In Janet Browne’s Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography, we get a closer look in to the scientific society of Darwin’s time. We are able to see how the Darwinian Evolution was able to take hold from its origin to its dispersal among the masses. By understanding the origin of Darwin’s belief regarding the origin of mankind and other species, we can see how the scientific society responds to and accepts his theory.

Darwin benefitted early on from a well-to-do family that fostered an intellectual atmosphere. As a member of the upper middle-class, Darwin benefitted from the prospect of an inheritance and the monetary support to put him through private schools and colleges. Not only were his parents educated, but his grandfathers had left a great legacy that allowed for affluence, good social standing, and a lifestyle that bred religious skepticism through freethinking. Without this strong foundation, Darwin will have most likely never considered the origin of mankind, as his affluent family allowed for the leisure of education and bred an interest in science. Furthermore, his family’s beliefs, different from the more religious lower class, allowed a certain degree of dissent from the church to allow him to pursue “transmutation” and “natural selection”.

His education also nurtured the source of his thoughts on the origins of species as he benefitted from circles of friends at both a medical  school and a religious school. At both these schools he was able to join clubs and societies that not only allowed for intellectual conversations, but allowed him to meet people of variant interests. As a result these friends allowed him various opportunities, most notably the invitation to the HMS Beagle voyage. Similarly, his relationship to Lyell and Hooker, who both were influential in the Linnean Society of London’s administration, allowed his papers to be rushed with Wallace’s papers as a double programme, a move that also hastened his authoring of the Origin of Species.

In comparison, Wallace was a self-educated naturalist who had to make an unsteady living from selling natural history specimens abroad. Wallace did not have the private income to sustain his education and free-time to think about the variability of organism’s as Darwin had. Furthermore, he did not have the background that allowed for his entrance into the many scientific society’s that Darwin was a member of or the well-known friends to support his controversial idea. It would have been very difficult for Wallace to produce the same results as Darwin had with his book.

By delving into the factors that allowed the origin of the idea of the Darwinian Evolution, we can see how society’s guidelines allowed only people of certain backgrounds to succeed. The scientific society had certainly evolved, but it is interesting to imagine just how farther along we could have been without its striking restrictions.

Janet Browne, Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press 2008.