly developing his theory of natural selection, Darwin even
wrote of religion as a tribal survival strategy, though he still believed
that God was the ultimate lawgiver. His belief continued to dwindle
over the time, and with the death of his daughter Annie in 1851, Darwin
finally lost all faith in Christianity. He continued to give support
to the local church and help with parish work, but on Sundays would
go for a walk while his family attended church. In later life, when
asked about his religious views, he wrote that he had never been an
atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally
"an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state
Charles Darwin recounted
in his biography of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin how false stories
were circulated claiming that Erasmus had called for Jesus on his deathbed.
Charles concluded by writing "Such was the state of Christian feeling
in this country [in 1802].... We may at least hope that nothing of the
kind now prevails." Despite this hope, very similar stories were
circulated following Darwin's own death, most prominently the "Lady
Hope Story", published in 1915 which claimed he had converted on
his sickbed. Such stories have been propagated by some Christian
groups, to the extent of becoming urban legends, though the claims were
refuted by Darwin's children and have been dismissed as false by historians.
His daughter, Henrietta, who was at his deathbed, said that he did not
convert to Christianity.
Charles Darwin's contributions to evolutionary thought had an enormous
effect on many fields of science.Charles Darwin's theory that evolution
occurred through natural selection changed the thinking of countless
fields of study from biology to anthropology. His work established that
"evolution" had occurred: not necessarily that it was by natural
or sexual selection (this particular recognition would not become fully
standard until the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's work in the early
20th century and the creation of the modern synthesis). Others before
him had outlined the idea of natural selection: in his lifetime Darwin
acknowledged the earlier writings of William Charles Wells and Patrick
Matthew which he (and practically all other naturalists) had been unaware
of when publishing his theory. However, it is clear that Darwin was
the first to develop and publish a scientific theory of natural selection,
and that the alleged predecessors did not contribute to the development
or success of natural selection as a theory in science.
Darwin's work was
extremely controversial at the time he published it and many during
his time did not take it seriously. Evolution by natural selection proved
to be a significant blow to notions of divine creation and intelligent
design prevalent in 19th-century science, specifically overturning the
Creation biology doctrine of "created kinds". The idea that
there was no line to be drawn between human beings, races, and animals
would forever make Darwin a symbol of iconoclasm who removed humanity's
privileged place in the universe. To some of his detractors, Darwin
would be "the monkey man", often depicted as part ape. His
ideas also stood in opposition to the more common beliefs at the time
that the human races had developed separately or that one race was superior
by virtue of biology than another.
Following Darwin's publication of the Origin his cousin Francis Galton
applied the concepts to human society, producing ideas to promote "hereditary
improvement" starting in 1865 and elaborated at length in 1869.
In The Descent of Man Darwin agreed that Galton had demonstrated that
"talent" and "genius" in humans were probably inherited,
but thought that the social changes Galton proposed were too "utopian".
Neither Galton nor Darwin supported government intervention and instead
believed that, at most, heredity should be taken into consideration
by people seeking potential mates. In 1883, after Darwin's death, Galton
began calling his social philosophy Eugenics. In the twentieth century,
eugenics movements gained popularity in a number of countries and became
associated with reproduction control programmes such as compulsory sterilisation
laws, then were stigmatised after their usage in the rhetoric of Nazi
Germany in its goals of genetic "purity".
In 1944 the American historian Richard Hofstadter applied the term "Social
Darwinism" to describe 19th- and 20th-century thinking developed
from the ideas of Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer, which applied
ideas of evolution and "survival of the fittest" to societies
or nations competing for survival in a hostile world. These ideas became
discredited by association with racism and imperialism. Though the term
is anachronistic, in Darwin's day the difference between what was later
called "Social Darwinism" and simple "Darwinism"
was less clear. However, Darwin did not believe that his scientific
theory mandated any particular theory of governance or social order.
Indeed, he believed that sympathy should be extended to all races and
The use of the phrase
"Social Darwinism" to describe Malthus's ideas is particularly
disingenuous, since Malthus died in 1834 before the inception of Darwin's
theory was spurred by his reading the 6th edition of Malthus' famous
Essay on a Principle of Population in 1838. Spencer's evolutionary "progressivism"
and his social and political ideas were largely Malthusian, and his
books on economics of 1851 and on evolution of 1855 predated Darwin's
publication of the Origin in 1859.
