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Darwin’s education, both at school and university, appears from a modern perspective to be surprisingly lacking in focused preparation for the scientific achievements that lay ahead of him. However, both his father and grandfather trained and practiced as doctors, and it was initially assumed that Charles would follow in their footsteps. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, combined his medical duties with philosophical and literary writings, including the two-volume Zoonomia; or the Laws of Organic Life (1794) that embraced speculations about the evolution of life which must have been known to his grandson.
But education in the early nineteenth century largely comprised, in addition to mathematics, the translation and exegesis of Classical and biblical texts. Natural science, if studied at all, was engaged in a spirit of respect for the traditions of Greek philosophy and scriptural precedent. Attendance at church or chapel was as important as attendance at school, if a little less...
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