Charles Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin was born in the village of Shrewsbury (England) on February 12, 1809, and he died on April 19, 1882. Shrewsbury, 160 miles northwest of London and close to the border of Wales, is approximately 4,000 miles from the United States of America and on that same day, the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was born in Kentucky.As stated in the Abstract, or Executive Summary above, an attempt is made in this paper to point out the “human” side of Darwin and he will be discussed within the context of his times. With that in mind, it is worth noting that since the “paper” version of this paper was initially completed and distributed on January 31, 1995, it was exactly 156 years ago that date (January 31, 1839) that Charles Darwin had been married to Emma Darwin (née Emma ) for exactly two days. On January 30, 1839, Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Darwin moved into a town house in the Bloomsbury area of London (12 Gower Street) but January 31, 1839 was not a good day for the newly married couple: Josiah Wedgwood III was married to Caroline Darwin, the older sister of Charles Darwin and on December 18, 1838 Sophie Wedgwood was born to this couple. On January 31, 1839 Darwin’s niece died and it has been written of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Darwin that “there could have been no sadder end to a happy month, and it clouded their first weeks together” (Adrian Desmond and James Moore, 1991, Darwin: The Life of A Tormented Evolutionist, page 280).Why this “trivial” piece of information at the beginning of a scholarly paper? Simply to point out that Charles R. Darwin was a human being, who was born of woman, married a woman, had friends and relatives and cares and worries, grew old and eventually died. While his ideas and research may be viewed by some as somewhat unique, he was just as human as the writer (and reader) of this paper, burdened with all of the biases and paradoxes of the times and (therefore) limited by the known (and perhaps more important, unknown) information of the times. The point is strongly made, and noted below, that Charles Darwin went beyond the limitations that others saw and discovered something new: rules for living organisms, or natural selection. It has been written that “science” or “creativity” is to “see what everybody else has seen and then think what nobody has thought.” This idea will be discussed further, for Charles R. Darwin was creative.

When Darwin was in his prime, he was slightly more than six feet in height, but as the years began to weigh on his bones, he took on a stoop which became characteristic of his appearance and it made him look shorter. While a young man, he had a ruddy complexion as well as a rounded chin and he was beardless, even though he wore his reddish-brown sideburns down to his jawline. Darwin enjoyed walking, running, and riding and in his later years he enjoyed having novels read aloud to him. Darwin like dogs, used snuff all of his life (writing that he “learnt the habit at Edinburgh” University, in Scotland ), drank very little wine, and had brown eyes with slight purple speckles (Nora Barlow, 1958, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, page 84). Charles Darwin first grew a beard, as was the custom, when he was on board HMS Beagle on her circumnavigation of the globe in 1831-1836 but he shaved the beard before returning to England. Darwin began to grow his final beard in 1863 in order to avoid the burden of shaving and he also became entirely bald.Darwin was one of six children born to Susannah Wedgwood (1765-1817). He had three older sisters: Marianne (1798-1858), Caroline (1800-1888), Susanne (1803-1866), as well as a younger one, Emily Catherine (1810-1866) and an older brother, Erasmus (1804-1881). Charles Darwin’s brother, Erasmus Darwin (named after their paternal grandfather, the eminent physician Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) had a tremendous amount of influence on Charles Darwin.When Charles Darwin was 8 years old his mother, Susannah Wedgwood, died at the age of fifty-two (July 1817). Although he had very little recollection of her, a colleague of his once stated that he recalled when Charles Darwin was still a child, Darwin brought a flower to school, stating that his mother had taught him how “by looking at the inside of the blossom, the name of the plant could be discovered” (In Thomas H. Huxley, 1896, Darwiniana Essays, page 254). This was not to suggest that the name was neatly stitched therein, but that Charles Darwin’s mother was teaching him the rudiments of the Linnaean system of classification. Until 1818 Emily Catherine and Charles Darwin were educated at home by their older sister Caroline; then Darwin began to attend a boarding school one mile from home. In his infancy in Shrewsbury, he had the nickname of “Babba” and while a young teenager, his brother Erasmus wrote to young “Bobby.” While on the HMS Beagle (when in his 20s), Charles Darwin was known as “Dear Old Philosopher” to the Officers and was called the “Flycatcher” by all!
