Such modest ambitions, Mr Darwin!

In 1841, Charles Darwin, not yet five years home from his famous voyage aboard HMS Beagle, was a poorly man. His father was a highly respected doctor, so Darwin paid him a visit for a consultation. From his father's house in Shrewsbury, he wrote to his friend Charles Lyell:

My health has improved a good deal, since I have been in the country, & I believe to a stranger's eyes, I should look quite a strong man, but I find I am not up to any exertion, & I am constantly tiring myself by very trifling things.

So convinced was Darwin that the countryside was beneficial to his health that, the following year, he moved to Down House in the Kent countryside. He was to remain there for the rest of his life.

Darwin's ill-health evidently left him with low expectations of his future ability to contribute to science. His letter to Lyell continues:

My Fathers [sic] scarcely seems to expect, that I shall become strong for some years—it has been a bitter mortification for me, to digest the conclusion, that the "race is for the strong"—& that I shall probably do little more, but must be content to admire the strides others make in Science— So it must be, but I shall just crawl on with my S. American work & be as easy as I can.—

Charles Darwin: surely the most modest and unassuming genius in the history of science.

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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