Charles Darwin is arguably one of the most famous scientists in modern history. In 1859 he published his book On the Origin of Species, a work of scientific literature that would go on to become a foundational concept in science, and that would transform the way we see life and its biological origins as a whole. You may know his theories of evolution and natural selection from having learned them at school, but how familiar are you really with the life of Charles Darwin? In this article, we are going to look at 10 interesting facts that you may not know about the renowned British Naturalist.
1. Darwin was born the same day as Abraham Lincoln.
Charles Darwin and the 16th President of the United States were born on February 12, 1809. Although united by their date of birth, Darwin and Lincoln lived two very different lives; the former was born a privileged man while the latter was born a poor man. Both men would never meet nor talk to each other, however, they were both united by a passion to be self-taught (at least partially) and a desire to end slavery. Darwin would outlive Lincoln by 23 years.
2. Darwin almost became a doctor.
Darwin followed his father’s steps in becoming a doctor and entered medical school at the University of Edinburgh, one of the most renowned at the time. However, Darwin did not succeed in becoming a doctor, as he couldn’t stand the sight of blood and found himself bored by the lectures. He continued his academic life with both his hobby as a naturalist and by entering Cambridge University, where he would study Theology.
3. Darwin had a certain affinity with exotic dining.
The man behind the theory of evolution was known to have a particular appetite for strange foods. He became a member of the Gourmet Club at Cambridge University, where the main courses were those of exotic animals “unknown to the human palate”. Darwin is said to have eaten armadillos, rodents and even a puma, throughout his numerous expeditions. It is said that after his trip to Galapagos Islands, Darwin became quite fond with the taste of tortoise, taking some four dozens of them for the trip back.
4. Darwin had doubts about publishing his theory of evolution.
Darwin’s famous voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1831 led him to discover what would later define his theory of evolution. The voyage would come to an end in 1836, but Darwin would not come around to present his work on evolution and natural selection until 1858, publishing it a year later. It is believed that Darwin was concerned for what he thought would be a harsh reaction by the public and the church. Nevertheless, Darwin published his groundbreaking work some 20 years later, with an absurdly long title, almost reflective of the time it took to publish: On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
5. Darwin married his first cousin.
Darwin’s logical and analytical mindset led to what has now become a famous — or rather infamous — pros and cons list. Written on the pros column were things like “children” and “company”, but written on the cons column were “loss of time”, “[no] conversation of clever men at clubs”, and the more relatable “not forced to visit relatives”. His list led him to believe that marriage was the best option, and so he went to his father for advice and ended up going to his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, to ask her to marry him, although he did not come around to formally propose.
6. Darwin lost 3 of his 10 children.
Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood had 10 children: William Erasmus, Anne Elizabeth, Mary Eleanor, Henrietta Emma, George Howrad, Elizabeth, Francis, Leonard, Horace and Charles. Both Mary Eleanor and Charles died in infancy, however, the death of Anne Elizabeth came when she was 10 years old, dealing a serious impact on Darwin. Annie, as she was known by her family, died of scarlet fever but it is believed that she may have suffered from tuberculosis.
7. Darwin had a complicated relationship with his faith.
From a young age, Darwin was exposed to a variety of religious beliefs and ways of thinking. His family had been traditionally nonconformist Unitarian Christians, but both his grandfather and his father were freethinkers, a way of thinking that rejects dogma and argues instead for other methods to reach beliefs. He was baptised under the Church of England and went even further as to enter into divinity school and later become an Anglican clergyman. Nevertheless, his faith wavered after witnessing the cruelty of slavery throughout his travels, and living the death of three of his children.
8. Darwin had a strict obsession with Backgammon.
Darwin led a very strict routine to reduce his pain caused by an unknown chronic illness. Within that strict routine, he and his wife played 1 or 2 games of backgammon daily. In his last years, his daily games of backgammon between 8 and 8:30 became essential to deal with his headaches, insomnia and exhaustion. Darwin even went as far as keeping score of each game he played with his wife.
9. Darwin’s last words were “I am not the least afraid of death”.
Darwin had become seriously ill in 1882, when he was diagnosed with coronary thrombosis, a condition he may have developed from Chagas disease, a parasitic disease caused by “Kissing Bugs” found in Latin America. In his final days, Darwin was nursed by his wife, Emma, and two of his children, Henrietta and Francis. When speaking to his wife for the last time, Darwin ushered his last reflection: “I am not the least afraid of death—remember what a good wife you have been to me—tell all my children to remember how good they have been to me”.
10. Darwin received an apology from the Church of England — only 126 years later.
After the publication of his book On the Origin of Species, Darwin was notoriously criticized by the Church of England. His theories challenged the religious belief of creationism, which had been the dogmatic teaching of Christianity for centuries. An essay written in 2008 by senior Anglican, Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, stated that “the Church of England owes you [Darwin] an apology for misunderstanding you”. Despite his strained relationship with the church, he was ultimately buried in Westminster Abbey, alongside other renowned scientists such as Isaac Newton, and more recently, Stephen Hawking.