Charles Darwin’s father, Robert Waring Darwin (1768-1848), was a prosperous and prominent physician in Shrewsbury and he did not see fit to re-marry after his wife’s death in 1817. Robert Darwin had the distinction of being the largest man that Charles Darwin ever observed: Robert Darwin was some six feet two inches in height, with a tremendous girth, and the last time he weighed himself he was at some 360 pounds (or 24 stone in the measurement system of the day). Robert Darwin, incidentally, continued to gain weight after that time although it is written that he no longer weighed himself (Gerturde Himmelfarb, 1959, Darwin And The Darwinian Revolution, page 10).While healthy as a youth, after his 1831-1836 voyage on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin was chronically ill, having contracted what was eventually termed Chagas Disease. On the 26th of March 1835, in South America, Darwin was bitten by what has been called “the Great Black Bug of the Pampas” or Triatoma infestans [Gavin De Beer, 1964, Charles Darwin: Evolution By Natural Selection, page 116]. Chagas disease, not diagnosed by the medical profession until the 20th century, could result, at various times in migraine, vomiting, lassitude, stomach and heart problems, flatulance, and (as you can imagine) a feeling of un-wellness (Stephen J. Goukd , 1982, “In Praise of Charles Darwin” in Darwin’s Legacy: Nobel Conference XVIII Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, Edited by Charles L. Hamrum, pp. 1-10, page 3; also see John Bowlby, 1990, Charles Darwin: A New Life, page 6 and pp. 7-14 for a psychosomatic interpretation of Darwin’s illness).When his father died at the age of eighty-two on November 13, 1848, Charles Darwin was not able to attend his funeral because of his own ill health [Sir Francis Darwin (1848-1925), Editor, 1950 edition, Charles Darwin’s Autobiography: With his Notes and Letters Depicting the Growth of the Origin Of Species, page 52]. Certain researchers have suggested that Darwin suffered from psychosomatic problems resulting from problems with his father; my interpretation, however, is that Darwin was bitten by a bug, infected by the bug, and he had the heartiest respect for his father who was a sensitive individual as well as a cautious businessman. Although a physician, Charles Darwin’s father was not “scientific” but he did have a vision of the universe. One of his golden rules which Charles Darwin remembered and which Charles Darwin attempted to follow, was “Never become the friend of anyone whom you cannot respect” (Stanley E. Hyman, 1963, Darwin For Today, page 338). Such were some of the words that Charles Darwin remembered from his father.
