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Susannah Wedgwood came from a family of potters; her father, Josiah Wedgwood, had made a small fortune making high-quality pottery. Both sides of Darwin's family were liberal in their politics and indifferent in their religion.
Darwin spent his childhood playing at The Mount, the Darwin home and estate in Shrewsbury. He was schooled at home by his sister Caroline until he was eight years old and Susannah died.
He then spent a year at a day school and transferred to a boarding school, the Shrewsbury School, only a mile away from The Mount.
There he studied, getting acceptable but unremarkable grades, until age sixteen, when his father sent him to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine.
Darwin focused on collecting, hunting, and naturalizing instead of medicine. It was there that he first learned to study and collect beetles.
The marine biologist Robert Grant took him under his wing. After two years, it was obvious that Darwin would not become a doctor, so with the help of his father Darwin transferred to the University of Cambridge to study for the clergy of the Anglican Church.
There he became friends with the older botanist John Henslow. Soon after graduating, in , Darwin was offered a position on board the HMS Beagle, a ship that was mapping the coast of South America on a two or three year voyage around the world.
He eagerly accepted the opportunity and spent the next five years on board the Beagle, taking copious notes and sending thousands of samples and specimens back to Henslow in England for safe- keeping.
When Darwin returned to England he found that Henslow and other geologists, zoologists, and botanists were fascinated by the specimens he had collected.
He spent the next ten years cataloging and describing the discoveries he had made on his journey. He wrote books on coral reefs and volcanic islands, various papers, and a journal of his voyage.
While working on these, he also started to think about a deeper, more important problem: the origin of species. He opened his first notebook on the topic in , more than twenty years before he would finally be confident enough of his new theory of "evolution by natural selection" to publish it.
In , Darwin married Emma Wedgwood, his cousin, and they moved in to a house in London where Darwin could focus on his work.
Unfortunately, his health started to fail mysteriously, so they moved to the country. They lived in a small village where Darwin could find peace and quiet.
After completing his work on the results of the Beagle voyage, still not ready to publish his thoughts on evolution, Darwin turned to what seemed at first like a small, insignificant problem: the classification of different kinds of barnacles.
Darwin soon became entangled in the enormous project of dissecting and describing all of the barnacles of the world for what eventually became a four- volume work.
Eight years later, in , he finally finished, and was able to turn back to the problem of evolution. In , Alfred Russell Wallace sent Darwin a paper regarding the evolution of species.
Beginning in , Darwin proceeded to work on the now well-understood concept that evolution is essentially brought about by the interplay of three principles: 1 variation —a liberalizing factor, which Darwin did not attempt to explain, present in all forms of life; 2 heredity—the conservative force that transmits similar organic form from one generation to another; and 3 the struggle for existence —which determines the variations that will confer advantages in a given environment , thus altering species through a selective reproductive rate.
Present knowledge of the mechanisms of inheritance are such that modern scientists can distinguish more satisfactorily than Darwin between non-inheritable bodily variation and variation of a genuinely inheritable kind.
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