"I love fools' experiments. I am always making them." -Charles Darwin

Happy birthday Charles Darwin!

Charles-Darwin

As any college graduate worth his salt can tell you, Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809—April 19, 1882) was an English scientist whose theory of evolution by natural selection serves as the foundation of evolutionary studies. His book, On the Origin of the Species (1859) details the potential for diversity of life through selection and inheritance. In honor of his birthday, here's a list of interesting facts about Darwin that you might not have learned in high school.

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Portrait of Charles Darwin by George Richmond 

Charles Darwin was born the fifth of six children of a wealthy society couple. Doctor Robert Darwin was a freethinker and instilled a love of natural history in his children, especially Charles. Darwin collected animal shells and bird's eggs, and gardened along with his father.

When he was only sixteen, Darwin spent a summer as an apprentice doctor, helping his father treat patients in their native Shropshire. He had a handful of his own patients, and would note their symptoms for his father to make up the prescriptions.

Charles Darwin was a member of the Darwin-Wedgwood family, descended from the prominent 18th century doctor, Erasmus Darwin, and Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the pottery firm, Josiah Wedgwood and Sons. The firm is still in business and is commonly known as Wedgwood.

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Emma Wedgwood Darwin by George Richmond

Darwin had a long and happy marriage to his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, who proved to be a worthy intellectual companion. Prior to his proposal, Darwin made a sort of pros vs cons list to gauge whether or not he should take a wife. Under columns "Marry" and "Not Marry", Darwin listed the advantages and disadvantages of each, which included "less money for books" and "better than a dog, anyhow".

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Full transcript which ends with triumphantly with, "Marry, Marry, Marry, Q.E.D"

Although Darwin feared that his children might somehow suffer from inbreeding, most of his surviving children (eight out of ten) went on to have distinguished careers. On his deathbed, Darwin said to his wife, "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"

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Charles and his eldest son, William Darwin

Darwin's half-cousin was Francis Galton, a fellow scholar who took a dark approach to natural selection, in the applied science he named eugenics. "The self-direction of human evolution," as it was called, was Galton's theory that the human gene pool could be optimized by reproducing desirable traits, while reducing the reproduction of undesirable traits. Eugenics has historically been used to support racial agendas by promoting the idea of racial integrity.

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Darwin c. 1859; English Heritage Photo Library, via Smithsonian Magazine

Darwin, however, was strongly against the "ranking the so-called species of man as distinct species." He wrote home about "how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery. What a proud thing for England if she is the first European nation which utterly abolishes it!"

Darwin's voyage on the HMS Beagle was originally supposed to last two years, but it lasted nearly five years. Darwin took copious notes on his thoughts on marine invertebrates and occasionally sent specimens to Cambridge, his alma mater.

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Darwin worked on his ideas on Transmutation of Species and wrote "I think" above his first evolutionary tree.

While he explored the geologically new Galápagos Islands, Darwin observed small differences in the mockingbirds from island to islands, and learned of variations in the shape of tortoise shells based on their island of origin. When he returned to Cambridge to organize his findings, The ornithologist John Gould soon announced that the Galapagos birds that Darwin had thought a mixture of blackbirds, "gros-beaks" and finches, were, in fact, twelve separate species of finches.

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Darwin studied wild orchids and detailed their reproductive habits in Fertilisation of Orchids (1862). He established that the flowers adapted to attract specific moths to each species in such a way that ensured cross-pollination. 

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Sea anemones from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms of Nature), 1904.  Haeckel, a biologist, naturalist, and artist who  was a great admirer of Darwin.

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Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, (The History of Creation), 1868 by Ernst Haeckel

 

Darwin identified himself as agnostic. In 1915, a story was published claiming that Darwin had reverted to Christianity on his deathbed. Although the story remains somewhat commonly circulated, the claims have been dismissed as false numerous times by Darwin's children and by historians.

More than 120 species and nine genera have been named after Darwin.

Darwin has been commemorated in the UK, with his portrait printed on the reverse of £10 banknotes printed along with a hummingbird and HMS Beagle

In addition to his aforementioned work, Darwin's other books include The Voyage of the Beagle, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. He also wrote The Power of Movement in Plants, and his last book (on earthworms) was The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.


 

The Genius Of Charles Darwin - Part 1 - Life, Darwin & Everything

Quotes: 

You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.

My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts.

We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 12 February 2014
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