Charles Darwin's book about his grandfather, The Life of Erasmus Darwin, is curiously fascinating. Before publication in 1879, it was shortened by 16%, with several of the cuts directed at its most provocative parts. The cutter, with Charles's permission, was his daughter Henrietta - an example of the strong hidden hand of meek-seeming Victorian women. Originally published in 2003, this first unabridged edition, edited by Desmond King-Hele, includes all that Charles originally intended, the cuts being restored and printed in italics. Erasmus Darwin was one of the leading intellectuals of the eighteenth century. He was a respected physician, a well-known poet, a keen mechanical inventor, and a founding member of the influential Lunar Society. He also possessed an amazing insight into the many branches of physical and biological science. Most notably, he adopted what we now call biological evolution as his theory of life, 65 years prior to Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809 and was educated at Shrewsbury School, Edinburgh University and Christ's College Cambridge. He took his degree in 1831 and in the same year embarked on a five-year voyage on HMS Beagle as a companion to the captain; the purpose of the voyage was to chart the coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, and to carry a chain of chronometric readings round the world.
While he was away some of his letters on scientific matters were privately published, and on his return he at once took his place among the leading men of science. In 1839 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Most of the rest of his life was occupied in publishing the findings of the voyage and in documenting his theory of the transmutation of species. On the origin of species by means of natural selection appeared in 1859.
Darwin spent many years with his wife - his cousin Emma Wedgwood, whom he had married in 1839 - and their children at Down House in Kent. He died in 1882, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.