The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

Animated Book Summary

Charles Darwin wrote his autobiography in approximately 68 days.

Charles Darwin wrote this book specifically for his children, with no intention of it ever being released to a wider audience. However, it was published five years after his death to allow the world to gain an insight into his life, from his point of view.

Born in Shrewsbury on 12th February 1809, Darwin did not remember much of his mother who died when he was 8 years old. After leaving school as an average student and seen as an ordinary boy, his father sent him to Edinburgh University in Scotland, to study medicine.

Whilst attending university, Darwin joined a society that studied natural history. He enjoyed debating in the society and even wrote some papers for them. It made a welcome change to the lectures he attended at the university which he found tedious and uninteresting, causing him to neglect his studies.

Darwin’s father found out that Darwin did not want to become a physician, so he sent him to Cambridge University to study a degree to become a priest. Whilst attending university, he continued to be captivated by natural history and took a course in geology, which included a trip to study rocks in Wales.

After the trip to Wales, he was informed of a voyage on a ship which offered a space to anybody who volunteered to go without pay. Darwin accepted the offer and took part in “The Voyage of the Beagle”. The near five year journey provided Darwin what he believed to be the first real education of his mind. Studying several branches of natural history sharpened his powers of observation and the investigation and study of the geology of the places he visited required reasoning and predicting to make the findings understandable. Other tasks Darwin performed were the collecting and describing of animals and the writing of his journal, where he described everything he saw.

It was during these five years that Darwin’s love for science prevailed over other interests. After a two month delay due to heavy winds, they set sail on 27th December 1831 on the trip around the world. The journey allowed Darwin to experience first-hand the vegetation of the tropics, forest-covered mountains and great deserts. He saw unusual things ranging from coral islands to naked savages.

Upon returning to England, Darwin spent the next two years finishing his “Journal of Travels”. He also worked with the Geological society, reading papers before them and acting as an honorary secretary. He attended the meetings of several other scientific societies in London until he moved to the countryside due to his poor health. Darwin got married on the 29th January 1839 and went on to have ten children with his wife, Emma.

For the rest of his life, Darwin was plagued by illness, often suffering from stomach problems, vomiting and shivering. He rarely left his home and could not attend dinner-parties or host many of his scientific friends. The remainder of his life was dedicated to his scientific work and the publishing of several books, which provided him with enjoyment and helped him temporarily forget about his discomfort.

His chief work during this time was his book “On the Origin of Species” which was published in 1859 and introduced the scientific theory that animals evolve over generations through natural selection. It included evidence he gathered from his voyage along with subsequent findings. In 1871 he published “The Descent of Man” which applied the theory of evolution to humans along with many related issues including differences between races and sex as well as evolutionary psychology.

Charles Darwin finished his autobiography by stating that he believed his success as a man of science was due to several mental qualities and conditions. He highlights the four most important as:

  1. “A love of science”
  2. “Unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject”
  3. 3. “Industry in observing and collecting facts”
  4. 4. “A fair share of invention as well as of common sense”