A Life's Work

Part of the Darwin exhibition.

Take a video tour of Down House.
©AMNH video 2005

In 1842 Charles Darwin and his family fled London in search of peace and quiet. They found it in a tiny village 16 miles outside the city, and for the next 40 years their home--called Down House--was Darwin's retreat, research station and the hub of his vast scientific network. Working in his study, greenhouse and garden, corresponding with scientists around the world, Darwin patiently completed the puzzle of evolution by natural selection.

Origin Manuscript by Charles Darwin, February-July 1844
©The Syndics of Cambridge University Library DAR 7

But for nearly two decades Darwin kept his secret from the world. It took a letter from the Malay Archipelago--a letter outlining another man's version of natural selection--to push him into print. Shutting himself in his study, working feverishly, Darwin finally produced the Origin of Species. That book--and its companion volume, Descent of Man--would spark a revolution. They would also make Darwin the most revered, and controversial, scientist of his time.