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Charles (Robert) Darwin (1809-1882)

 


British naturalist, who revolutionized the science of biology by his demonstration of evolution by natural selection. Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, was published on November 24, 1859, and sold out immediately. It was followed by five more editions in his lifetime. The expression "survival of the fittest" did not originate from Darwin's work. Herbert Spencer had already used it in his books about evolutionary philosophy. Though Darwin described our common ancestor as "a hairy quadruped, furnished with a tail and pointed ears," Darwin did not do so in the famous On the Origin of Species.

"The presence of a body of well-instructed men, who have not to labor for their daily bread, is important to a degree which cannot be overestimated; as all high intellectual work is carried on by them, and on such work material progress of all kinds mainly depends, not to mention other and higher advantages." (from The Descent of Man, 1871)

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin was a scientist, whose ideas on evolution anticipated later theories. His chief prose work was Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life (1794-96). Darwin's maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgewood, the founder of the famous pottery works. Due his background, Darwin was not expected to work for a living but use his education and talents well.

Darwin's mother died when he was eight years old, and he was brought up by his sister. A quick learner, he could memorize '40 or 50 lines of Virgil or Homer while in the morning chapel – a common daily requirement for schoolboys at that time. However, in his autobiography he stressed that he was "a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect."

Following the suggestion of his father, Darwin entered in 1827 Christ's College, Cambridge to study theology, which he soon found boring. His love to collect plants, insects, and geological specimens was noted by his botany professor John Stevens Henslow, whom he accompanied on field excursions. Henslow arranged for his talented student a place a on the surveying expedition of HMS Beagle, a Royal Navy ship, to Patagonia. Captain Robert FitzRoy needed a naturalist to serve as his companion and messmate on the tedious trip. Despite objections of his father, Darwin decided to leave his familiar surroundings. FitzRoy believed in physiognomy and he thought that the shape of Darwin's nose suggested that he did not have the strength to complete the voyage. Unfortunately, Darwin shared the small cabin with him; they were constantly engaged in quarrels.

The voyage took five years from 1831 to 1836. Darwin had good reasons to doubt the view that fossils were relics of Noah's Flood and in Cambridge he had participated in discussions about the "transmutations" of species. Darwin returned with observations he had made in Teneriffe, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, the Galapagos Islands, and elsewhere. He never set foot abroad again. During the voyage, he had contracted a tropical illness, which made him a semi-invalid for the rest of his life. By 1846 Darwin had published several works based on the discoveries of the voyage and he became secretary of the Geological Society (1838-41).

From 1842 Darwin lived at Down House, Downe. In 1839 he had married his cousin Emma Wedgwood, and when not devoting himself to scientific studies, he led a life of a country gentleman. As he grew older, he found it difficult to enjoy reading poetry, and  he also almost lost any taste for art and music. "I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did." Darwin seldom left his house. Later in life he studied how earthworms improve soil fertility and structure, and the consequences of inbreeding. Following the death of his daughter Anne in 1851, which had a devastating impact on him, Darwin began to suspect that marriage between near relations could be injurious. His son George concluded in his study Marriages Between First Cousins in England and Their Effects (Journal of the Statistical Society, 1875) that the ill-effects have been often much exaggerated. 

In the 1840s Darwin worked on his observations of the origin of species for his own use. He began to conclude, although he was deeply anxious about the direction his mid was taking, that species might share a common ancestor. When Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist living in the East Indies, sent in 1858 to Darwin his study containing the main ideas of the theory of natural selection, Darwin arranged his notes, which were presented to the Linnean Society, on July 1st, 1858. They were read simultaneously with Wallace's paper, but neither Darwin or Wallace was present on that occasion. Darwin's youngest son had contracted scarlet fever and died; he was buried on the day of the meeting.

Wallace, who was self-taught and a highly decent man, never showed any jealousy and fiercely defended Darwin's theory. Wallace also campaigned for women's suffrage and land nationalization. While Darwin struggled with his loss of faith, Wallace believed in supernatural forces and turned more and more spiritualism.