Charles Darwin was
born on Feb. 12, 1809, The Mount, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Eng. d. April
19, 1882, Down House, Downe, Kent. His full name is Charles Rbert Darwin.
Darwin was an English
naturalist renowned for his documentation of evolution and for his theory
of its operation, known as Darwinism. His evolutionary theories, propounded
chiefly in two works--On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
(1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)--have
had a profound influence on subsequent scientific thought.
Darwin was the son
of Robert Waring Darwin, who had one of the largest medical practices
outside of London, and the grandson of the physician Erasmus Darwin,
the author of Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life, and of the artisan-entrepreneur
Josiah Wedgwood. Darwin thus enjoyed a secure position in the professional
upper middle class that provided him with considerable social and professional
Youth and Education
died when he was eight years old. Otherwise he enjoyed a golden childhood,
cosseted and encouraged by adoring sisters, an older brother, and the
large Darwin and Wedgwood clans. He was keenly interested in specimen
collecting and chemical investigations, but at the Shrewsbury school,
where he was an uninspired student, the headmaster, Dr. Samuel Butler,
stressed the classics and publicly rebuked Darwin for wasting his time
with chemical experiments.
At age 16 he was
sent to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he was
repelled by surgery performed without anesthetics. During his two years
in Scotland Darwin benefited from friendships with the zoologist Robert
Grant, who introduced him to the study of marine animals, and the geologist
Robert Jameson, who fed his growing interest in the history of the Earth.
Darwin's lack of enthusiasm for medicine, his father sent him to the
University of Cambridge in 1827 to study divinity. At the time Darwin
adhered to the conventional beliefs of the Church of England. His academic
record at Christ's College was as undistinguished as it had been at
He socialized considerably
with hunting, shooting, riding, and sporting friends. Cambridge did
not yet offer a degree in the natural sciences, but, guided by his older
cousin William Darwin Fox (an entomologist who inspired in him a lifelong
passion for collecting beetles), Darwin met the circle of Cambridge
scientists led by the cleric-botanist John Stevens Henslow.
Soon a regular at
Henslow's "open houses," Darwin accompanied him on daily walks
and became known as "the man who walks with Henslow." Henslow
encouraged Darwin's excitement about science and confidence in his own
On leaving Cambridge
in the spring of 1831 Darwin, in preparation for a scientific trip to
the Canary Islands, read Alexander von Humboldt's Personal Narrative
of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, a scientific
travelogue of a journey to Central and the northern parts of South America.
At Henslow's recommendation he accompanied Adam Sedgwick, Woodwardian
professor of geology at Cambridge, on a three-week tour of North Wales
to learn geologic fieldwork.
In August 1831,
at Henslow's recommendation to the Admiralty, Darwin was invited to
sail as the unpaid naturalist on HMS Beagle. The ship was to survey
the east and west coasts of South America and continue to the Pacific
islands to establish a chain of chronometric stations.
Darwin as both an acute observer and a companion for the aristocratic
young captain, Robert FitzRoy. (The Beagle already had a naturalist-surgeon,
but one whom FitzRoy found socially unsuitable.) Robert Darwin first
refused permission on grounds that it was dangerous and would not advance
Charles in his career. But upon the intercession of his brother-in-law,
Josiah Wedgwood II, he changed his mind.
On Dec. 27, 1831,
Charles Darwin sailed from Plymouth, Eng., on the Beagle, a 10-gun brig
that had been refitted as a three-masted bark. The voyage, planned for
two years, lasted five, during which Darwin kept meticulous notes and
sent back geologic and biologic specimens.
The Voyage of the
In a letter to FitzRoy
accepting the post Darwin explained that he expected the voyage to be
a "second birth."
There is no doubt
that the years he spent exploring the South American continent and the
offshore islands of the Galapagos honed his skills as a collector, observer,
Often seasick, Darwin
rested horizontally in a hammock during the worst motion and spent long
periods of time ashore whenever the opportunity arose. He delighted
in the exotica of the tropics.
braved his way through armed political rebellions, rode with the gauchos
in Argentina, and on collecting and shooting expeditions justified his
earlier devotion to sport.
He joined the crew
in towing the ship's boats upstream and once rescued the expedition
by running to save a boat from a tidal wave. He seemed to relish danger
and was sustained in the considerable discomfort by a lively curiosity.
