Charles Darwin

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Charles Robert Darwin was a man of many hats. He was a friend, colleague, son, father, husband; but above all, he was a naturalist. Through his dedication and perseverance did he manage to, in less than a generation, establish the theory of evolution as a fact in peoples' minds. In fact, "[t]oday it is almost impossible for us to return, even momentarily, to the pre-Darwinian atmosphere and attitude" (West 323). Darwin formed the basis of his theory during the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, on which vessel he was posted as it travelled around the globe. During that five-year span, this young man saw foliage, creatures, cultures that he had never known first-hand before. He was exposed to environments that not many of his contemporaries saw and lived the life that few did.

Was his epic journey merely a series of trips to strange and exotic lands, or was Darwin affected by his experiences in more profound ways? Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809; the same day that another great man, Abraham Lincoln, was born. He was no child prodigy; he "was considered by all [his] masters and by [his] Father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect" (Barlow Voyage 28). The one trait in him that stands out in his formative years is a taste for the outdoors; he loved to gather shells, seals, franks, coins, and minerals. The passion for collecting, which leads a man to be a systemic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in [him] and was clearly innate, as none of [his] sisters and brother ever had this taste. (Barlow Autobiography 23) He grew up in Shrewsbury, and attended the local grammar-school there. After graduating, he entered Edinburgh University with the intent of studying medicine, but he found anatomy boring and his lack of sketching skills hampered him. It was decided between Darwin and his father that he should pursue ecclesiasticalstudies at Cambridge. Those subjects did not enthuse him either, but he discovered a "spontaneous and exceptional interest in natural history" (Moorehead 25).

Academically, "he scraped through...with a pass" (Moorehead, 25) but socially, he enjoyed himself greatly, as he had fallen in with a crowd of sportsmen and naturalists.

As well, he developed strong ties with his botany and geology teachers, Professors Adam Sedgwick and John Henslow. Henslow was indeed a true friend; he did ...

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... bloom; his zeal sharpened his eyes and ears, and opend up his mind to "new ideas, new books, new friends, new observations, new hypotheses, new laws" (Dorsey 79). His spirit of adventure led him to far-off lands where obscure fauna and flora were living and breathing, and not just names in some book. "The discipline of the trip taught him an eternal lesson in good-humoured patience, freedom from selfishness, the habit of acting for himself and making the best of every occurrence" (Dorsey 71). While he eventually found himself to be at odds with the religion that he once wholeheartedly embraced, never did he attempt to derogate people's beliefs; it was with rare and noble calmness with which he expound[ed] his own views, undisturbed by the heats of polemical agitation which those views...excited, and persistently refus[ed] to retort on his antagonists by ridicule, by indignation, or by contempt. (Dorsey 270) So it was through hard work, flexibility and openmindedness that this great man, whom his colleague and friend Wallace termed "the Newton of Natural History" (West 325), came to develop his trademark values of integrity and dedication as he sailed the shores of distant lands.

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