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Young Naturalist

Birds' eggs and sea shells, beetles and coins, moths and minerals--as a child, Charles Darwin collected all of these and more. Born in 1809 to a wealthy family in rural England, he spent hours watching birds and lying under the dining-room table, reading. He was an indifferent student, though, and school bored him. He despaired of learning Latin and memorizing verse, "for every verse was forgotten in 48 hours." But he never tired of studying the details of the natural world.

As a teenager, Darwin was thrilled by chemistry, biology, botany and geology. Yet all the while he dutifully pursued the careers his father had selected for him: doctor and then clergyman. As he studied at the University of Cambridge, though, Darwin was singled out by an elite circle of academics who recognized his potential. Finally, his true talent for natural history blossomed.

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The Wedgwood Family

Two prominent, wealthy families, the Darwins and the Wedgwoods, were linked by friendship, business and multiple marriages: Charles's father, his sister and eventually Charles himself all married Wedgwoods.

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The Darwin Family

Charles Darwin's paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, made the Darwin name famous well before Charles was born. Charles grew up in a dignified, upstanding household.

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Shootings, Dogs, and Rat-Catching

His father sent Charles to the University of Cambridge to prepare for a career in the church. Charles had no objection. A quiet country parish might be just the place to pursue his interest in natural history.

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Budding Scientist

At the University of Cambridge, Darwin's interest in natural history blossomed into far more than a hobby. An elite circle of prominent professors served as mentors and role models for Darwin.

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A World of Change

When Charles Darwin was a student in the 1820s, geologists had shown that Earth had undergone sweeping changes over time and was, in fact, still changing. This idea had a huge influence on Darwin's thought.

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A Lifelong Passion

Although bored at times by formal schooling, the young Charles Darwin poured enormous energy into his fascination with the natural world.

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