The Dilemma of Charles Darwin – “To Marry Or Not To Marry?”


“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains,

but do not have love, I am nothing.”

– Corinthians 13:2:

Charles Darwin was born in a wealthy and influential family on February 12, 1809, in the town of Shrewsbury, England. He was the fifth child of six siblings. His grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, a renowned physician, and scientist who had already made significant contributions to scientific ideas about evolution. His father, Robert Darwin, was also a physician and had grown rich by shrewdly investing money earned from his medical practice and other works. Charles’s mother was Susannah Wedgewood, from the famous pottery family. She died when Charles was eight years old creating a void for love at a tender age. He then started attending an elementary school at the age of nine.

Seven-year-old Darwin in 1816

Charles was sent to Shrewsbury School, about a mile away from his family home. He boarded there but often returned home to keep up with family goings-on and learn from his elders.

The boarding school followed a traditional classical curriculum revolving around Ancient Greek and Latin, which Charles pressurized resulting in weak performance. He was not considered smart and his language skills were poor. His school work involved memorizing Roman and Greek literature, though he disliked it, he worked hard to keep up with classroom demands. Inspite of all efforts, Charles would forget all the lines and learnings when asked by the teacher. He would get confused and forget all the teachings as soon as class was over. While this academic mess destroyed his peace, he discovered a love for hunting, forest walks, collecting stuff from forests, and relaxing in the natural world.

Here, started the birth timeline of the greatest biologist in history and the crafting of the Theory of Natural Evolution.

Despite his father’s outburst, he continued with his love for hunting. Also, he dared to study science, geometry, and chemistry that angered his father and headmaster. At the age of 19 years, he became a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, as his father had done 42 years ago. Unlike his grandfather and father, Charles did not enjoy medical school. He hated dissecting human bodies, he was horrified while doing surgical operations and hospital life distressed him. Finally, his infuriated father withdrew his son from Edinburgh and sent him to the University of Cambridge with the idea that his useless son would eventually become a clergyman at the Church of England.

A Young look of Charles Darwin

Before his twentieth birthday, Charles Darwin enrolled at the University of Cambridge to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree. After three easy years, he received his B.A. degree with marks tagging him as a topper of the batch. But was not known to anyone that during his time in Cambridge, Darwin continued to pursue his scientific ventures in botany and zoology. After graduation, Darwin began taking interest in geology, studying rocks, and going on a two-week expedition to Wales rock strata.

Near the end of summer 1831, after completing his degree, Darwin was offered a position as a naturalist on HMS Beagle, one of the British Royal Navy’s survey ships. Darwin would have to pay for his place on the ship but would be at liberty to collect any specimens and send them back to the United Kingdom for his use or profit. Considering this advantage, he pestered his father to pay for the five-year voyage. 

 HMS Beagle surveyed the coasts of South America

The expedition continued, with Darwin writing about his experiences, collecting samples of flora, fauna, and fossils, and observing rock formations. He saw a variety of unusual, unique species on the Galapagos Islands. Each island seemed to have its own distinct and unknown varieties of wildlife. 

It’s destiny that Darwin embarked on the voyage as a graduate, and he returned as a respected, well-known scientist. Also, he assembled an intriguing collection of specimens that naturalists were queuing up to study and catalog for further work.

His father was glad that his prediction that Charles would disgrace the family had been proven wrong. Charles Darwin was now renowned in the world of natural science, and his father agreed to continue funding his work. Other people also recognized the value of Darwin’s work, and he received a large grant from the British government to analyze his observations from the Beagle’s expedition.

While his work on the theory of evolution continued, and his professional success was at its peak, he was pressurized for marriage by his family.

We all decide to break our single status after we achieve our professional growth and personal compatibility. Our professional success is often measured as one of the parameters for our marital decision. At a time, we are pestered by parents, relatives, and friends to consider the decision of social union for an heirloom or life-long commitment. The institution of marriage is a foundation for strong social order, cultural integrity, and national growth.

