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Darwin Day Celebration


Charles Lyell had become a lifelong friend and promoter of Darwin as a scientist and he lived on Bloomsbury Street in London. So, when Charles completed his work in Cambridge,  he moved to London in March 1837, renting rooms in a house on Great Marlborough Street just down the road from his brother Erasmus, who lead a leisurely social life in London but did not accomplish anything significant during his life. The space Charles rented was adequate to house Covington, his trusted assistant, and the remaining boxes of Beagle specimens. At this point Darwin was ready to participate in the scientific life of London and the place that he rented was in walking distance of the scientific institutions, as well as of Lyell’s home. Darwin became active in the Geological Society meetings and on the council, and often socialized in the company of Charles Lyell. Later on, Darwin said that he saw more of Lyell than any other man, both before and after his marriage. Lyell had a predilection for high society and insisted that Darwin join the Athenaeum, an exclusive London club providing private dinner rooms, a library, snuff, and select conversation in the heart of the West End. Darwin became a member along with Charles Dickens in 1838. Soon, Darwin was 'stepping up' with an invitation to attend Charles Babbage’s glittering soirees. In a letter to his sister Caroline he said that he would “meet the best in the way of literary people and a good mix of pretty women.” It is clear that London after his voyage became an important steping-stone where he made important connections for his subsequent academic studies.

Erasmus who lived a life of “fussy tranquility” took charge of Charles’ free time, introducing him to friends such as Harriet Martineau a political author, Fanny Kimble an actress, and writer Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane. All of these people were intellectually stimulating and Darwin enjoyed their company. In fact much later in his life he would look back and regret that he had become so isolated at his home in Down. His cousin Hensleigh Wedgwood, whom he had spent much time with as a student at Cambridge, was also in Erasmus’ circle of friends, and Darwin found Hensleigh and his wife Fanny very agreeable company. He joined their extended family circle for pleasure and a wide-range of cultural activities. For the two years 1837 and 1838 Charles Darwin lived among the social elite of London and made a number of friends who would remain friends and supporters for the rest of his life.

Sources and Further Reading:

Charles Darwin, The Power and the Place; by Janet Browne