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.