Happy birthday to Abraham Lincoln, still second only to GW in presidential popularity. It may be the only thing we can all agree on.
And the same to Charles Darwin, busy being born on the very same day in Shropshire, England. Darwin was born in circumstances very different from Lincoln’s log cabin – his family was wealthy and his financier father made it wealthier.
Interesting how both profited from their beginnings – Lincoln’s understanding of the vicissitudes of life served him well as a politician, while Darwin, like all educated English gentlemen, was free to pursue every interest, both intellectually and geographically, all his life. (It’s a small sample, but one is tempted to conclude that all politicians should be poor and all scientists should be independently wealthy, probably by law.)
The Darwin money came from one of the great entrepreneurs of early industrial England, Josiah Wedgwood. Darwin’s mother brought the money and the ensuing family closeness led to him marrying his cousin Emma. The Darwin-Wedgwood dynasty is fascinating – read all about it here.
Darwin had a long and productive life, but one story epitomizes for me the workings of his tireless brain. He suffered from heart palpitations while working feverishly on Origin of the Species and his doctor ordered rest and a change of scene. So Charles went to his Uncle Josiah’s for some R and R in September of 1837. Walking with his uncle in the garden one day, Josiah ‘pointed out an area of ground where cinders had disappeared under loam and suggested that this might have been the work of earthworms…’ As they talked, Charles began to theorize about the importance of the role of earthworms in soil formation. By November he had a paper ready to deliver to the Royal Geological Society.
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In honor of a real American icon, here’s a bit of Shirley Temple before she became an ambassador (with the incomparable Buddy Ebsen):