As Charles Darwin matured, he became independently wealthy and was able to devote his time and energies, such as they were, to those questions which he found interesting rather than on a career to support his family. Upon his father’s death, Charles Darwin inherited approximately 45,000 pounds; this amount, combined with the 13,000 pounds he received from his father upon his marriage in 1839 to his cousin Emma Wedgwood (1808-1896) and the 5,000 pound dowry that Emma Wedgwood brought into the marriage, provided Mr. and Mrs. Charles Darwin with quite a bit of capital at all times. When Charles Darwin died in 1882, he had nearly quadrupled his inheritance and his estate was estimated to be approximately 282,000 pounds. This was done by investments in railroads, for in Darwin’s time, railroads developed over the canal system in the British Isles.After graduating from Cambridge University in 1831, Charles Darwin took his trip around the world on HMS Beagle and in 1876, at the age of sixty-eight, Darwin wrote his Autobiography. In it he stated that his five-year voyage, over the years of 1831-1836 “has been by far the most important event of my life and has determined my whole career (Stanley E. Hyman, 1963, Darwin For Today, page 1) and he also wrote that the Origin of 1859 “is no doubt the chief work of my life” [Stanley E. Hyman, 1963, Darwin For Today, page 389]. Darwin was 22 years old in 1831 when HMS Beagle set out on a scientific exploration across the globe. When he returned in 1836, Darwin married and he never left England again.On November 11, 1838, Charles Darwin proposed to Emma Wedgwood, the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood II (and granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood who established the famous pottery works). Charles Darwin affectionately called Emma’s father “Uncle Jos” since they were related through his maternal grandfather. Emma had “grey eyes, a firm, humorous mouth and rich chestnut hair “(Edna Healey, 1986, Wives Of Fame: Mary Livingstone, Jenny Marx, Emma Darwin, page 136). Earlier in 1838, Emma’s older brother Jos had married one of Charles Darwin’s older sisters, and it was their child (Sophie Wedgwood) that had died three days after Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood were wed. Emma Wedgwood and Charles Darwin were married on January 29, 1839 and resided in London from that year until 1842. Living in London provided Charles Darwin with the opportunity to attend professional meetings and engage in research since the Darwin home was close to the British Museum. On the 24th of January 1839 Darwin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and five days later Emma and he were married.
Their first child William (1839-1914) was born in that capital of the British Empire (on December 27), an Empire which was to cover 1/3rd of the globe in Queen Victoria’s time. (Queen Victoria was the monarch from 1837 to 1901.) Emma Darwin’s next child was Anne Elizabeth, born on March 2 of 1841, but Annie died on the 23rd of April 1851 at the age of ten.Mr. & Mrs. Darwin soon discovered that they detested the city and Charles Darwin wrote “I long to be settled in pure air, out of all the dirt, noise, vice & misery of this great wen” (or cyst of a city) for London was an “odious and smoky town” (Peter Brent, 1981, Charles Darwin: A Man Of Enlarged Curiosity, page 326 and page 223). Charles Darwin also wrote that the capital of London “suited my health so badly that we resolved to live in the country, which we both preferred and have never repented [Sir Francis Darwin (1848-1925), Editor, 1950 edition, Charles Darwin’s Autobiography: With his Notes and Letters Depicting the Growth of the Origin Of Species, page 50].” On September 14, 1842, the Darwin family moved to the village of Down in Kent, sixteen miles southeast of London. The census of 1841 pointed out that there were 444 residents of the village of Down in that year and by 1881 (one year before Charles Darwin’s death), the population had swelled to 555.The Darwin home was spacious and while under-furnished, was comfortable to raise a family. Their furniture was once described by their grand-daughter as “ugly in a way, but dignified and plain” (Julian Huxley and H.B.D. Kettlewell, 1965, Charles Darwin And His World, page 60). A 20th Century description has been given of the Darwin home:“[it] had no profound social or architectural pretension, but was a square, honest, open-fronted structure, somewhat bare, with straightforward windows and an intimidating front door, built of worn, though serviceable brick” (Peter Brent, 1981, Charles Darwin: A Man Of Enlarged Curiosity, page 328).
