Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin.

Why Darwin?

Pterocnemia pennata (Original description: Rhe...
Pterocnemia pennata (Original description: Rhea darwinii) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stephen Jay Gould

April 4, 1996 Issue

Charles Darwin: Voyaging

by Janet Browne

Knopf, 605 pp., $35.00

 

Most young men of the time could only fantasize, but Charles Darwin experienced the overt drama of his century’s archetypal episode in the personal story we now call “coming of age”: a five-year voyage of pure adventure (and much science) circumnavigating the globe on H.M.S. Beagle. Returning to England at age twenty-seven, Darwin became a homebody and never again left his native land, not even to cross the English Channel. Nonetheless, his subsequent life included two internal dramas for more intense, far more portentous, and (for anyone who can move beyond the equation of swashbuckling with excitement) far more interesting than anything he had experienced as a world traveler: first, the intellectual drama of discovering both the factuality and mechanism of evolution; and second, the emotional drama of recognizing (and relishing) the revolutionary implications of evolution, while fearing the pain that revelation would impose upon both his immediate family and the surrounding society.

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Charles Darwin (1809-1882) at age 7. The paint...
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) at age 7. The painting is the earliest picture known, of Charles Darwin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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