He wrote to one
of his sisters
"We have in
truth the world before us. Think of the Andes; the luxuriant forest
of the Guayquil, the islands of the South Sea & New South Wales.
How many magnificent & characteristic views, how many and curious
tribes of men we shall see. What fine opportunities for geology and
studying the infinite host of living beings: Is this not a prospect
to keep up the most flagging spirit?"
Darwin had brought his own books to augment the ship's extensive library.
The most important scientific work was the first volume of Charles Lyell's
Principles of Geology, which Henslow had urged him to read though not
Lyell argued that
the face of the Earth had changed gradually over long periods of time
through the continuing, cumulative effects of local disturbances, such
as eruptions, earthquakes, erosion, and deposition.
had existed in the distant past and could be observed in the present.
This view differed dramatically from that held by most contemporary
geologists, who hewed to the belief that changes in the face of the
Earth resulted from short- lived events of great violence that could
raise mountains or flood the entire planet. During the first months
of his journey Darwin was converted to Lyell's views by his own observations.
About 1,800 miles
southwest of the Canary Islands the Beagle visited São Tiago,
a volcanic island in the Cape Verde Islands. From the harbour Darwin
saw a band of white rock extending horizontally at a height of about
45 feet above the base of the sea cliffs. The formation was calcareous
and contained numerous shells, almost all of which could be found on
that a stream of lava from the ancient volcanoes had flowed over what
had been ancient seabed, baking it to form the hard white rock. The
whole island had subsequently been heaved up to make the sea cliff from
the white band downward. Darwin also realized that the island's surface
had been formed by a succession of volcanic events, not a single dramatic
one. He discerned an initial subsidence, the settling of the surface
around the original craters, its building up from new lava spills from
different craters, and further subsidence and building up over a long
period of time.
Later, in Chile,
Darwin witnessed his first earthquake. He saw the land rise before his
eyes. Then, after crossing the Andes in 1835, he wrote to his sister
that he could understand "to a certain extent the description &
manner of the force, which has elevated this great line of mountains."
He had found fossil
shells at an elevation of 12,000 feet, and he theorized that a chain
of suboceanic volcanoes had poured forth enormous quantities of lava
that formed the Andes through a further process of upheaval and fracturing.
at the whole South American continent, which he read as a vast testing
ground for Lyell's ideas. To his cousin William Fox he wrote, "Everything
in America is on such a grand scale. The same formations extend for
5 or 600 miles without the slightest change--for such geology one requires
6 league boots."
The data Darwin
collected on the Beagle provided him with material for three books on
South American geology.
Although his theories
of continental change have been superseded by the theory of plate tectonics,
his descriptions in letters to Henslow, which Henslow excerpted and
read before the Cambridge Philosophical Society and the Geological Society
of London, brought him celebrity in scientific circles even before his
While still on the
voyage he challenged Lyell's view of the formation of coral reefs by
volcanic action. Darwin contended that the reefs were part of a process
of gradual changes in the Earth's crust resulting from the subsidence
of some landmasses and corresponding elevations elsewhere. He explained
that coral, which only grows in shallow waters, forms a reef by building
up on the seafloor as the floor subsides.
He predicted that
if a whole island sank below the ocean's surface, and the coral continued
to grow, a reef would turn into an atoll around a lagoon. Lyell was
convinced and supported Darwin's reinterpretation, which deep-sea borings
in the 20th century have confirmed.
ponderings were important for geology and to his scientific development.
Many of the rocks he examined contained fossils, and his constant exposure
to the evidence of extinct species and the similarity of many of them
to living species kept one problem at the fore: By what mechanism did
new species replace extinct ones?
During the voyage
Darwin developed confidence in his own observations as well as the ability
to grasp a problem and work at it steadily. The isolation of the voyage,
combined with the exposure to new phenomena, taught him to think for
himself within the familiar scientific culture of his time.
He developed a rare
combination of strengths: a dedication to careful fact gathering and
a propensity to theorize about the facts. His geologic pondering on
a continental scale encouraged him to search for universal laws. The
voyage of the Beagle transformed Darwin into an independent and adventurous
scientist who had the courage to embrace the heretical idea of the transmutation
On the Origin of
When Darwin returned
to England in 1836 he was welcomed by the scientific fraternity as a
colleague and was promptly made a fellow of the Geological Society.
The next year he was elected to its governing council.