In an 1842 letter to his sister Catherine, Darwin called the house at Down somewhat ugly [Charles R. Darwin to Catherin Darwin, dated July 1842 in More Letters of Charles Darwin: A Record Of His Work In A Series Of Hitherto Unpublished Letters, Francis Darwin (Editor), 1903, page 32]. Initially they had two bathrooms, a study, a dining-room, and ample space to raise a family and work and think. The house was gradually expanded . At first, they had no running hot water but they did have two serviceable outhouses! Emma and Charles Darwin had a loving and caring family. The Darwin home at Down was situated on 15 acres (with cherry and walnut trees as well as scotch and silver fir) and Charles Darwin would think and walk and enjoy the splendor of their grounds.Emma and Charles Darwin had ten children, but only seven reached their age of maturity. On September 23, 1842, Mary Eleanor was born in Down but she died within three weeks on the 10th of October. Henrietta Emma was born in 1843 (September 25) and died in 1927. The following information on all of the children of Emma and Charles Darwin might be interesting: William (1839-1914), Anne (1841-1851), Mary (1842), Henrietta Emma (1843-1927), George (1845-1912), Elizabeth (1847-1926), Francis (1848-1925), Leonard (1850-1943), Horace (1851-1928), and Charles Waring (1856-1858).Charles R. Darwin was conducting research and writing until the 73rd year of his life and it was during this winter of 1881-1882 that his heart began to give him problems. While visiting a friend in London in December 1881, he suffered a mild heart seizure (Walter Karp, 1968, Charles Darwin And The Origin Of Species, page 149). On the 12th of February 1882, his 73rd birthday, he wrote to a friend that “my course is nearly run” (Julian Huxley and H.B.D. Kettlewell, 1965, Charles Darwin And His World, page 126) and on Wednesday the 19th of April 1882, he had a fatal heart attack and died.
The remains of Charles R. Darwin are not buried in Down but in the chapel of St. Faith in Westminster Abbey, London. At his death, twenty Members of Parliament immediately requested of the Dean of Westminster that Darwin be buried in the Abbey. A four-horse funeral carriage (accompanied by Francis, Leonard, and Horace Darwin) made the 16 mile journey to London on the 25th of April 1882. If one considers how Darwin had been verbally attacked by certain clergy during his lifetime it may seem unusual that he is buried in the holiest-of-holy places in the British Empire but the British know how to honor their scientists. Emma Darwin survived Charles Darwin until her death at the age of eighty-eight in 1896 (May 2, 1808-October 2, 1896) and she did not attend the formal service in London at Westminster Abbey. She preferred to mourn in private and Emma Darwin has been described as a “stronger-minded, tougher person than Charles” (Gerturde Himmelfarb, 1959, Darwin And The Darwinian Revolution, page 441).Darwin was interred a few paces away from the resting places of Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Charles Lyell, Michael Faraday, and William Herschel. Darwin’s pall bearers included the President of the Royal Society, the American Minister to the British Isles (Robert Lowell), the churchman Cannon Farrar, an earl, two dukes, and the three leading British biologists of the times who were among his closest scientific friends: Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), Sir Joseph Hooker (1817-1911). and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) thought the occasion of Darwin’s internment at the Abbey “worthy enough [to attend] to suspend his objections to religious ceremonies” ([Gerturde Himmelfarb, 1959, Darwin And The Darwinian Revolution, page 440).As an academic and a Professor of Anthropology, it has often been asked of me, “didn’t Darwin make a statement when he was dying to the effect of ‘How I wish I had not expressed my theory of evolution as I have done'” and I simply say, he did not! His death is discussed below, and my interpretation of what he might have said is given, but please consider the following 1989 statement in response to the “How I Wish” story:
“…on October 20, 1985, TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart announced that the great British scientist repudiated his life’s work as he lay dying, and that he also asked to read the Bible so he could know Jesus. Swaggart’s was not the first to make use of the Darwin death-bed recantation. It’s an old fabrication. Shortly after Darwin’s death at seventy-four on April 19, 1882, the evangelistic widow of Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Hope, told a gathering of students at Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts that she had visited Darwin in his last hours and found him reading the Epistle to the Hebrews. Darwin, she said, announced that he wished he “had not expressed my theory of evolution as I have done,” and he also asked her to get some people together so he could speak to then of Jesus Christ and His salvation, being in a state where he was eagerly savoring the heavenly anticipation of bliss.” But Darwin’s daughter Henrietta vigorously denied that her father ever made such statements. “Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness,” she declared. “I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. . . . The whole story has no foundation whatever.” Francis Darwin, who was with his father toward the end, reported that Darwin said, “I am not the least afraid to die,” a few hours before his passing. These seem to have been his last words [STRESS added] [Paul F. Boller and John George, 1989, They Never Said It: A Book Of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions, pages 19-20].