Charles Darwin Day
What an adventure! Virgin jungles, unclimbed mountains, teeming oceans, tropical rainforests, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes – Charles Darwin saw it all on his five-year voyage around South America. And all the time the young gentleman naturalist was exploring the pristine wildernesses and the unexplored islands, he was taking assiduous notes, writing up his observations more than 20 years later.
Nothing escaped his notice: the flatworms, spiders, and parasitic ichneumon wasps fascinated him every bit as much as the giant tortoises and the massive bones of extinct beasts that he strapped to his horse and hauled back to his study.
He explored, observed and thought about it all. The primaeval world in all its glory and grotesqueness was laid out before him. By the end of his trip, he’d written a 770-page diary, 1,750 pages of notes, and collected nearly 5,500 skins, bones and carcasses. But it wasn’t only the natural world that impressed itself upon Darwin’s consciousness. He saw naked poverty and the horrors of slavery and genocide up close and personal. He realised, once and for all, that nature – including every manifestation of human behaviour – was not the result of a benign creator but rather a long journey through adaptation and evolution.
No wonder he blew apart the received wisdom on the origins of creation when he published his “On the origin of species by means of natural selection” in 1859. It sold out immediately and rocked the scientific and religious communities to their very foundations. Those reverberations are still being felt today.
Something that is perhaps unknown is that Darwin had a strong connection to Edinburgh. It was while studying medicine at Edinburgh University that Darwin learned how to classify plants, stuff birds and identify rock strata and colonial floral and fauna.
It’s Darwin’s birthday today. He was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire on 12th February 1809. Why not celebrate by reading all about him and his works. (I’ll be honest – I’m starting with “Darwin for beginners”.)
By Lesley McRob
Sources and further reading
Photo by Misael Moreno
Further reading available on LibrarySearch
Read our blog post on another Victorian trailblazer names Charles: Charles Dickens