Can a letter change your life? Sure it can! On this date in 1831, a recent graduate of Christ's College, Cambridge (Bachelor of Arts, Theology) returned home from several weeks of 'geologizing' in Wales with the Rev. Adam Sedgwick, only to find letters from one George Peacock and another of his former teachers, the Reverend John Henslow.

Charlie Darwin had been invited to serve as the ship's naturalist aboard H.M.S. Beagle, and, not incidentally, to as a consequence commit to being a class-appropriate companion for the vessel's brilliant but high-strung Captain, Robert Fitzroy, the grandson of a duke.This was thought wise, as the previous Captain, one Pringle Stokes, had committed suicide during the Beagle's previous voyage to South America.

Such facts, and the general hazards of travel at this period did not faze Darwin, who immediately accepted only to find to his chagrin that both his father and his sisters were vehemently opposed: it was, they thought, not only fraught with danger but another excuse for Charlie to not grow up and accept the responsibilities of the country parsonage for which his status-conscious father had groomed him. Fortunately, Charlie's uncle (Josiah Wedgwood, of pottery fame) had a little clout with Darwin, Senior and intervened successfully on his nephew's behalf! Who could guess that this chain of letters would lead Darwin down the difficult path of uncomfortable discovery, toward (in Tennyson's phrase) to 'nature red in tooth and claw' ?

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