Perhaps the most readable and accessible of the great works of the scientific imagination, The Origin of Species sold out on the day it was published in 1859. Theologians quickly labeled Charles Darwin the most dangerous man in England, and, as the Saturday Review noted, the uproar over the book quickly 'passed beyond the bounds of the study and lecture-room into the drawing-room and the public street.' Yet after reading it, Darwin's friend and colleague T.H. Huxley had a different reaction: 'How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.'
CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England, to a wealthy intellectual family, his grandfather being the famous physician Erasmus Darwin. At Cambridge University he formed a friendship with J. S. Henslow, a professor of botany, and that association, along with his enthusiasm for collecting beetles, led to “a burning zeal,” as he wrote in his
Autobiography, for the natural sciences. When Henslow obtained for him the post of naturalist on H.M.S.
Beagle, the course of his life was fixed. The five-year-long voyage to the Southern Hemisphere between 1831 and 1836 would lay the foundation for his ideas about evolution and natural selection. Upon his return Darwin lived in London before retiring to his residence at Down, a secluded village in Kent. For the next forty years he conducted his research there and wrote the works that would change human understanding forever. Knowing of the resistance from the orthodox scientific and religious communities, Darwin published
The Origin of Species in 1859 only when another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, independently reached the same conclusions. His other works include
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and
Recollections of My Mind and Character, also titled
Autobiography (1887). Charles Darwin’s
Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle was published posthumously in 1933. Darwin died in 1882; he is buried in Westminster Abbey.