History In The Headlines

10 Things You May Not Know About Charles Darwin

By Christopher Klein
February 12 is Darwin Day, a global celebration of science and reason held on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth in 1809. To commemorate Darwin Day, check out 10 things you may not know about the famed evolutionary biologist.

1. Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln.
Both Darwin and Lincoln were born on February 12, 1809, but in much different settings. While America’s 16th president was born in a rude log cabin in the Kentucky wilderness, Darwin was born in a grand Georgian house on an estate overlooking the River Severn and the medieval market town of Shrewsbury, England.

2. He waited more than 20 years to publish his groundbreaking theory on evolution.
Darwin’s five-year voyage around the world on HMS Beagle, which ended in 1836, provided him with invaluable research that contributed to the development of his theory of evolution and natural selection. Concerned, however, about the public and ecclesiastical acceptance of his deeply radical idea, he did not present his theory on evolution until 1858 when he made a joint announcement with British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who was about to go public with a similar concept to Darwin’s. The next year, Darwin published his seminal work, “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.”

3. Darwin suffered from chronic illnesses.
After returning from his trip around the world, Darwin began to suffer from exhaustion, eczema and chronic bouts of nausea, headaches and heart palpitations that would persist for the rest of his life. Some speculate that during his travels Darwin may have contracted a parasitic illness called Chagas disease that can eventually result in cardiac damage, which ultimately caused Darwin’s death.

Timothy Dickinson tells us about Charles Darwin and the depth of the human past.

4. He composed a pro/con list to decide on whether to marry.
Displaying a logical inclination even in matters of the heart, Darwin in 1838 composed a list with two columns delineating the upsides and downsides of marriage. In the “Marry” column: “children,” “constant companion (and friend in old age)…better than a dog anyhow” and “someone to take care of house.” In the “Not Marry” ledger: “freedom to go where one liked,” “conversation of clever men at clubs” and “loss of time.” Not on Darwin’s list, however, were family ties for he married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood in 1839.

5. He dropped out of medical school.
Darwin’s father was a successful doctor who groomed his son to follow in his footsteps. After spending the summer of 1825 serving as an apprentice in his father’s practice, he entered one of Britain’s top medical schools at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin, however, hated the sight of blood and was bored with the lectures. He left medical school and dashed his father’s dreams.

6. Darwin was a divinity student.
After leaving the University of Edinburgh, the man who would challenge the established religious dogma of creationism enrolled at Cambridge to study theology. “I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible,” he later wrote. However, Darwin’s faith began to waver after encountering the evils of slavery on his trip around the world and following the deaths of three of his children. Darwin, though, never characterized himself as an atheist. He instead referred to himself as an agnostic.


7. He dined on exotic animals.
Darwin not only studied an eclectic menagerie of animals from around the globe, he ate them as well. As a student at Cambridge, he formed the Gourmet Club, also known as the Glutton Club, for the purpose of dining on “birds and beasts, which were before unknown to human palate.” Darwin ate hawk and bittern but couldn’t choke down a brown owl that was served. While circumnavigating the globe on HMS Beagle, Darwin continued his adventurous eating by snacking on armadillo, ostrich and puma (“remarkably like veal in its taste,” he described).

8. He didn’t coin the phrase “survival of the fittest.”
Although associated with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the phrase “survival of the fittest” was actually first used by English philosopher Herbert Spencer in his 1864 “Principles of Biology” to connect his economic and sociological theories with Darwin’s biological concepts. Darwin first adopted the phrase in his fifth edition of “The Origin of Species,” published in 1869, by writing of natural selection that “the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the survival of the fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.”

9. Darwin is buried inside Westminster Abbey.
After Darwin passed away on April 19, 1882, his family began preparations to bury him in the village where he had spent the last 40 years of his life. However, Darwin’s friends and colleagues began a lobbying campaign to give him the high honor of burial inside London’s Westminster Abbey. After newspapers and the public joined the chorus, the Dean of Westminster gave his approval. A week after his death, Darwin was laid to rest in England’s most revered church near fellow scientists John Herschel and Isaac Newton.

10. Darwin appears on the 10-pound note.
Since 2000, a portrait of a bearded Darwin has appeared on the back of the British 10-pound note along with an image of HMS Beagle, a magnifying lens and flora and fauna seen on his travels. The Bank of England announced in 2013, however, that author Jane Austen will replace Darwin on the note, likely beginning in 2017.

Share
Categories: Charles Darwin, Science