Darwin's great work, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, appeared next year, and was heavily attacked because it did not support the depiction of creation given in the Bible. Before Darwin, the French anatomist and botanist Jean-Babtiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) had stressed the variations in species, and had given in his books an account of human development that was plainly evolutionary in spirit. Darwin's argument that natural selection - the mechanism of evolution - worked automatically, leaving little or no room for divine guidance or design. All species, he reasoned, produce far too many offspring for them all to survive, and therefore those with favorable variations - owing to chance - are selected. "I am actually weary of telling people that I do not pretend to adduce [direct] evidence of one species changing into another, but I believe that this view is in the main correct, because so many phenomena can thus be grouped end explained."

At Darwin's hands evolution matured into a well-developed scientific theory, which have been a constant target of religious or pseudo-scientific attacks of "young-Earthers." Especially in the United States Christian fundamentalists have enjoyed some political success, but "creation science" has never found much support in Europe among biologists. In 1996 Pope John Paul stated that evolution is a well-established fact.

Darwin himself did not at first explicitly apply the evolutionary theory to human beings. "You ask me whether I shall discuss man," he wrote in 1857, "I think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so surrounded by prejudice." Darwin rejected the idea of mixing religion with science and wrote to the geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875) in 1859, "I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent." On the Beagle, he had been a sort of Christian, but his subsequent loss of faith was not smooth.

Darwin also knew very well that his challenge to the Biblical doctrine would cause stress to his friends and family, among them his religious wife. But as far as natural selection was concerned, God didn't have anything to do. Inevitably his line of reasoning directed him towards agnosticism. "My theology is a simple muddle: I cannot loot at the Universe as the result of a blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent Design," he told the naturalist Joseph Hooker in 1870.

The popular view - after Darwin's hypothesis was accepted widely - was that Man is descended from the apes which led Disraeli to say that as between Man an ape or an angel, he was "on the side of the angels." In a letter Darwin himself expressed his own doubts about his revolutionary thinking: "Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind...?" However, T.H. Huxley did not see any reason to hesitate and published in his Man Place in Nature (1863) an application of the theory and Darwin followed him in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), which sold almost 5,300 copies on its first day. This work showed the similarities between animals and man in the expression of emotions and was the start of the science of ethnology. The remainder of Darwin's books dealt with plants. In Insectivorous Plants (1875) he explored how a plant - the sundew - catches, ingests, and digests flies.

Darwin's voyage with the Royal Navy's H.M.S. Beagle is recorded in the Journal of Researchers (1836), a blend of scientific reporting and travel writing, one of the best travel books ever written. Also Alfred Wallace wrote a travel book, The Malay Archipelago. Darwin died in Down, Kent, on April 19, 1882. It it thought that Darwin suffered from Chagas's disease, when bitten by a Benchuga bug during his scientific studies in South America. This would account for his fainting and other symptoms. It has also been argued that Darwin's symptoms were psychosomatic. Ocasionally he took ice cold baths or used "electric chains".

Darwin's works have had deep a influence also outside the field of natural sciences. Applied to politics it led to the talk about "favored races" and the doctrine that nations struggle in order that the fittest shall survive. Darwin himself once said: "Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a more perfect creature than he is now, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who freely admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful."

For further reading: Charles Darwin: A Scientific Biography by Gavin de Beer (1958); Autobiobraphy by Charles Darwin (1961); The Works of Charles Darwin: An Annotated Bibliographical Handlist by Richard B. Freeman (1977); The Vital Science: Biology and the Literary Imagination by Peter Morton (1984); Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence by Peter J. Bowler (1990); Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (1992); Darwin's Metaphor: Nature's Place in Victorian Culture by Robert Young (1985); Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel C. Dennett (1995); The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written by Martin Seymour-Smith (1998, pp. 349-351); Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life by Peter Raby (2001); Darwin and God by Nick Spencer (2009) - Suom.: Darwinilta on myös suomennettu muistelmateos Elämäni (1987). Pääteos, Lajien synty, ilmestyi ensimmäisen kerran A.R. Koskimiehen suomentamana vuonna 1913.  See: Friedrich Nietzsche, Jack London, H.G. Wells, Robert A. Heinlein, Ayn Rand, whose works more or less reflected Darwinist world view. Social philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was a leading advocate of 'Social Darwinism'. His major work, System of Synthetic Philosophy, (1862-93, 9 vol.) combined together biology and sociology. - C.S. Lewis' Ransom trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strenght) was a fierce attack on the Social Darwinism. See also: T.H. Huxley, who was one of the first to accept Darwin's theory of evolution. 

