DARWIN Darwin’s Passion for the Evolution of the Species
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)52 is halfway between Lamarck and Wallace. He is a rich man who pursued university studies in theology and became an enlightened amateur biologist. He does not defend a theory or a coherent vision of nature. He felt an inner urge to observe animals in a detailed way and improve Lamarck’s theory of evolution. This passion increased with age. He was one of those explorers for whom an obsessive interest for details leads to the emergence of global theoretical issues. For example, because he would record every minute detail of each individual animal, he became keenly aware of the infinite variety that is generated by nature.
Darwin’s family acquired their wealth during the English Industrial Revolution. They were profoundly influenced by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment, especially Voltaire.
Charles Darwin’s paternal great-grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a renowned physician who introduced Lamarck’s theory in Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. As Lamarck was perceived as a French revolutionary and an enemy of Great Britain, this interest was followed with ambivalence: British intellectuals could not repress a fascination for the general frame of the theory of evolution, but they refused to integrate a theory produced by the guillotines of the revolution and the horrible wars undertaken by Napoleon. A passionate defense of Lamarck’s theory was part of the intellectual world in which Charles Darwin grew up.