Teaching Evolution

A blog devoted to teaching evolution, both in our schools and in our communities.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Charles Darwin: Voyaging Part 2-Traveler

Part Two of Charles Darwin: Voyaging focuses on his five years aboard the HMS Beagle. Darwin set sail in December of 1831 and returned in October of 1836.

Janet Browne curiously makes Darwin's month in the Galapagos Islands just one stop along an eventful journey, rather than the most important month of his life, as so many others have portrayed it. Perhaps this is because Darwin's time at Galapagos didn't become important until he returned home and began to study what he had seen there.

For a person of his time and place (an English aristocrat in the early 19th Century) Darwin had a fairly liberal view toward the lower classes. Although he called them savages, Darwin viewed the natives in South America more or less as human beings who deserved the same rights as he did. And he vehemently opposed slavery, although he didn't think to make any comparisons between slavery and the servitude that allowed him to live a life of relative luxury. Browne writes, "Slavery inflamed all his most passionately held beliefs about human nature. It was the one social issue guaranteed to upset and annoy him throughout his long life." The biggest argument Darwin had with FitzRoy in their years aboard the Beagle together was about slavery, which FitzRoy didn't see as a problem.

Darwin was deeply saddened when a letter from his sister informed him that the woman he had courted, Fanny Owen, was engaged to marry another man. Odd that Darwin would expect a woman to wait for him for five years while he sails around the world, but those were different times.

As Darwin becomes a traveler in his 20s, we realize how important his childhood collecting and his scholarly reading of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology were. Brown writes,

He was convinced that the majestic story of nature could be explained by the accumulation of little things. Though clear enough to him through Lyell's writings, this notion was given physical reality by Darwin's geological researches in Chile and became the hub of all his later biological thinking.

Here's my post of Part 1.


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