Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809, sharing the same birthday with Abraham Lincoln. His father Robert was a wealthy physician with one of the largest medical practices outside London. His paternal grandfather Erasmus was both a physician and a celebrated nature writer. Darwin as a young boy developed an interest in natural history but started his advanced schooling at Edinburgh in medicine, a subject he soon learned to detest. Later at Cambridge, where he went to prepare for a career in the clergy, he showed no interest in his theological studies, but became acquainted with a botany professor, the Rev. John Henslow, who was destined to become his mentor and to have a profound effect on his life. It was Henslow who encouraged Darwin, following his graduation from Cambridge, to take an extended sea voyage and exploration of the world outside of England. Darwin took advantage of the opportunity — without pay – and became expedition naturalist and gentlemen’s companion to Capt Robert FitzRoy, on the HMS Beagle. The intended 3-year voyage stretched to 5 years, and Darwin had wonderful experiences as he circumnavigated the world, spending over 3 years of the 5 exploring the coastline, flora and fauna of southern South America.
Upon his return to England he arranged his notes and read voraciously in all fields of science, filling notebook after notebook with his insights. Finally, in 1838, he put his ideas together in what eventually became his theory of evolutionary change and the origin of species by a process of natural selection. He expanded these ideas into a 35-page paper and then into a longer 230-page paper, in 1842 and 1844, respectively. However, he did not publish his ideas at this time, apparently intending to keep working to produce a larger, more impressive book.
In 1839 he married his cousin Emma Wedgewood. They had 10 children together, 7 surviving to adulthood, and lived a long and happy life together, untouched by the slightest hint of poverty or scandal. After living several years in London they moved to a country house at Downe in Kent about 16 miles from the outskirts of London. He never again left the British Isles and rarely traveled far from Down House.
His tragedies were those shared by some of his contemporaries — the premature deaths of three of his children and poor health. For Darwin, personal health became a major life influence as he was plagued by a chronic illness whose symptoms rarely left him for a day.
On the Origin of Species provides copious evidence and direct suggestions for practical research. Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not one of local adaptation only. It does not assume the very human notion of progress nor does it presume, in terms of biological types, that one or the other is better, any more perfect or improved, or any more guaranteed of persistence over time. As if this denial of inherent progress or prefection were not enough, Darwin also introduced the idea of randomness and the non-necessity of assuming any divine overseeing Creator as the driving force behind the variety of types in the natural world.