Emma and Charles

Darwin had passionate thoughts for his cultured, talented first cousin Emma Wedgwood. She was nine months older than him but he wanted to have her as his wife. From childhood, they acquainted soft feelings for each other. Charles uses to rush to his uncle’s home to escape his authoritarian father’s domination. Emma and her family supported Charles to overturn his father’s objections to the Voyage of the Beagle. Emma was an open and tolerant lady, sharing her views and listening to Darwin’s theories. Emma played the piano for Charles amusing him with her musical ability. She believed in God and Afterlife, hoping they would be united throughout eternity. 

Single people use self-assessment question patterns to evaluate their marital aptitude on basis of certain traits or factors. The results help them to determine the level of aptitude for the social union. The decision needs to be taken on proper judgment and sound information since marriage is the most rewarding yet difficult accomplishment of our life. Our marital life is linked not only to our spouse but the unity of two different families and the children born out of wedlock. 

In many families, we have elders who do the search and match candidatures for their eligible children based on status, education compatibility. Marriage is not only finding the best groom/bride but also about finding a second home of in-laws for support and care.

But to date, there is no standard process for alliance fixing, you never know what works for who and what does not work for whom.

Even the great English Naturalist, Father of Modern Evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin was no exception to this dilemmatic situation.

Like every bachelor man, Charles too started considering his thoughts for a married or bachelor life. He took a new page in his notes and drew a line down the middle, he added the headings “Marry” and “Not Marry” to either side of the line and proceeded to list the pros and cons of either decision.

What was funny in this is that he penned down the reasons for WHY TO MARRY and WHY NOT TO MARRY and weighed down the points assigned to each section. The numerable views jotted by him prepared him for a marital bond. Charles had carefully scribbled on a paper a list of pros (“constant companion,” “charms of music & female chit-chat”, “care-taker at old age”) and cons (“means limited,” “no books,” “terrible loss of time”, “ No World tour”, “cannot adopt a dog”) regarding marriage and its potential impact on his work

“The day of days!” wrote 29-year-old Charles Darwin in his journal on November 11, 1838, after his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, accepted his marriage proposal. The rational answers to this marriage question lead to their marriage on 29 January 1839 at Maer in an Anglican ceremony. Darwin married Emma Wedgewood on January 29, 1839. He was aged 29 and she was 30. 

Post-marriage they moved to settle permanently in Down House, close to the city. The Darwin’s had ten children: two died in infancy, and their daughter’s death at the age of ten had a devastating effect on her parents especially on Charles. 

He was a very devoted father and was attentive to his children. Whenever they fell ill, he feared that they might have inherited weaknesses from inbreeding due to marriage with a first cousin, Emma Wedgwood. But a scientist never stops only by knowing…his curiosity expanded further.

He examined inbreeding in his writings, contrasting it with the advantages of outcrossing in many species. Despite his fears, most of the surviving children and many of their descendants went on to have distinguished careers.

Charles and Emma raised their eight children in a distinctly non-authoritarian manner, and several of them later achieved considerable success in their chosen careers. Three of their sons, George, Francis, and Horace, became notable scientists and were elected fellows of the Royal Society. George became an astronomer, Francis a botanist, and Horace an engineer. Another son, Leonard, financially supported the publication of Ronald Fisher’s earliest work.

Charles Darwin was a prolific writer and wild explorer. Even without publication of his works on evolution, he gained a considerable reputation as the author of The Voyage of the Beagle.

He had gained a reputation as a geologist who had published extensively on South America and solved the puzzle of the formation of coral atolls. His interest in biology made his definitive work on barnacles an outstanding publication of merit. Amongst his work, ‘On the Origin of Species ‘ dominates, and other works like, ‘The Descent of Man’ and ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’  had considerable impact. Charles’s book on plants including, ‘The Power of Movement in Plants,’ were innovative studies of great importance.

The recorded systematic notes of Darwin’s speculation of marriage and the prospects are well transcribed and annotated for our information purpose. Even an intellectual Evolutionist and rational creationist like Darwin opted to obey his heart over mind, worth thinking. Bonds of real affection linked Emma and Charles throughout their long lives, and they established a warm, lively, and loving family that continued to contribute to science and society. 

“I give it to you, because, I think you will humanize me, & soon teach me there is greater happiness than building theories, & accumulating facts in silence & solitude.”

The adjoining tombs of John Herschel and Charles Darwin in the nave of Westminster Abbey, London

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