Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin was born on this day in 1809. Darwin was the greatest scientist who ever lived.

In honor of his birthday, and given that this is a year of politics in America, I thought it would be fun to post something about Darwin's interactions with politicians. The historical account is from Janet Browne's excellent biography (Brown 2002).

William Gladstone (photo below) was an orthodox Christian. He was not a fan of evolution. In March 1877 Gladstone was leader of the Liberal party and a former Prime Minister of the most powerful country in the world. He was spending the weekend with John Lunnock—a well-known liberal—and a few other friends, including Thomas Huxley.

They decided to walk over to Darwin's House in Downe. This was 18 years after the publication of Origins and Darwin was a famous guy. The guests were cordially received by Darwin and his wife Emma. Darwin and Emma were life-long liberals and they were honored by Gladstone's visit. A few days later, Darwin wrote a note to his friend saying,

Our quiet, however, was broken a couple of days ago by Gladstone calling here.—I never saw him before & was much pleased with him: I expected a stern, overwhelming sort of man, but found him as soft & smooth as butter, & very pleasant. He asked me whether I thought that the United States would hereafter play a much greater part in the history of the world than Europe. I said that I thought it would, but why he asked me, I cannot conceive & I said that he ought to be able to form a far better opinion,—but what that was he did not at all let out.
A few years later Gladstone sent Darwin one of his essays on Homer. Darwin gratefully acknowledged the gesture.

In 1881, when Gladstone was Prime Minister again, Darwin and some of his friends petitioned Gladstone to award a pension to Alfred Russel Wallace, who was in dire financial straits at the time. Gladstone granted the request. Two months later Gladstone offered Darwin a position as trustee of the British Museum but Darwin declined. (Remember, Gladstone did not agree with Darwin about evolution, or religion.)

When Darwin died, Gladstone was instrumental in arranging for him to be buried in Westminster Abbey. The funeral was held on April 26, 1882. William Gladstone was too busy to attend. He went to a dinner at Windsor.

Brown, J. (2002) Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Vol. II). Alfred A. Knopf, New York (USA)


  1. I think you mean John Lubbock, not John Lunnock.


    Este episodio de historia ocurrió por allá en el año 1834 entre los días 6 y 24 de septiembre, por el transcurso de unos cuantos días este famoso naturalista nunca pensó que su hazaña durante 5 años a bordo del HMS Beagle comandada por Almirante de Beagle Fitz Roy y Darwin como naturalista a bordo iba a teorizar sobre su controvertida publicación "Origen de las Especies" y el "Origen del Hombre" entre otros, en los años venideros a partir de este tan inusitado viaje alrededor del mundo, y que hasta ahora se cuestiona por partes de creyentes y científicos en cuanto a sus ideas, y esto me llevo a escribir que tan controvertido personaje haya pisado tierras chilenas y más ni menos la sexta región, entre muchas otras a lo largo de todo el país.


  3. I think Newton and Darwin could nicely compete for the "greatest scientist who ever lived" title.

  4. I think that Newton would win that hands down. It's hilarious to even consider Darwin "the greatest scientist who ever lived".


  5. A belated thanks for supporting the Darwin Day extravaganza! We had some 50 odd links and that seems like a pretty good endorsement of the importance of the day.

    We're going to donate the ad revenue for the day to National Center for Science Education, the Institute for Humanist Studies or someone else, so if anyone has ideas, pass them along.

  6. In honor of Darwin, last week, a bunch of us have created a Facebook group called Can we find 200,000 by Feb 12 to wish Darwin a happy 200th birthday?

    We already have over 100,000 members! Thought you might be interested in joining. We'll be doing a free call for all of the members on Thursday at 1pmET to sing Darwin Happy Birthday and we'll have a couple of guest speakers.

    More info at: http://www.HappyBirthdayCharlesDarwin.com

    and on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/darwin200

    Hope you'll be able to join us! SYP