Charles Darwin’s biography was first published by his son, Sir Francis Darwin in 1887, who wrote it in 1876 for his children without any thought that it would ever be published. Charles was born to Robert Warring and Susannah at Shrewsbury on Feb. 12, 1809. His mother died when he was 8 year old and he became his elder sister Caroline’s responsibility. In 1817, he was sent to a day-school in Shrewsbury, where he proved to be a much slower learner than his younger sister Catherine.
But he had a passion for collecting all sorts of things, like shells, seals, coins and minerals, a quality that leads a man to become a systematic naturalist. He also studies variability in plants and believed that he could produce variously coloured primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids.
In the summer of 1818, Charles went to Dr. Butler’s great school in Shrewsbury and remained there for 7 years till 1825. In school only classical subjects were taught, viz. ancient history and geography, in which he was considered to be a very ordinary boy. Charles school period according to his parents and teachers “was simply a blank”. He was fond of reading and read of book, “Wonders of the world”,which gave him a wish to travel in remote areas of the world.
He was particularly fond of shooting birds and became a very good shot but took much pleasure in watching the habits of birds and took notes on the subject. His brother had set up a small laboratory in the tool house, where he allowed Darwin to work as an assistant. They used to work late in the night to make gases and compounds. The news somehow got known in the school and Darwin was nicknamed as “Gas” by his friends.
In Oct. 1825, his father admitted him to Edinburgh University (Scotland) to study medicine. He never took interest in medicine and detested operation theatres. Somehow, he was convinced that his father would leave him enough property to subsist on a comfortable life, which deterred him from any hard work.
At university, Charles befriended zoologist Robert Grant and geologist Robert Jameson. He also read “Zoonomia” written by his grand father, Sir Erasmus Darwin and was much impressed. He also learned taxidermy here. During his second year, he attended lectures on geology and zoology. His father came to know that Charles did not like the thought of being a physician and hence decided that he should become a clergyman, for which a degree from one of the English universities was necessary. So Charles was sent to Christ’s College at Cambridge
University in 1828, to study theology. He stayed there till 1831. He collected lots of insects here. One day on tearing off some old bark he saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand, then saw a third one of new kind, which he could not bear to lose, so he popped one in right hand into his mouth.
Alas! It ejected some acrid fluid which burnt his tongue and forced him to spit the beetle. At Cambridge, Darwin got friendly with Professor John Stevens Henslow, who had great knowledge of Botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy and geology. He used to take long walks with him so he was called by some of his friends, “the man who walks with Henslow”. Henslow also persuaded Darwin to study geology and introduced him to Professor Sedgwick.
Voyage of the Beagle(Dec. 27, 1831 to Oct. 2, 1836)
Professor Henslow informed Darwin that Capt. FitzRoy was willing to give up part of his own cabin to a young man who would go with him without salary as naturalist to the voyage of the Beagle. Darwin was eager to accept the offer but his father strongly objected to it, but later on his uncle convinced his father and he was given consent. On meeting aristocratic Capt. FitzRoy, Darwin ran a narrow risk of being rejected on account of the shape of his nose. FitzRoy believed that he could judge a man’s character by the outline of his features and that anyone of
Darwin’s nose could have sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. But afterwards he was satisfied that Darwin’s nose had spoken falsely. The voyage improved Darwin’s power of observation. He collected large number of animals and fossils and made detailed notes on them. Capt. FitzRoy could never understand why Darwin brought all sort of “useless junk” aboard the ship.