Selected works:

  • Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by HMS Beagle, 1839 (edited by Gavin de Beer, 1959; as Diary of the Voyage of the Beagle, edited by Nora Barlow, 1933, Millicent E. Selsam, 1959, Leonard Engel, 1962, Richard Darwin Keynes, 1988, and Janet Browne and Michael Neve, 1989)
    - Beaglen matka: tutkimuspäiväkirja Kuninkaallisen laivaston kapteenin FitzRoyn komennossa tehdyltä HMS Beaglen maailmanympärimatkalta, jonka aikana tutustuttiin eri maiden luonnonhistoriaan ja geologiaan (suom. Pertti Ranta, 2008)
  • The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, under the Command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., During the Years 1832 to 1836, 1839-1843 (5 vols.)
  • Geological Observations on Coral Reefs, Volcanic Islands, and on South America, 1851
  • A Monograph on the Fossil Lepadidae or Pedunculated Cirripedes of Great Britain, 1851
  • A Monograph on the Sub-Class Cirripedia: with Figures of All the Species, 1851
  • A Monograph on the Fossil Balanidae and Verrucidae of Great Britain, 1854
  • On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 1859 (edited by J.W. Burrow, 1968)
    - Lajien synty luonnollisen valinnan kautta eli luonnon suosimien rotujen säilyminen taistelussa olemassaolosta (suom. A.R. Koskimies, 1913-15) / Lajien synty (suom. Anto Leikola, 1980; Pertti Ranta, 2009)
  • On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects, 1862
  • The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, 1868
  • The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1871 (2 vols.)
  • The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872
    - Tunteiden ilmeneminen ihmisessä ja eläimissä (suom. Anto Leikola, 2009)
  • Insectivorous Plants, 1875
  • The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom, 1876
  • The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species, 1877
  • The Power of Movement in Plants, 1880
  • The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, 1881
  • The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 1887
  • Autobiography, 1887
    - Elämäni (suom. Anto Leikola, 1987)
  • More Letters of Charles Darwin, 1903 (edited by Francis Darwin and A.C. Seward)
  • The Foundations of the Origins of Species, 1909 (edited by Francis Darwin)
  • The Darwin Reader, 1957 (edited by Marston Bates and Philip S. Humphrey)
  • Evolution and Natural Selection, 1959 (ed. by Bert James Loewenberg)
  • Darwin for Today, 1963 (edited by Stanley Edgar Hyman)
  • The Works of Charles Darwin, 1972 (18 vols.)
  • The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1985-2012 (vols. 1-19, ed. by Frederick Burkhardt, Sydney Smith et al.)
  • The Works of Charles Darwin, 1987-89 (29 vols., edited by Paul H. Barrett and R.B. Freeman)
  • The Essential Darwin, 1987 (edited by Mark Ridley)
  • The Portable Darwin, 1993 (edited by Duncan M. Porter and Petewr W. Graham)
  • Charles Darwin’s Letters: A Selection, 1825-1859, 1996  (edited by Frederick Burkhardt)
  • The Beagle Letters, 2008 (edited by Frederick Burkhardt; with an introduction by Janet Browne)
  • Charles Darwin’s Notebooks from the Voyage of the Beagle, 2009 (transcribed, edited and introduced by Gordon Chancellor and John van Wyhe; with the assistance of Kees Rookmaaker; foreword by Richard Darwin Keynes)
  • Charles Darwin’s Shorter Publications, 1829-1883, 2009 (edited by John van Wyhe)


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