Born: Feb. 12, 1809, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
Died: April 19, 1882, Downe, Kent
English naturalist Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution by natural selection, which became the foundation of modern evolutionary studies. An affable country gentleman, Darwin at first shocked religious Victorian society by suggesting that animals and humans shared a common ancestry.
However, his nonreligious biology appealed to the rising class of professional scientists, and by the time of his death evolutionary imagery had spread through all of science, literature, and politics. Darwin, himself an agnostic, was accorded the ultimate British accolade of burial in Westminster Abbey, London. Darwin formulated his bold theory in private in 1837–39, after returning from a voyage around the world aboard HMS Beagle, but it was not until two decades later that he finally gave it full public expression in On the Origin of Species(1859), a book that has deeply influenced modern Western society and thought.
The Beagle Voage
Darwin embarked on the Beagle voyage on Dec. 27, 1831. The circumnavigation of the globe would be the making of Darwin. Five years of physical hardship and mental rigour, imprisoned within a ship’s walls, offset by wideopen opportunities in the Brazilian jungles and the Andes Mountains, were to give Darwin a new seriousness.
As a gentleman naturalist, he could leave the ship for extended periods, pursuing his own interests. As a result, he spent only 18 months of the voyage aboard the ship. Among the places Darwin visited on the voyage were the Cape Verde Islands, coastal regions of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, and the Galapagos Islands.
On the last leg of the voyage Darwin finished his 770-
Evolution by Natural Selection
Following the voyage, Darwin became well known through his diary’s publication as Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle(1839). He also employed the best experts and published their descriptions of his specimens in his Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1838–43). Darwin drafted a 35-
From 1846 to 1854, Darwin added to his credibility as an expert on species by pursuing a detailed study of all known barnacles. Intrigued by their sexual differentiation, he discovered that some females had tiny degenerate males clinging to them. This sparked his interest in the evolution of diverging male and female forms from an original hermaphrodite creature. Four monographs on such an obscure group made him a world expert. No longer could he be dismissed as a speculator on biological matters.
On the Origin of Species
In the 1850s the changing social composition of science in England-
Darwin had himself lost the last shreds of his belief in Christianity with the tragic death of his oldest daughter, Annie, from typhoid in 1851. In 1854 Darwin solved his last major problem, the forking of genera to produce new evolutionary branches. He used an industrial analogy familiar from the Wedgwood factories, the division of labour: competition in nature’s overcrowded marketplace would favour variants that could exploit different aspects of a niche. Species would diverge on the spot, like tradesmen in the same tenement.
In 1856 Darwin began writing a triple-
Darwin had finished a quarter of a million words by June 18, 1858. That day he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, an English socialist and specimen collector working in the Malay Archipelago, sketching a similar-
The book did distress his Cambridge patrons, but they were marginal to science now. However, radical Dissenters were sympathetic, as were the rising London biologists and geologists, even if few actually adopted Darwin’s cost-
He wrote three reviews of Origin of Species, defended human evolution at the Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1860 (when Bishop Samuel Wilberforce jokingly asked whether the apes were on Huxley’s grandmother’s or grandfather’s side), and published his own book on human evolution, Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863). What Huxley championed was Darwin’s evolutionary naturalism, his nonmiraculous assumptions, which pushed biological science into previously taboo areas and increased the power of Huxley’s professionals. Huxley’s reaction, with its enthusiasm for evolution and cooler opinion of natural selection, was typical. Natural selection received little support in Darwin’s day. By contrast, evolution itself (“descent,” Darwin called it-
The Patriarch in His Home Laboratory
In the 1860s Down House continued to serve as Darwin’s laboratory, where he experimented and revamped the Originthrough six editions. Although quietly believing in natural selection, he answered critics by reemphasizing other causes of change-
In 1867 the engineer Fleeming Jenkin argued that any single favourable variation would be swamped and lost by back-
But why the importance of cross-
The Private Man and the Public Debate
Through the 1860s natural selection was already being applied to the growth of society. The trend to explain the evolution of human races, morality, and civilization was capped by Darwin in his two-
The two volumes were discrete, the first discussing civilization and human origins among the Old World monkeys. (Darwin’s depiction of a hairy human ancestor with pointed ears led to a spate of caricatures.) The second volume responded to critics who doubted that the iridescent hummingbird’s plumage had any function-
Darwin finished another long-