Charles Darwin the Thinker

Brief Biography of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was a British naturalist known for his theories of evolution and natural selection known as Darwinism. When was Charles Darwin born? He was born on Feb. 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England. He studied in Edinburgh University where he became interested in natural history. He switched to Cambridge University and obtained his degree in 1831.

On Dec. 27, 1831, Darwin sailed from Plymouth, England, on the Beagle for a scientific voyage that was supposed to continue for two years but turned out to last five years. Darwin explored the South American continent including the offshore Galapagos Islands. Darwin made copious and meticulous notes and gathered many geologic and biologic specimens. He found many fossils of extinct animals that were similar to existing modern animals. These observations gave rise to the question of how new species replaced the old. In the Galapagos Islands, he observed many variations of plants and animals. Elsewhere, he also observed natural geological phenomena such as an earthquake in Chile and various volcanic formations.

Darwin returned to England in 1836 and began to organize and assemble his notes from the voyage. From this emerged his theory of evolution and related theories. The essence of Darwin’s theory says that evolution occurred slowly during millions of years through a process called natural selection or commonly referred to as survival of the fittest. The survival or extinction of any species depended on its ability to adapt to its environment. When did Charles Darwin Die? Darwin died April, 19 1882 at age seventy-three and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Darwin Reflected Daily as he Paced the Sand Walk at Down House

Clues to the evolution of Darwin’s ideas lie in his daily routine. As a man of comfortable means, he was free from the pressures of modern science to find time to think.

Charles Darwin is credited by many with solving how plants and animals have evolved over millions of years, by a process of natural selection, resulting in the publication of the Origin of the Species in 1859.

Charles Darwin’s Daily Routine

Charles Darwin was a creature of habit and not a well man. His ill health has never been completely diagnosed, but he may have suffered from Chagas’ disease – a chronic intestinal disorder caused by a protozoan parasite.

He was frequently incapacitated and this, in conjunction with his daily routine, gave him time to think. Unlike present day scientists, his time was not dominated by grant writing and keeping up a stream of peer-reviewed publications. He had a substantial inheritance. Financial considerations were not an issue, even with a large family, and Darwin was free to think.

Not only was he financially solvent but within the constraints of science and scientific equipment of the time he was free to experiment in whichever direction his thoughts led him.

Darwin’s daily routine is striking in the amount of time allowed for rest and reflection:

  • 7:45 – Breakfast
  • 8:00 – Work in study
  • 9:30 – Listen to family letters or novels in drawing room
  • 10:30 – Work in study
  • 12:00 – Walk along the Sand Walk
  • 13:00 – Lunch followed by reading newspapers/novels or writing letters
  • 15:00 – Rest in bedroom
  • 16:30 – Work in study
  • 17:30 – Rest in bedroom
  • 19:30 – Tea
  • 20:00 – Two games of backgammon with his wife Emma
  • 21:00 – Retire to bed

Darwin’s Solitary Walks Along the Sand Walk

Darwin had enjoyed long solitary walks since childhood and walking along the Sand Walk at Down House was a daily observance. He found this time to think an immense benefit to both his work and piece of mind.

Darwin is renowned for his powers of observation, an important characteristic of all successful scientists. He concentrated on things that interested him and thought deeply about them. Wrestling his way through the complex thoughts and consequences of his observations and ideas on evolution did not come easily. In particular, he worried about the effects of his ideas on the Church and his devout wife Emma.

Darwin’s daily walks along the sand walk seemed to provide a natural tranquiliser and Darwin was drawn to its calming effect. The sand walk is found on a narrow strip of land that runs along the boundary of Down House, overlooking a charming little valley. Darwin’s children regularly played there and he liked to be near them as he formulated his thoughts. He would often walk it several times, recording the number by kicking a flint from a pile as he passed by.

Sometimes, Darwin would pause to take stock or collect a leaf or fallen birds egg that had caught his eye.

Darwin’s Legacy of Thought

Darwin was an inveterate collector and on his epic voyage circumnavigating the globe, he regularly sent home cases of specimens to fellow naturalists. Yet he was a home bird at heart. Corresponding with others he formulated his thoughts on evolution and for the latter part of his life rarely left home.

Recent advances in molecular biology have allowed scientists to prove many of Darwin’s hypotheses on the relationships between species. Despite the differences in his working environment to today’s scientists, Darwin was able to draw on his observations made on his travels. His daily life at Down House (Kent, UK) surrounded by his large and involved family, allowed him time to think and experiment.

Timeline of Charles Darwin

February 12, 1809: Born in Shrewsbury, England, the son of Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah, nee Wedgwood.

1813: In the summer goes to Gros, near Abegele, in Wales, for sea-bathing with family, some of his earliest recollections coming from this.

1814-1816: No information about his being away from The Mount.

1817: Attends day school in Shrewsbury run by George Case, Unitarian minister. His mother dies.

June 1818: goes to Samuel Butler’s school at Shrewsbury as a boarder (stayed 7 years). Butler was the grandfather of Samuel Butler (1835-1902) the science writer and critic of Darwinism.

June 17, 1825: taken away early from Shrewsbury School by his father.

1826: In the winter meets Dr Robert Grant (1793-1874), naturalist and Lamarckian, and examines marine animals.

March 27, 1827: reads papers on marine animals to Plinian Society.