In 1838 Darwin was
elected to the Athenaeum, the exclusive club for men distinguished in
literature, art, or science, and in 1839 he was elected to the Royal
Society. Through his older brother, Erasmus, he met the historian Thomas
Carlyle and the feminist Harriet Martineau. He was also a friend of
Charles Babbage, whose computing machine was one of a host of scientific
At this time, however,
Darwin began to lead something of a double life. To the world he was
busy preparing his Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural
History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle, which was
published in 1839.
This book, modeled
in part on von Humboldt's, established the lucid style enlivened by
the sharp descriptions that makes all of Darwin's works both accessible
Darwin was also
preparing his geology books and superintending the analysis and publication
by specialists of The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (published
between 1839 and 1843 with the help of a £1,000 government grant).
had begun a remarkable series of notebooks in which he initiated a set
of questions and answers about "the species problem." He proceeded
to collect facts about species through letters and discussions with
breeders, gardeners, naturalists, and zookeepers, as well as through
Darwin kept this
interest secret while he gathered evidence to substantiate his theory
of organic evolution. He was mindful of the fate of other unorthodox
scientists. He jotted in his notebook, "Mention persecution of
early astronomers--then add chief good of individual scientific men,
is to push their science a few years in advance only of their age."
Darwin's ideas were
not only scientifically radical but also could have been interpreted
as actionable under the laws governing blasphemy and sedition.
England at the time
was intensely evangelical, and the natural world was understood as one
in which the spirit of God could be seen in the creation of new species
of plants and animals that appeared to come into existence to replace
those that became extinct. Darwin gradually became intellectually uncomfortable
with this view of life as he confronted puzzling evidence.
Upon his return
from the voyage Darwin had turned over his specimens to cataloging experts
in Cambridge and London. In South America he had found fossils of extinct
armadillos that were similar but not identical to the living animals.
Argentina he had
seen species vary geographically; for example, the giant ostriches (rheas)
on the pampas were replaced to the south in Patagonia by much smaller
species, both of which were akin to but different from the African ostrich.
He had been disturbed
by the fact that the birds and tortoises of the Galápagos Islands
off the western coast of Ecuador tended to resemble species found on
the nearby continent, while inhabitants of similar neighbouring islands
in the Galapagos had quite different animal populations.
In London Darwin
learned that the finches he had brought from the Galápagos belonged
to different species, not merely different varieties, as he had originally
believed. He also learned that the mockingbirds were of three distinct
species and that the Galapagos tortoises represented at least two species
and that, like many of the specimens from the archipelago, they were
native to the islands but to neither of the American continents.
After Darwin received
these reports, his doubts about the fixity of species crystallized into
a belief in transmutation. In March 1837 he confided in his notebook
that species changed from one place to another or from one era to the
next. He continued analyzing his data, searching for a mechanism for
Then in October
1838 Darwin read Thomas Malthus' An Essay on the Principle of Population.
Malthus argued that population growth is geometric, while the food supply
increases only arithmetically, and thus that population increase is
always checked by a limited food supply.
in his Autobiography his realization that given the struggle for existence
everywhere, "favourable variations would tend to be preserved,
and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. . . . The result of this would
be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory"--the
principle of natural selection--"by which to work."
extended beyond perceiving the savagery of the natural world. Other
scientists and philosophers had noted the brutality of species against
species, of the lion devouring the lamb.
Darwin saw competition
between individuals of a single species. He recognized that within a
local population the individual with, for example, the sharper beak,
the longer horn, or the brighter feather might have a better chance
to survive and reproduce than other individuals. If such advantageous
traits were passed on to new generations, they would eventually be predominant
in future populations.
Darwin thus shifted
the focus of evolutionary analysis from between to within species. He
saw natural selection as the mechanism by which advantageous variations
passed on to succeeding generations and by which the traits of individuals
that were less competitive gradually disappeared from populations. (Later
generations of biologists came to understand variations within a species
as variations in the genes of its individual members, and they explained
evolution as the action of natural selection upon genes responsible
for advantageous traits.)
After he had hit
upon natural selection, Darwin was eager to verify it, and he stepped
up his inquiries to plant and animal breeders. He hoped to learn from
their experience with artificial selection how natural selection worked.
Darwin still faced
the problem of divergence--that is, the evolutionary development of
dissimilar characteristics in closely related species that have descended
from a single organic ancestor. As he had observed during his voyage,
divergent species appeared on different landmasses.
