12 February: International Darwin Day

Thus nature and thus science spake
In Flora’s friendly bower
Whilst Darwin’s glory seemed to wake
New life in ever’y flower

From ‘To Dr. Darwin’ by William Hayley (1745-1820)*

Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury on February 12th 1809. His father Robert Darwin was the son of Erasmus Darwin a famous doctor and freethinker and his mother was the daughter of Josiah Wedgewood.

Here's Darwin at eight:

‘About this time, I sometimes stored fruit for the sake of eating it; and one of my schemes was ingenious. The kitchen garden was kept locked in the evening, and was surrounded by a high wall, but by the aid of neighbouring trees I could easily get on the coping. I then fixed a long stick into the hole at the bottom of a rather larger flowerpot, and by dragging this upwards pulled off peaches and plums, which fell into the pot and the prizes were thus secured.'

Like his father and grandfather before him, Darwin was intended for a career in medicine, but was too squeamish to undertake surgery so he went to Cambridge with the intention of training for the Church. However his utter fascination with the natural world meant that far from taking courses leading towards ordination, he studied botany and geology. These subjects were regarded at that time as no more than 'gentlemanly hobbies' and Robert Darwin despaired of his son ever making anything of himself.

The summer he left Cambridge, one of Darwin’s tutors John Henslow recommended him as a naturalist to accompany a Naval ship on a voyage to survey the coast of South America. There was then a delay caused by Robert Darwin’s objections to his son’s journey - he thought it an unsuitable thing for a prospective clergyman to do. Eventually Josiah Wedgewood intervened on Charles' behalf, however another naturalist had been appointed in the meantime.

Fortunately Captain Fitzroy (pictured above and what a hero he was) was anxious to share his cabin only with someone that he thought he could get on with and he chose Charles Darwin. Darwin was 22 and Fitzroy only four years older. The course of history would have been changed if Fitzroy had not made that simple personal preference. When he heard that he was to join ‘The Beagle’, Darwin wrote to Fitzroy saying - ‘My second life will begin and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life.’ How prescient is that?

So today is Darwin Day, when we can promote and celebrate the towering achievement of one of the greatest of all thinkers. Darwin showed us that that human beings were not created to have dominion over nature but that we are part of that nature. There will be Darwin celebrations and lectures all over the world today. This is what The International Darwin Day Foundation has to say:

‘Recognizing science as an international language accessible to all individuals and societies, International Darwin Day provides a new global holiday that transcends separate nationalities and cultures. …..In Darwin Day, we are able to recognize the diversity among us, while celebrating our common humanity and the universal understanding we share.’

So to celebrate I suppose I could make a primordial soup (joke) but actually I’m going to make plum and walnut pie and think of the small Charles Darwin scrumping fruit over the kitchen garden wall.

Plum and Walnut Pie

8 ripe plums
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
12 walnut halves
Shortcrust pastry*

*I made this the way my Mum does - 4oz fat (she uses half lard) 4oz self raising flour and 4 oz plain flour. Pinch salt, 1 egg, splash of cold water - depending on the size of the egg. It makes a scone like pastry.

Put the stoned and quartered plums in a pie dish and add the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Cover with the pastry, put on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes at 180c. Easy as pie.

* Hayley was referring to Erasmus not Charles Darwin

'Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been, must ever be.'

From 'Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhhod' by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Leave a comment do!


Susan H said...

Happy birthday, Darwin! And thank you Liz for an excellent post. If I were home I'd be gearing up for making that pie!

Gerry Snape said...

I love the paiting that you have put at the top of the post. Great!

Choclette said...

An interesting post as usual Liz. Would things have been different I wonder if Darwin hadn't done his voyage or would someone else have got there. CT tell me Wallace was working on the same stuff at the same time, but didn't have the same connections. I hadn't realised Darwin was a Wedgewood. I foolishly imparted this information to CT who gave me a disdainful stare.

A Trifle Rushed said...

Thank you Liz for another lovely post. I'm going to try the delicious pie as soon as I can.

Liz said...

Thank you all - it was a truly delicious pie - so thank you Jane Grigson too...

Cindy said...

Liz, I absolutely adore your blog. I stumbled upon this whilst doing research on Shakespeare and Chaucer. (I am currently following Chaucer's route to Canterbury).
This is such a brilliant blog I am going to save the url to my favourites. I would also like to link your blog to my story. I write about London and famous people who affected our history. you can find me on www.3daysinlondon.info

Please do let me know if I may hyper-link your blog to mine.
Thanks and regards

Liz said...

Cindy so glad that you like the blog -please do add the url - I'd be delighted