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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Charles Darwin

Naturalist known in particular for his theory of evolution by natural selection. This was inspired by observations made during the voyage of HMS Beagle, surveying the islands and coasts of the southern hemisphere in 1831–6. The commander of the ship, Captain Robert Fitzroy (1805–65), took Darwin along as unpaid naturalist to the expedition. The varieties within a single species from one island to another in the Galapagos group convinced Darwin that evolution of some kind must be involved; and his later reading of the theories of *Malthus, on population growth and food supply, prompted the idea that accidental variations might make some variants better equipped in the struggle for life. The well-known phrase to sum up this process, the 'survival of the fittest', was coined in 1864 by another writer on evolution, Herbert Spencer.

Darwin published his Journal of the voyage in 1839 and over the next 20 years gradually collected evidence to support his theory. Then, on 18 June 1858, he received what is probably the most famous unpleasant shock in the history of science. The postman delivered an article which had been sent to Darwin for his opinion by someone unknown to him, Alfred Russell *Wallace. The article expounded precisely the theory of evolution arrived at, but as yet unpublished, by Darwin himself. Darwin was anxious not to take advantage of Wallace's action, and a solution was found when Wallace's paper was read to the Linnaean Society on 1 July 1858 together with earlier private letters by Darwin on the subject.

Darwin then set about preparing for publication his own extended account of the theory, known now as The Origin of Species (in full On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life 1859).

The entire edition of 1250 copies was sold on the first day amid a turmoil of indignation at the threat to the biblical account of creation and at the suggested link between human beings and apes. In a notorious debate at a meeting of the British Association in Oxford in 1860, Bishop Wilberforce – son of William *Wilberforce, and known as Soapy Sam – asked Darwin's most energetic disciple, T.H. *Huxley, whether he was descended from an ape on his grandfather's or his grandmother's side.

Darwin published many other books in his later years, the majority on evolution in plants. The Descent of Man, and selection in relation to sex (1871) was a sequel to The Origin of Species.

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