Darwin solved this
puzzle of geographic distribution by assigning the dissemination of
populations of ocean islands to the power of wind and water. The theory
of the evolution of species thus solved many puzzles in comparative
anatomy, embryology, and paleontology. (For further discussion of the
details of Darwin's theory, see evolution; for details of the evolution
of humans, see human evolution.)
The idea of organic
evolution was not new. It had been suggested a generation earlier by
Erasmus Darwin and in France by Buffon, Montesquieu, Maupertuis, Diderot,
and most recently Lamarck. Lamarck had drawn the first evolutionary
diagram--a ladder leading from unicellular organisms to man.
But none of these
earlier evolutionists had presented either a mechanism or persuasive
evidence for the process. Lamarck offered the hypothesis that spontaneous
generation occurs constantly, that organisms possess an "inner
feeling" toward perfection, and that the traits an animal acquires
to adapt to a changing environment are passed on to its descendants.
Though lack of an
apparent mechanism of inheritance eventually prompted him to accept
the latter idea, Darwin's theory was rooted in direct observation and
an attempt to discover universal laws. His evolutionary sketch was a
branching tree, not a single ladder.
Above all, Darwin
rejected the prevailing view that organisms are perfectly adapted to
their environment. He viewed the natural world, instead, as caught in
an incessant struggle between competing individuals that have different
degrees of fitness. Others had seen struggles but always between species,
never within them.
By moving the battle
from interspecies struggles to intraspecies competition, Darwin introduced
the concept of populations--that is, localized groups consisting of
members of a given species in which each individual differs from its
sibling. He recognized that it is the competition within a species leading
to the survival of individuals with adaptationally advantageous traits
that eventually brings about the evolution of a new species.
By 1842 Darwin was
confident enough in his theory to draft a short sketch, and in 1844
he composed a longer version, which he showed to his friend, the botanist
Joseph Dalton Hooker. Wary of presenting his theory to the public, Darwin
spent the next decade concentrating on a treatise on barnacles, in which
he hinted but did not actually say that species were the product of
natural selection. In the meantime the intellectual atmosphere in England
altered and discussions about evolution became commonplace.
Darwin still withheld
publishing his thesis. When he would have determined that the time was
ripe is impossible to know, but the decision was removed from him when
on June 18, 1858, he received from Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist
working in the Malay Archipelago, a paper that perfectly summarized
the theory that Darwin had been elaborating for 20 years.
this apparent preemption of his life's work, Darwin was saved by his
friends and confidants, Lyell, Hooker, and T.H. Huxley, who arranged
for a joint paper by Darwin and Wallace to be read to the Linnean Society
of London on July 1, 1858.
Darwin then began
work on what he called an "abstract" of the larger manuscript
that he had begun two years earlier. This abstract, On the Origin of
Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured
Races in the Struggle for Life, was published on Nov. 24, 1859.
The first edition
sold out immediately, and by 1872 the work had run through six editions.
The theory was accepted quickly in most scientific circles. With the
exception of holdouts like his old colleague Adam Sedgwick and individuals
such as the biologist Richard Owen, who attacked Darwin personally,
most opposition was from the clergy.
They realized that
the theory of evolution was inconsistent with a literal interpretation
of the book of Genesis. Orthodox Christians felt threatened by the suggestion
that the natural (or living) world worked according to laws as did the
There was no place
in Darwin's world for divine intervention, nor was mankind placed in
a position of superiority vis-à-vis the rest of the animal world.
Darwin saw man as part of a continuum with the rest of nature, not separated
by divine injunction.
After the publication
of the Origin, Darwin continued to write, while friends, especially
Huxley, defended the theory before the public.
In June 1860 at
the Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of
Science, Huxley confronted the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce,
who had been coached by Richard Owen. Wilberforce patronized Huxley,
asking whether it was through his father or his mother that he was descended
from an ape.
Huxley replied that
he was not ashamed of having descended from an ape but would be ashamed
of an ancestor who used gifts of eloquence in the service of falsehoods.
Huxley and Hooker annihilated Wilberforce's position at the Oxford debate
and continued spreading what was tantamount to a gospel of evolution.
the elucidation of his theory in his next three books, which were all
continuations of the Origin. In The Variation of Animals and Plants
Under Domestication (1868), Darwin proposed his hypothesis of pangenesis
(an ill-founded attempt to account for the acquisition of hereditary
characteristics, a process eventually explained in the development of
cell biology and genetics).
