Charles Darwin was born on this day in 1809.
Here are the opening paragraphs of Janet Browne's wonderful biography of Charles Darwin.
He was born into Jane Austen's England. Indeed, the Darwins could have stepped straight out of the pages of Emma, the four girls sharply intelligent about the foibles of others, their father as perceptive as Mr. Knightly. The boys had several equally distinctive qualities. Charles Darwin and his older brother, Erasmus, were obliging and sympathetic young men full of the gentle humour, domestic attachments, and modest traits that made Austin's characters stand out in the drawing rooms of local notables, with a good range of idiosyncratic failings to match. These natural attributes were enhanced by a substantial family fortune. Like sensible Mr Weston with his warm heart and easy financial circumstances, the two were general favourites: "always acceptable," as Emma Woodhouse said of Weston. Behind the scenes presided Mrs. Darwin, a clever, well-educated woman, at one time a friend of the novelist Maria Edgeworth, who now led a retired life, the female counter part to Mr. Woodhouse, "never quite well & never quite ill," according to her sister Kitty.
The Darwins like Austen's fictional families, lived in a sleepy market town in the countryside, in their case in Shrewsbury, the county capital of Shropshire, standing on the River Severn halfway between the manufacturing Midlands and Wales. Further downstream in the Severn Gorge smouldered William Hazledine's ironworks, the driving force of the Industrial Revolution. North-east sat the smoking chimneys of the Potteries. But Shrewsbury itself was untouched by any signs of industrial change.