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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index D > Charles Darwin Quotes > Biography

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Charles Darwin
(12 Feb 1809 - 19 Apr 1882)

English naturalist who presented facts to support his theory of the mode of evolution whereby favourable variations would survive which he called 'Natural Selection' or 'Survival of the Fittest.'



...I believe there exists, & I feel within me, an instinct for the truth, or knowledge or discovery, of something of the same nature as the instinct of virtue, & that our having such an instinct is reason enough for scientific researches without any practical results ever ensuing from them.
— Charles Darwin
The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 4. (1847-50)
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A circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other … was my friendship with Professor Henslow … a man who knew every branch of science…. During the latter half of my time at Cambridge [I] took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons “the man who walks with Henslow.”
— Charles Darwin
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 44.
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A surprising number [of novels] have been read aloud to me, and I like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily—against which a law ought to be passed.
— Charles Darwin
Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol. 1, 101.
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During my second year at Edinburgh [1826-27] I attended Jameson's lectures on Geology and Zoology, but they were incredible dull. The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology.
— Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin, His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter and a Selected Series of his Published Letters (1892), 15. In Patrick Wyse Jackson, Four Centuries of Geological Travel (2007), 32.
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Formerly Milton's Paradise Lost had been my chief favourite, and in my excursions during the voyage of the Beagle, when I could take only a single small volume, I always chose Milton.
— Charles Darwin
Nora Barlow (ed.), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882 (1958), 85.
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I am turned into a sort of machine for observing facts and grinding out conclusions.
— Charles Darwin
As quoted in Adrian J. Desmond and James Richard Moore, Darwin (1994), 644. Described by the authors as a remark Darwin was heard to sigh, suspecting that his largest botany book, the 600-page Movement in Plants, was as dull as ditchwater.
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I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.
— Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of his Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin (1892), 50.
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I love fools’ experiments. I am always making them.
— Charles Darwin
Lankester gives this wording as his own recollection in E. Ray Lankester, 'Charles Robert Darwin', collected in C.D. Warner (ed.), Library of the World’s Best Literature Ancient and Modern (1896), Vol. 2, 4391. As a recollection, the quote may not be verbatim, but the sense is correct. Compare Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1902), 126. “These rather wild trials he called ‘fool’s experiments,’ and enjoyed extremely.”
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My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain that alone on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine would not, I suppose, have thus suffered, and if I had to live my life over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use.
— Charles Darwin
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 51.
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Nothing can be more improving to a young naturalist, than a journey in a distant country.
— Charles Darwin
Journal of Researches: into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World (1839), ch. XXIII, 607.
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The Times is getting more detestable (but that is too weak word) than ever.
— Charles Darwin
Letter to Asa Gray, 23 February 1863. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1863 (1999), Vol. 11, 167.
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The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my uncle offering to drive me 30 miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, and on such a trifle as the shape of my nose.
— Charles Darwin
At the end of a particular drive, his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood, convinced Darwin’s reluctant father that Charles should voyage on the Beagle. Captain Fitz-Roy believed he could read a man’s character from the shape of his nose. In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 51.
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This is the question
Marry
Children—(if it Please God)—Constant companion (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one—object to be beloved and played with—better than a dog anyhow. Home, & someone to take care of house—Charms of music and female chit-chat.—These things good for one’s health.—but terrible loss of time.—
My God, it is Intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working—& nothing after all.—No, no, won’t do. Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London House.—Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps-—Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ Street.
Not Marry
Freedom to go where one liked—choice of Society and little of it. —Conversation of clever men at clubs—Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. —to have the expense and anxiety of children—perhaps quarreling—Loss of time. —cannot read in the Evenings—fatness & idleness—Anxiety & responsibility—less money for books &c—if many children forced to gain one’s bread. —(but then it is very bad for ones health to work too much)
Perhaps my wife won’t like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool.
Marry—Marry—Marry Q.E.D.
It being proved necessary to Marry When? Soon or late?
— Charles Darwin
Notes on Marriage, July 1838. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1837-1843 (1986), Vol. 2, 444.
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To my deep mortification my father once said to me, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.”
— Charles Darwin
Despite this, perhaps rare, angry or unjust outburst, Darwin regarded his father as “the kindest man I ever knew and whose memory I love with all my heart.” In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 30.
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[Herschel and Humboldt] stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two. I copied out from Humboldt long passages about Teneriffe and read them aloud on one of [my walking excursions].
— Charles Darwin
Autobiographies, (eds.) Michael Neve and Sharon Messenger (2002), Penguin edn., 36.
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See also:
  • 12 Feb - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Darwin's birth.
  • Charles Darwin - Earthquake observation on 20 Feb 1835, during the voyage of the Beagle.
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature…” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature…” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Improving…a young naturalist” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Improving…a young naturalist” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Great is the power of steady misrepresentation” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Great is the power of steady misrepresentation” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “This…I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “This…I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Letter to Asa Gray - from Charles Darwin (5 Sep 1857).
  • From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books, by Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Charles Darwin.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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