Darwin met the issue
of human evolution head-on in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation
to Sex (1871), in which he elaborated on the controversial subject only
alluded to in the Origin.
He expanded the
scope of evolution to include moral and spiritual as well as physical
traits and underscored man's psychological as well as physiological
similarities to the great apes, predicting, "the time will before
long come when it will be thought wonderful that naturalists, who were
well acquainted with the comparative structure and development of man
and other animals, should have believed that each was the work of a
separate act of creation."
The second half
of the book elaborated upon the theory of sexual selection. Darwin observed
that in some species males battle other males for access to certain
females. But in other species, such as peacocks, there is a social system
in which the females select males according to such qualities as strength
biologists have expanded this theory to the selection by females of
males who can contribute toward the survival of their offspring; i.e.,
female selection secures traits that make the next generation more competitive.
description of female choice was roundly rejected by most scientists
at the time, he adamantly defended this insight until the end of his
life. While not universally accepted today, the theory of female choice
has many adherents among evolutionary biologists.
The last of Darwin's
sequels to the Origin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
(1872), was an attempt to erase the last barrier presumed to exist between
human and nonhuman animals--the idea that the expression of such feelings
as suffering, anxiety, grief, despair, joy, love, devotion, hatred,
and anger is unique to human beings.
studies of facial muscles and the emission of sounds with the corresponding
emotional states in man and then argued that the same facial movements
and sounds in nonhuman animals express similar emotional states. This
book laid the groundwork for the study of ethology, neurobiology, and
communication theory in psychology.
Throughout his career
Darwin wrote two kinds of books--those with a broad canvas, such as
the evolution quartet, and those with a narrow focus, such as the treatise
on barnacles. His interests shifted over the years from geology to zoology
In these later works,
however, he included theoretical interpretation, whereas his earlier
works had contained mostly data. In On the Various Contrivances by Which
British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects (1862) he demonstrated
that plants exhibit complicated characteristics that are adaptive and
that increase the survival of a species.
One such characteristic,
for example, is cross-pollination (the mechanism by which pollen is
transferred from one flower to another).
In explaining the
interdependence of bees and orchids, Darwin noted that flowers that
are pollinated by the wind have little colour, while those that need
to attract insects have brightly coloured petals and sweet-smelling
In The Different
Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species (1877) he observed that
flowers in some species differ in the lengths of their anthers and styles,
which is another adaptation for cross-pollination.
in his garden at Down House in Kent where he raised two large beds of
Linaria vulgaris, one from cross-pollinated and the other from self-pollinated
seeds, both of which he obtained from the same parent plant. He observed,
"To my surprise, the crossed plants when fully grown were plainly
taller and more vigorous than the self-fertilized ones."
He continued horticultural
experiments for another 12 years on 57 species and described his results
in The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom
Here he developed
the theme that there are hereditary advantages in having two sexes in
both the plant and animal kingdoms--to ensure cross-fertilization, which,
as he knew from experiments, produced healthier, more vigorous offspring.
In On the Movements
and Habits of Climbing Plants(1875) Darwin advanced an adaptive explanation
for the tendency of the stems of certain plants to spiral toward heat
and light, bending either clockwise or counterclockwise.
Through experimentation he had discovered that a twining plant would
not twine around an object larger than six inches in diameter. This
characteristic Darwin interpreted as preventing a vine from climbing
up a large tree where the shade from the upper branches would deprive
it of sunlight.
in the mechanism that enables some plants to climb and bend, Darwin
continued experimenting and pinpointed "some matter in the upper
part which is acted upon by light, and which transmits its effects to
the lower part." He reported these researches in The Power of Movement
in Plants (1880).
A chance observation
of flies caught on the leaf of the common sundew initiated Darwin's
investigation of carnivorous plants. He was especially impressed by
the fact that the living cells of plants possess a similar capacity
for irritability and response as the cells of animals.
these findings in Insectivorous Plants (1875).
In his last botanical
work, The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms,
which appeared only six months before his death in 1881, he demonstrated
the service that worms perform in digesting leaves and recirculating
organic matter. It was a pioneering study in the field of quantitative
Darwin worked alone
at home, leading the life of an independent scientist (a privileged
existence open to a fortunate few in Victorian England).
