Back in England
For the first two years back in England bachelor Darwin worked hard and joined the social whirl befriending geologist Lyell (who had placed geology within a timeframe of millions of years contrary to the prevailing accepted view of Irish Bishop Ussher who had dated the creation to the night preceding Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC according to the proleptic Julian calendar) and comparative anatomist Owen (who would later attack his views) and botanist Director of Kew gardens Joseph Hooker (one of his most outspoken advocates). He met his former explorer hero and inspiration von Humboldt but, as on so many other occasions in his life, could not be complementary, describing him as ‘only a paunchy little German’. He renewed acquaintance with John Henslow and Robert Brown and maintained a correspondence with botanist Asa Gray in America.
Darwin’s publication on the voyage in 1839 (a third volume of a series of three) were preferred over those of Fitzroy and he was in 1845 published separately, this version being translated into many languages.
Darwin married a childhood friend in 1938 and they had 10 children, although only 4 sons survived him. There was a brief period of London of parties and entertaining international scientists but this life didn’t suit the retiring Darwin: he became ill and the family moved to the country. For Darwin it was all a strain: he stopped travelling in 1842 and after 1859 avoided appearing in public observing much later, in 1871, that he had never spent a day without feeling ill ‘always suffering from gastro-intestinal problems accompanied by vomiting, somnolence, and heart trouble. The doctors were unable to ascribe this incurable illness to any organic cause’ His palpitations, ‘accursed stomach’, periods of ‘inexpressible gloom’, sleeplessness, head noises, trembling, and vomiting (a terrible reminder of the endless seasickness when on the Beagle) have been the subject of much debate, being attributed variously to guilt, depression, psychoneurosis and Chagas’s disease caught from the great black bug of the Argentinian pampas. Certainly the very real symptoms allowed him to avoid the various chores that would have diverted him from his own interests
With inherited wealth his time was his own and he set about writing up and describing all his finds in his many publications. He was now totally convinced that evolution was a fact but still uncertain of the precise mechanism by which it occurred. In 1838 he had read Thomas Malthus’s on population. The ‘struggle for subsistence’ that Malthus noted and which Darwin saw everywhere in nature: it was to be the stimulus for his theory of natural selection. He spent much time examining the human process of ‘artificial’ selection of birds, dogs, cattle, sheep, horses and plants. Then in 1842 he penned a 35 page resume of his theory and this was extended to 230 pages in 1844. It was to take 10 years from the return of the Beagle before he confessed to his friend Joseph Hooker at Kew that he was now working on the theory of evolution. He did not find it a pleasurable task as it conflicted with the religious views of the time held dear by many of his friends and associates, his concerns possibly manifest through physical ailments of various kinds and procrastination over publication.
In 1856 after 20 years work he began writing his definitive theory and had completed 10 chapters when, in 1858, he was asked to comment on a manuscript sent to him by geologist Alfred Russell Wallace who had, in a fever of Malaria while on the island of Ternate in the Moluccas, come to the same conclusions as himself. It was a dilemma solved by Lyell and Hooker when the two theses were jointly presented at the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858, while the following year Darwin released On the Origin of Species which was an immediate success, quickly passing into three printings.
Excusing himself on the grounds of ill health from the inevitable rancorous debate, especially one particular meeting of the British Association at Oxford. He had described the view that species were not immutable as ‘like confessing a murder’ and the release of his book undoubtedly caused him some distress. However, he had a strong supporter in Thomas Huxley, to be known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, who amply argued his case.
In 1841 Fitzroy was appointed to the House of Commons and in 1843 appointed Governor of New Zealand; then partly on the strength of new meteorological work in 1857 he was made Rear Admiral, Darwin inviting him to spend a couple of days in the country but finding him embittered and exhausted, Darwin writing to his sister that Fitzroy had ‘the most consummate skill in looking at everything and everybody in a perverted manner’.