Two great men turn 200 years old today.
Abraham Lincoln, born in a log cabin to Kentucky farners, self-educated, he became a lawyer and a politician, and was elected president during a difficult time. He signed the Emancipation Proclamation, gave the Gettysburg Address, and successfully led the country through its Civil War, before being shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth in 1865 (the first American president to be assassinated; there have been three since).
President Lincoln is widely regarded as one of our greatest presidents. His likeness is on the penny and the five-dollar bill, and he shares Mount Rushmore with presidents Washingon, Jefferson, and Roosevelt.
When I was a child, the 12th of February was a holiday in many states, mostly in the north, honouring President Lincoln’s birthday. It still is a holiday in some states — including New York, where I now live — though some have merged it with Washington’s Birthday as Presidents’ Day.
Someone must be steering me wrong, here, but this is Darwin, I know that.
Wait, I know. It’s got to be a different Darwin, doesn’t it?
[Flip, flip, flip. Shuffle, shuffle.]
Ah! Here it is. Yep, different Darwin.
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, northwest of Birmingham, near Wales. Quite the opposite of Lincoln, Darwin was born into a wealthy family and was well educated. He trained as a medical doctor, but preferred scientific examination of plants, animals, and rocks to medical studies and practice.
It was in that regard that he joined what turned out to be a five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle. His observations and notes from that trip, with a great deal of time spent in remote areas and on islands, places in which flora and fauna developed in relative isolation, formed the basis for his idea of natural selection, a cornerstone of modern evolutionary theory.
His most famous publication, “On the Origin of Species”, was published late in 1859, when Darwin was 50 years old. It’s his most famous work, but it’s far from being his only one; there’s quite a collection available at The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online.
Between his travels, his writing, and his other work, he clearly had time for other things: Charles Darwin had ten children, two of whom died as babies.
He died in 1882, at the age of 73.