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Charles Robert Darwin

Darwin, Charles Robert, 1809–82, English naturalist, b. Shrewsbury; grandson of Erasmus Darwin and of Josiah Wedgwood. He firmly established the theory of organic evolution known as Darwinism. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and for the ministry at Cambridge but lost interest in both professions during the training. His interest in natural history led to his friendship with the botanist J. S. Henslow; through him came the opportunity to make a five-year cruise (1831–36) as official naturalist aboard the Beagle. This started Darwin on a career of accumulating and assimilating data that resulted in the formulation of his concept of evolution and his explication of natural and sexual selection. He spent the remainder of his life carefully and methodically working over the information from his copious notes and from every other available source.

Independently, the naturalist A. R. Wallace had worked out a concept of evolution similar to Darwin's. Wallace sent a paper outlining his theory to Darwin in 1858, and its striking coincidences with Darwin's work led Darwin's friends to move to assure that the more cautious Darwin, who had been slow to publish, would receive credit for the independence and priority of his ideas. The next year Darwin set forth the structure of his theory and massive support for it in the superbly organized On the Origin of Species, supplemented and elaborated in his many later books, notably The Descent of Man (1871). He also formulated a theory of the origin of coral reefs.

See J. T. Costa, ed, The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of On the Origin of Species (2009), and G. Chancellor and J. Van Wyhe, ed. Charles Darwin's Notebooks from the Voyage of the Beagle (2009); his autobiography (ed. by N. Barlow, 1958) and Life and Letters (ed. by F. Darwin, 1887; repr. with intro. by G. G. Simpson, 1962); The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, ed. by F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (19 vol., 1985–), and letters of Darwin and Henslow, ed. by N. Barlow (1967); biographies by G. Wichler (tr. 1961), A. Desmond and J. Moore (1991), J. Browne (2 vol., 1995–2002), and P. Johnson (2012); J. Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner (rev. ed. 1958);; A. Moorehead, Darwin and the Beagle (1969, rev. ed. 1979); P. Appleman, ed., Darwin (1970, repr. 1983); D. L. Hull, Darwin and His Critics (1983); R. J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (1989); R. Dawkins, River Out of Eden (1995); D. C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995); N. Eldredge, Reinventing Darwin (1995); S. Jones, Darwin's Ghost: "The Origin of Species" Updated (2000); J. Browne, Darwin's Origin of Species: A Biography (2008); A. Desmond and J. Moore, Darwin's Sacred Cause (2009, repr. 2011); R. Milner, Darwin's Universe (2009); G. Levine, Darwin the Writer (2011); R. Stott, Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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