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Darwin Correspondence Project


Darwin's work on species shows many marks of his geological training. While he was attached to the Beagle from 1831 to 1836, Darwin actually spent about two-thirds of his time ashore, where geology was his single most frequent pursuit. After his return, he published three books on geology and developed a major theory of crustal uplift and subsidence which became the basis of an innovative explanation for the origin of coral reefs.  Geology provided the long time span needed for a slowly acting process like natural selection to work, and tools for the reconstruction of processes operating in the distant past.  In the last book published during his life, Darwin returned to geological studies by studying the action of worms, demonstrating the profound impact that these seemingly insignificant creatures had in the economy of nature.


Emma Darwin
Emma Darwin with Leonard Darwin as a child
CUL DAR 225: 93
Cambridge University Library

Darwin in letters, 1837–1843: The London years to 'natural selection'

The seven-year period following Darwin's return to England from the Beagle voyage was one of extraordinary activity and productivity in which he became recognised as a naturalist of outstanding ability, as an author and editor, and as a professional man with official responsibilities in several scientific organisations. They are also the years in which he married, started a family, and moved to Down House, Kent, his home for the rest of his life. By 1842 he was ready to write an outline of his species theory, the so-called 'pencil sketch', based on a principle that he called ‘natural selection’. 

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Darwin's Geological observations
Geological observations on the volcanic islands and parts of South America visited during the voyage of H.M.S. 'Beagle'
Image from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Digitised by Smithsonian Libraries

Bibliography of Darwin’s geological publications

This list includes papers read by Darwin to the Geological Society of London, his books on the geology of the Beagle voyage, and other publications on geological topics.  Author-date citations refer to entries in the Darwin Correspondence Project’s cumulative bibliography. 

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