l_downhouse_021Charles Darwin: geologist…naturalist…evolutionist…writer?

Although Charles Darwin may be more well known for his theory of evolution than for his sparkling prose, it was only through his groundbreaking book, On the Origin of Species, that his ideas gained widespread attention. Published 150 years ago, the work immediately sold out of its 1,250 copy print run and shocked readers with its controversial premise:

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself…will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.”

Darwin’s radical ideas transformed the way scientists think about nature, and most of his theorizing and writing was done in his study at Down House, located southeast of London in the Kentish countryside. The property, which includes the scientist’s home, experimental garden and surrounding land, has recently undergone renovations and re-opened to the public with a new permanent exhibition marking the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth. (One of the neatest aspects of the new exhibit is the full-size recreation of Darwin’s cramped cabin during his long voyage on the HMS Beagle.)

Darwin moved to the village of Downe with his wife Emma in 1842, six years after returning from his epic sea voyage. He went on to live and work there for four decades until his death in 1882. Many of the rooms at Down House contain the family’s original furniture, including items such as a billiard table and Wedgwood dinner service, as well as personal artifacts like Darwin’s wedding ring and the Panama hat that he took on board the Beagle.

A new feature on the property’s website allows cybervisitors to explore Darwin’s study, where he often sat by the fireside in his high-backed leather, surrounded by books and papers.

Also part of the bicentenary celebrations is The Darwin Big Idea Exhibition, running at London’s Natural History Museum for one more week through April 19.–Joni Rendon