Get To Know Charles Darwin Better With These 13 Facts!

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Charles Darwin is often called the "Father of Evolution," but there was much more to the man than just his scientific papers and literary works. In fact, Charles Darwin was much more than just the guy who came up with the Theory of Evolution. His life and story is an interesting read. Did you know he helped shape what we know now as the discipline of Psychology? He also has a sort of "double" connection to Abraham Lincoln and didn't have to look past his own family reunion to find his wife.

Let's take a look at some interesting facts that usually aren't found in textbooks about the man behind the Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection.

1. Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809.

Young Darwin wasn’t a remarkable student, and his father didn’t have much hope for his future, telling him that he “cared for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.”

2. Darwin went to medical school, but dropped out partly due to loathing the sight of blood, and partly due to simply finding it extremely boring.

Darwin attended Edinburgh University in hopes of becoming a physician like his father but soon abandoned the idea because he couldn't stand the sight of blood. So he decided to study divinity instead and become a rural cleric, which would fit his hobby of being a naturalist just fine.

3. Darwin’s five-year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle, which ended in 1836, provided him with invaluable research that contributed to the development of his theory of evolution and natural selection.

Darwin’s five-year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle, which ended in 1836, provided him with invaluable research that contributed to the development of his theory of evolution and natural selection.
Darwin’s five-year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle, which ended in 1836, provided him with invaluable research that contributed to the development of his theory of evolution and natural selection.

The Captain of the HMS Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, was about to embark on a survey expedition to South America, but he was afraid of the stress and loneliness of such a voyage (indeed, they had driven the previous captain of the ship to commit suicide).

So FitzRoy asked his superiors for a well-educated and scientific gentleman companion to come along as an unpaid naturalist whom he could treat as an equal. The professors at Cambridge recommended then 22-years-old Charles Darwin for the trip.

4. Darwin ate the animals he encountered.

Darwin had a strange stomach for weird food. During his time in Cambridge, Darwin belonged to a culinary group called the Glutton Club whose members would meet each week to try various “exotic” dishes previously unknown to the human palate. To the Glutton Club, “exotic” isn’t just anything that isn’t crumpets and tea. The group is known to casually chow down meats of various wild birds like hawks and bitterns.

When the young naturalist was given the chance to go aboard the HMS Beagle, he rekindled his liking for undiscovered delicacies. During his trip, he was able to feast on armadillos, which he said “taste and look like duck.” He also had on his plate an unnamed, chocolate-colored rodent that he described as the best meat he ever tasted. Darwin would even discover a whole new species of a bird on his dinner plate, which would later be named after him: Rhea Darwinii.

5. He married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.

He married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.
He married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.

Darwin was a logical man, and he approached the important issue of marriage like he would any problem. In The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Darwin made a careful pro and con list of marriage to his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.

He quickly settled into family life and eventually fathered a total of ten children with Emma. Several died at a very young age, but many lived to pass on the Darwin name themselves.

We know, it is ironic that the man who gave rise to the importance of genetics in natural selection chose to marry his first cousin but Darwin wasn't alone in this - Einstein also married his cousin.

6. 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.

7. Shortly after Darwin returned to England, he and his close friend John Hooker created a simple plan to convert a dry and lifeless island into a “Little England."

Shortly after Darwin returned to England, he and his close friend John Hooker created a simple plan to convert a dry and lifeless island into a “Little England."
Shortly after Darwin returned to England, he and his close friend John Hooker created a simple plan to convert a dry and lifeless island into a “Little England."

With the help of the British Royal Navy, the two arranged for different species of plants from all over the world to be planted on the island, beginning in 1850 and continuing every year thereafter.

By the 1870s, the island’s highest peak had become significantly greener after eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo, and banana took over the island. Plants that weren’t usually seen side by side in other places were seen together for the first time in Ascension Island. The plants would also eventually harvest freshwater from the air, solving the problem of the island’s lack of a water supply. While ecosystems usually develop over millions of years, the artificial ecosystem created by Darwin and Hooker blossomed in only a matter of decades.

Darwin’s project on the Ascension Island is the first of just a few actual examples of “terraforming.” British ecologist David Wilkinson says that NASA could learn a thing or two from Darwin’s methods when they begin to do the same with Mars.

8. Darwin was a backgammon fiend.

Over the years, with the help of his wife Emma, Darwin developed a strict routine that seemed to help in alleviating the symptoms. AboutDarwin.com has an interesting glimpse into what everyday life was like for Darwin.

Of note is Darwin's strict schedule for playing backgammon. Every night between 8 and 8:30 PM, Darwin would play 2 games of backgammon with Emma. He even kept score of every game he played for years!

9. Throughout his life, Darwin remained an ardent abolitionist.

Dating from his travels to South America, where he witnessed the buying and sales of African slaves. Although his name is invoked in the phrase “social Darwinism,” Darwin himself never endorsed laissez-faire economics, war or racism, and often expressed a deep-felt opposition to slavery, as observed in his quotes.

"Some few, & I am one, even wish to God, though at the loss of millions of lives, that the North would proclaim a crusade against Slavery. In the long run, a million horrid deaths would be amply repaid in the cause of humanity. ... Great God how I'd like to see that greatest curse on Earth, Slavery abolished."

10. Darwin The Psychologist.

During his time with the Beagle, Darwin had the privilege of encountering various colorful cultures around the world. There were obvious language barriers that prevented him from communicating with the locals, but he noted that the emotions the people expressed—happiness, sadness, fear, and anger—didn’t seem to differ much from culture to culture. This would be the beginning of Charles Darwin’s lesser-known career in psychology and the eventual development of the concept of universal emotions.

He corresponded with many scientists to study this phenomenon, which included a French physician named Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne. Duchenne studied facial muscles and proposed that all human faces expressed up to 60 different types of emotions. He’s most famous for the slides he captured of people’s faces stimulated with electricity to produce these 60 types of emotions.

11. He waited more than 20 years to publish his groundbreaking theory on evolution.

Darwin’s five-year voyage around the world on the 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.

12. He didn’t coin the phrase “survival of the fittest.”

He didn’t coin the phrase “survival of the fittest.”
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 the 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.”

13. 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 in 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. 

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

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