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Darwin's Diary

Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882


1809-1817 (Darwin's Struggle with Faith)

"I was born at Shrewsbury on February 12th, 1809. I have heard my Father say that he believed that persons with powerful minds generally had memories extending far back to a very early period of life. This is not my case for my earliest recollection goes back only to when I was a few months over four years old, when we went to near Abergale for sea-bathing ..."

Nine-month-old Charles Robert Darwin is baptized at St. Chad's Anglican Church. It is the proper ritual for his prominent family, more than a declaration of religious faith. The Anglican Church, or Church of England, is the bedrock of British society. The idea of evolution -- or, as it is now called, "transmutation" -- is sneered at as a radical challenge to the church and the entire social order.

Charles's notorious grandfather Erasmus veered far from conventional Christianity. He joked that Unitarianism was "a featherbed to catch a falling Christian." He even embraced the blasphemous idea of evolution.

Charles's mother Susannah later takes him to a less orthodox, Unitarian chapel. But soon, Susannah is struck down by cancer.

"My mother died in July 1817, when I was a little over eight years old, and it is odd that I can remember hardly anything about her except her death-bed, her black velvet gown, and her curiously constructed work table. I believe that my forgetfulness is partly due to my sisters, owing to their great grief, never being able to speak about her or mention her name ..."

Through the rest of his childhood, Charles is raised by his doting sisters.

1817-1825 (Birth of a Theory)

Darwin's family home, The Mount, is not far from new centers of manufacturing, but it remains a small, quiet estate on the edge of the town of Shrewsbury. Here Charles and his older brother Erasmus tinker in chemistry, and Charles develops a passion for hunting and "naturalising."

"The passion for collecting, which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate."

Erasmus remains Charles's close friend and confidant throughout life. He is one of the few people with whom Charles will share his budding secret thoughts on evolution.

At eight years old, Darwin is sent to a school run by the local Unitarian minister.

"By the time I went to this day-school my taste for natural history, and more especially for collecting, was well developed. I tried to make out the names of plants, and collected all sorts of things, shells, seals, franks, coins and minerals."

From age 9 to 16, Darwin then endures boarding school.

"Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught except a little ancient geography and history. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank ... and I believe I was considered by all my masters ... as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect."

"Toward the close of my school life, my brother worked hard at chemistry and made a fair laboratory with proper apparatus in the tool-house in the garden, and I was allowed to aid him as a servant ... The subject interested me greatly, and we often used to go on working till rather late at night. This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science. The fact that we worked at chemistry somehow got known at school, and ... I was nick-named 'Gas.'"

Like his imposing father, Dr. Robert Darwin, young "Bobby" (as Charles is called) is marked for a medical career -- a respectable pursuit for the minor English gentry.

-> Go to 1826-1829


Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

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