Articles/Biographies/Scientists/Darwin, Charles

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in the town of Shrewsbury, England. His family was relatively wealthy and his mother Susannah died when he was only eight. After his mother's death, his sister Caroline raised him for the rest of his younger years.

His education in the public school was focused on classic literature, mainly of Greek origin. However, Charles did not display any exceptional talent in academics. In 1825, he moved to Edinburgh in order to study medicine, but did not stay there very long. He had realized that his father would support him for the rest of his life and did not feel any particular motivation to succeed.

After Charles dropped out of medical school, his father suggested that he study religion. Charles moved to Cambridge in 1827, where he studied theology at Christ's College in hopes of becoming a member of the clergy. However, Charles was quickly distracted by other ventures. He met some individuals who were avid hunters and embarked on a number of trips with them, learning more about nature and animals. His cousin William Fox was an entomologist and provided Charles with some guidance in the collection of biological specimens.

Charles' intense fascination with biology is perhaps best described by a story in his autobiography. Charles had been removing a chunk of bark from a tree, when he saw two unique beetles. He grabbed one in each hand, only to see a different kind. Without hesitation, Charles placed one of the beetles in his mouth for storage, but the beetle emitted an acrid substance that burned his tongue, causing him to lose all but one of the beetles.

Charles met a professor in botany that helped to encourage his interests in biology. The professor was named Alan Sedgewick and helped Charles to secure a position as a naturalist on the HMS Beagle expedition at no cost. The ship left Devonport on December 27, 1831, not to return for a full five years. Over the duration of the expedition, Charles was able to visit hundreds of locations in South America and the nearby islands.

It was on the Galapagos Islands that Charles first began developing his theories. He noticed that each island had different forms of birds and tortoises, which were very similar, but had different eating habits and slightly different appearances. This allowed him to theorize that there was some sort of link between the similar, but different species on the various islands.

In 1836, the expedition returned to England. Charles had learned and seen many things that allowed him to develop theories in botany, biology, and geology. He had noticed that species that were better equipped to find and keep food were more prone to survival and theorized that this would weed out the weaker species, forming the framework for the theory of evolution. However, he did not publish his theory out of fear of criticism.

In 1838, he was made secretary of the Geological Society, where he served until 1841. In 1839, he was given a position on the Royal Society and married his cousin Emma Wedgewood, with whom he fathered ten children. In 1842, they moved to Downe, where he continued his extensive studies of the species in the area. It was here that he published a number of articles on the nature of his expedition, which made him very well known among fellow scientists.

On his expedition, Charles had contracted a case of Chagas disease from an insect bite in South America. It was now beginning to worsen and Charles began to realize that his end was nearing. In 1856, he began writing all of his ideas down for publishing. In 1858, he received an article from a friend, Alfred Wallace, that was essentially the same as his idea of evolution, but he agreed to publish his ideas along with those of the other man in the same publication.

In spite of the publication, little attention was given to their ideas. He began forming an abstract of his vast number of ideas, which would later become "On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection". The book was published in 1859 and presented a serious challenge to the existing beliefs, particularly those in theology.

Charles continued his writing, publishing some other works along with another controversial book "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex". The book was published in 1871 and theorized that humans had descended from a hairy animal that was related to the orangutan and gorilla.

In 1878, Charles was given membership in the French Academy of Sciences. He died in Downe after a long bout with his disease, leaving science forever changed. A number of his children went on to become great scientists as well.