Evolution in History: Darwin Publishes the Origin of Species Part 1

About Charles Darwin and how he published the Origin of Species, his biography including his trip on the Beagle to the Galapagos Islands, what he learned there about finches and evolution.


WHEN: 1859

HOW: Charles Darwin's father, a 350-Ib. jolly gentleman, said of his son that he "cared for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching." Like many famous men, Charles as a child showed little promise of future greatness. He was lazy, and he was a poor student.

However, he did like to collect things--bugs, shells, coins, and so on. His father's comment on this was that Charles would "mess up the house with his everlasting rubbish."

When Charles was 16, his father decided to make a doctor out of him and sent him off to Edinburgh University. Charles could not bear to watch operations, but he stayed in Edinburgh for 2 years anyway because he was afraid to admit this to his father. When the truth came out, he was sent to Cambridge to become a parson. He later said of his college career, "During the 3 years I spent at Cambridge, my time was wasted as far as the academic studies were concerned." He fell into bad company, "including some dissipated, low-minded young men. I know I ought to feel ashamed of days and evenings thus spent."

Perhaps Charles would have become a rather incompetent preacher with a mild interest in nature, had not one of his teachers, Professor J. S. Barlow, recommended him for an unpaid job on HMS Beagle, which was bound for South America for a 2-year scientific expedition. (It lasted 5 years.)

Even then, he almost didn't get to go. His father thought it would contribute little to his work as a preacher, and the ship's captain didn't like the shape of Charles's snub nose, saying that it indicated the young man lacked energy and determination. Eventually, Charles obtained the consent of both, and he was off.

During the voyage on the Beagle, Charles made the observations that later led him to formulate his theory of natural selection. He kept a diary in which he noted his wonder at "the rondure of the world and the mysteries of its teeming life"--as well as detailed notes on the fossils, plants, and animals that he collected. Every place the Beagle stopped, he went exploring, then took what he had found back to his laboratory, where he put the data together.

The sailors called him "the Flycatcher." The captain, even though he still disliked Darwin, named places after him, including the Darwin Mountains and Darwin Sound in Tierra del Fuego.

All along, Darwin was noticing patterns. In the Galapagos Islands, there were 14 different species of finchlike birds with different-sized bills. There was a resemblance, too, between the species on the South American mainland and this island. And mice on one slope of the Andes were different from those on the other. He later wrote, "It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified, and the subject haunted me."

After the Beagle returned to England, Darwin got his notes into shape for publication as the Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of HMS Beagle Around the World. The book gained Darwin immediate status among men of science, and his father gave approval to his career as a naturalist.

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