Education and Evolutionary Tendencies
Darwin was born in February 1809, in Shropshire, England. His own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a noted naturalist with evolutionary theories of his own. In fact, Erasmus Darwin was one of the first to formulate and publish a formal evolutionary theory, in Zoomania, or, the Laws of Organic Life. Erasmus Darwin never speculated on any subject related to natural selection itself, but there is no doubt that his theories were noted and elaborated upon by his grandson some sixty years later.
Erasmus Darwin’s ideas on evolution were more Lamarckian in nature, but he also theorized about the influence of sexual selection (which Charles Darwin would become an avid proponent of), noting that competition among individuals of a species could cause changes in the species, “The final course of this contest among males seems to be, that the strongest and most active animal should propagate the species which should thus be improved."
As a child, Darwin was apparently something of a slow and lazy learner, finding the subjects of the day—Greek, ancient history, and the classics—uninteresting. However, he ended up with a deep love of natural science, in part due to summer vacations spent hiking in northern Wales, and also thanks to the chemistry lab his own brother had built in the garden of the family home, where he likely learned some of the skills and techniques which are crucial in scientific experimentation.
In October 1825 Darwin entered medical school, where he attended geology lectures. Ironically, he found them boring and vowed to ignore the subject entirely. During his years of medical study he learned the art of taxidermy, joined the Plinian Society (a group which espoused scientific rather than spiritual or supernatural principles), and became friends with Robert Grant, a zoology professor, with whom he discussed marine biology and the evolutionist Lamarck.
After just a couple of years, Darwin left medical school, and his father, not wanting him to remain idle, sent him to Cambridge University to study for the clergy. Here, too, he did not take his studies seriously, but did take up a new hobby: beetle collecting, which, again, was valuable in the development of new scientific skills. During his years at Cambridge, Darwin befriended the Reverend John Henslow, a professor who encouraged Darwin’s interest in the natural world and had significant influence on his decision to become a naturalist.