1829: Travels to Wales to collect insects with entomologist Frederick William Hope.

1831: Passes his BA examinations on 22 January without honours and remains at Cambridge for a further two terms to fulfill residence requirement.

January 16, 1832: Darwin makes his first landing on a tropical shore at St Jago, Cape Verde Islands. From February 1832 to May 1834 the Beagle surveys the east coast of South America.

March 1833: Beagle visits Falkland Islands. From April to July around Maldonado, August to December in Rio Negro and Montevideo.

1834: Early part of the year is spent surveying in Tierra del Fuego and another visit to the Falkland Islands.

1835: Spends February in Valdivia and early March in Concepcion, makes long excursion northwards from March to September, calling at Copiapo,

1836: Beagle calls at Sydney in January, Hobart in February, Cocos and Keeling Islands in April, followed by Mauritius.

March 1837: takes lodgings in 36 Great Marlborough Street, London. Gives papers at the Geological Society of London. Becomes friendly with the geologist Charles Lyell. The naturalist John Gould identifies his birdspecimens. In July opens his first notebook on the transmutation of species.

1838: Works intensely on a variety of natural history and geological topics. Finishes a paper on the geology of Glen Roy in Scotland. On 28 September he read ‘for amusement’ T. R. Malthus Essay on the Principle of Population.

1839: Marries Emma Wedgwood on 29 January. Publishes Journal of Researches, later known as Voyage of the Beagle. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

1840: Publishes paper On the formation of mould.

1842: Publishes The structure and distribution of coral reefs. On a visit to his wife’s family home, Maer in Staffordshire, makes a brief pencil sketch of his theory of ‘descent with modification’.

1843: Continues work on volcanic islands.

1844: Expands sketch into a longer Essay. Writes a memorandum to Emma Darwin requesting that this essay should be published if he should die unexpectedly, giving the names of several friends who would serve as possible editors.

1845: Expands and revises Journal of Researches for a second edition. Begins a lifelong relationship with the London publishing house of John Murray.

1846: Publishes Geological Observations on South America. October begins work on barnacles.

1847: Continues work on barnacles. Visits Shrewsbury February to March, June British Association for Advancement of Science at Oxford.

November 1848: his father Robert Waring Darwin dies.

March to June 1849: Publishes chapter on Geology A manual of scientific enquiry; prepared for the use of Her Majesty’s Navy.

March 1851: Publishes the first of two volumes on barnacles, A Monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia, and the first of two volumes on fossil barnacles, A Monograph on the fossil Lepadidae.

1852: Spent year working on barnacles.

1853: Spent the whole year preparing M.S of Sessile Cirripedes for press.

1854: Publishes concluding volumes on barnacles, A Monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia, and A Monograph on the fossil Balanidae and Verrucidae. When did Darwin start writing the Origin of Species? in 1854 he begin full-time work on species.

1856: On Charles Lyell’s advice begins writing up his views for a projected big book called ‘Natural Selection’.

1857: Whole year spent writing chapters of species book.

June 1858: receives a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace who is collecting specimens in Indonesia. Wallace encloses an essay on species and varieties that mirrors Darwin’s own theory of natural selection.

November 24, 1859: When was the Origin of Species published? On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life is published in London by John Murray.

1860: Publishes 2nd edition of Origin of Species. Foreign editions appear. Begins work on Variation book.

1861: Continued work on Variation book. Published 3rd edition of Origin. Began work on Orchid book.

1862: Publishes On the Various Contrivances by which British and foreign Orchids are fertilized by Insects, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing.

1863: Seriously ill, consults many medical men about his symptoms.

November 1864: awarded the Copley medal of the Royal Society of London, its highest scientific honor.

1865: Publishes an article on climbing plants in the journal of the Linnean Society of London, ‘On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants’.

July 1868: Publishes The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication.

1869: Publishes 5th edition of Origin of Species.

1870: Whole year working on descent of man.

1871: Publishes The Descent of Man, and Selection in relation to Sex. Adds a new chapter to sixth edition of Origin of Species to rebut Mivart’s claims.

1872: Publishes 6th edition of Origin. Publishes The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

1873: Worked on climbing plants and 2nd edition of Descent of man.

1874: A séance is held at his brother’s house in January but Darwin does not attend. “The Lord have mercy on us all, if we have to believe in such rubbish.” The 2nd editions of Descent and Coral Reefs published.

1875: Publishes Insectivorous Plants. Gives evidence to the Royal Commission on Subjecting Live Animals to Experiments.

1876: During the summer begins to write an autobiographical memoir for his children and future grandchildren.

1877: Awarded Honorary LLD from Cambridge University. Publishes The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the same Species and ‘A biographical sketch of an Infant’ in the journal Mind.

1879: Publishes a biographical study of his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. Translated from the German by W.S. Dallas, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin, followed by bitter controversy with Samuel Butler after he accuses Darwin of plagiarism.

1880: Publishes The Power of Movement in Plants.

1882: Dies 19 April, aged seventy-three. Buried in Westminster Abbey, 26 April.

Charles Darwin Quotes

  • A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
  • A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives – of approving of some and disapproving of others.
  • At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races throughout the world.
  • I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.
  • If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.
  • Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
  • It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
  • My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts.
  • To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.
  • The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.

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