Born 12 February 1809, Charles Robert Darwin was the fifth of six children and the grandson of Erasmus Darwin, author of Zoonomia which presented early ideas of evolution. Darwin began studying medicine as an apprentice to his father, a doctor, and attended Edinburgh Medical School shortly after. His disinterest in university studies resulted in his exploration of various subjects: taxidermy, natural history, plants, entomology, adaptation, and natural philosophy.
Following graduation, he took part in a five-year expedition to chart South America’s coastline on the HMS Beagle as a naturalist. On meeting indigenous people in Tierra del Fuego, he was convinced they were “miserable, degraded savages” but that they had a shared origin. During the expedition, he wrote and later published his Journal and Remarks, now known as The Voyage of the Beagle. The findings in this journal and letters sent to his mentor, botany professor John Stevens Henslow, fostered the first celebrity views of Darwin among the scientific elite. Cataloging specimens collected during his journey resulted in the discovery of several extinct species as interpreted by Richard Owen.
He began to theorize the creation of new species after reading the work of Thomas Robert Malthus. Reasoning that favorable traits would be passed down as they would result in more surviving offspring, Darwin related his thoughts to selective breeding by farmers and began researching.
By 1856, he had begun to write a book on his theories entitled Natural Selection. While Alfred Russel Wallace was first to complete a paper on natural selection, a presentation to the Linnean Society did not result in much response from other scientists. Darwin’s abstract On the Origins of Species was published a year later and was surprisingly popular. Some debated whether evolution could be supernaturally guided, largely by liberal clergymen. From Darwin’s work came more scientific papers, including one written by his friend Thomas Henry Huxley that provided evidence on the anatomical links between humans and apes.
Darwin continued to write and publish scientific papers while working on his main book, totaling over 23 published works and an autobiography edited by his son. He died in 1882 but continued to have great influence over science into the next century.
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