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Charles Darwin

Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882), British scientist, who laid the foundation of modern evolutionary theory with his concept of the development of all forms of life through the slow-working process of natural selection. His work was of major influence on the life and earth sciences and on modern thought in general.

Born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, on February 12, 1809, Darwin was the fifth child of a wealthy and sophisticated English family. His maternal grandfather was the successful china and pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood; his paternal grandfather was the well-known 18th-century physician and savant Erasmus Darwin. After graduating from the elite school at Shrewsbury in 1825, young Darwin went to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. In 1827 he dropped out of medical school and entered the University of Cambridge, in preparation for becoming a clergyman of the Church of England. There he met two stellar figures: Adam Sedgwick, a geologist, and John Stevens Henslow, a naturalist. Henslow not only helped build Darwin’s self-confidence but also taught his student to be a meticulous and painstaking observer of natural phenomena and collector of specimens. After graduating from Cambridge in 1831, the 22-year-old Darwin was taken aboard the English survey ship HMS Beagle, largely on Henslow’s recommendation, as an unpaid naturalist on a scientific expedition around the world.

After returning to England in 1836, Darwin began recording his ideas about changeability of species in his Notebooks on the Transmutation of Species. Darwin’s explanation for how organisms evolved was brought into sharp focus after he read An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), by the British economist Thomas Robert Malthus, who explained how human populations remain in balance. Malthus argued that any increase in the availability of food for basic human survival could not match the geometrical rate of population growth. The latter, therefore, had to be checked by natural limitations such as famine and disease, or by social actions such as war.

Darwin’s theory was first announced in 1858 in a paper presented at the same time as one by Alfred Russel Wallace, a young naturalist who had come independently to the theory of natural selection. Darwin’s complete theory was published in 1859, in On the Origin of Species. Often referred to as the “book that shook the world,” the Origin sold out on the first day of publication and subsequently went through six editions.

Darwin spent the rest of his life expanding on different aspects of problems raised in the Origin. His later books—including The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)—were detailed expositions of topics that had been confined to small sections of the Origin. His work was well recognized by his contemporaries; Darwin was elected to the Royal Society (1839) and the French Academy of Sciences (1878). He was also honored by burial in Westminster Abbey after he died in Downe, Kent, on April 19, 1882.

Source Reference: encarta.msn.com

  Charles Darwin

Online Books

  • The Voyage of the Beagle
  • The Origin of Species
  • The Origin of Species - 6th Edition
  • The Descent of Man
  • Links provided courtesy of The Online Library of Literature

    The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online This link is to the downloadable audio .mp3 files of Darwin’s work.  Scanned text files and an advanced search engine are also available on the site.

    Charles Darwin Quote Bookmarks


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