Money from Robert
Darwin made it unnecessary for Charles to seek employment.
After his return
from the voyage Darwin knew he would never become a clergyman like his
mentor, Henslow. Nor would he remain a bachelor like his brother, Erasmus,
who was a man-about-town.
After drawing up
lists of the benefits and drawbacks of marriage, he proposed to his
first cousin Emma Wedgwood, whom he married on Jan. 29, 1839. She brought
fortune, devotion, and considerable housewifely skills that enabled
him to work in peace for the next 40 years.
Newly married, the
Darwins moved into a house on Gower Street in London, but within a few
years Darwin's increasingly poor health prompted them to move to the
In 1842 the Darwins
moved into Down House in the village of Downe, Kent, only 16 miles from
London but remote from easy access to the city.
Charles and Emma
Darwin had 10 children: two died in infancy and a third, Anne, died
at age 10. The surviving five sons went away to school. George, Francis,
and Horace became distinguished scientists, and Leonard, a major in
the royal army, was an engineer and eugenicist. William Erasmus was
undistinguished, as were his sisters, who prepared at home to follow
their mother into marriage. Henrietta married; Elizabeth remained single
Darwin was devoted
to his wife and daughters but treated them as children, obliging Emma
to ask him for the only key to the drawers containing all the keys to
cupboards and other locked depositories.
Darwin noted in
The Descent that the young of both sexes resemble the adult female in
most species and reasoned that males are more evolutionarily advanced
His attitude toward
women colored his scientific insights. "The female is less eager
than the male," he wrote, "She is coy," and when she
takes part in choosing a mate, she chooses "not the male which
is most attractive to her, but the one which is least distasteful."
His medical school
experience had left him sympathetic to the popular antivivisectionist
movement, but he admonished women for their involvement in it in a letter
to The Times of London on June 23, 1876:
Women, who from
the tenderness of their hearts and from their profound ignorance are
the most vehement opponents of such experiments, will I hope pause when
they learn that a few such experiments performed under the influence
of an anaesthetic, have saved and will save through all future time
thousands of women from a dreadful and lingering death.
All expressions of cruelty offended him, and he was an ardent opponent
Comfortable in English
society, Darwin treasured his place and feared alienating those who
he knew would be offended by his theory. He benefited at the beginning
of his career from the scientific fraternity in London, who helped him
understand the specimens from the Beagle, and he appreciated his intellectual
give and take with Henslow, Hooker, Lyell, and Huxley.
He was a beneficiary
of this conservative English society, and his fear of ostracism was
one of the forces that prevented him from publishing his theory sooner.
He also dreaded the hurt he knew that his ideas would inflict on his
close friend Henslow and especially on Emma, both devout Christians,
for whom his theory was heresy.
The conflict between
his science and his realization of what publication would imply for
the society he was so much a part of manifested itself in physical pain.
The once adventurous young naturalist was a semi-invalid before his
has been the subject of extensive speculation. Some of the symptoms--painful
flatulence, vomiting, insomnia, palpitations--appeared in force as soon
as he began his first transmutation notebook, in 1837.
Although he was
exposed to insects in South America and could possibly have caught Chagas'
or some other tropical disease, a careful analysis of the attacks in
the context of his activities points to psychogenic origins.
Throughout the next
decades Darwin's maladies waxed and waned. But during the last decade
of his life, when he concentrated on botanical research and no longer
speculated about evolution, he experienced the best health since his
years at Cambridge.
Darwin made his
home at Down into his laboratory, where he experimented in his garden
and observed the local fauna. Dogs and cats were part of the Darwin
household, which also was not without a child under school age between
1839 and 1856.
By no means a recluse,
Darwin often attended scientific meetings in London; he was away from
home for about 2,000 days between 1842 and 1881. He was a member of
57 leading foreign learned societies and was no less a prominent figure
in the village of Downe, treasurer of the Friendly Club and a Justice
of the Peace.
Darwin sent his
children to village dances, and, even though he was a skeptical agnostic,
he participated in church functions that were part of village life.
Darwin died at Down
House on April 19, 1882. Within hours the news reached London, and a
Parliamentary petition won him burial in Westminster Abbey.
By this time the
theory of evolution through natural selection was generally accepted.
His ideas were modified by later developments in genetics and molecular
biology, but his work remains central to modern evolutionary theory.