Quiz: Who is this medical truant?

This historical figure in natural history is considered to be the “Father of Evolutionary Biology.” What’s his name?



This historical figure in natural history is considered to be the “Father of Evolutionary Biology.” What’s his name?


Our Ophthalmic Heritage By Norman B. Medow, MD, FACS

A truant is one who intentionally is absent from schooling-of his or her own free will-but is doing so in an unauthorized manner. I was guilty of truancy a number of times when I was in high school, but let us leave that for another day.

For this article, I will stretch the definition of truant and move the education venue to medical school. My truant definition is that of a person who either drops out of medical school or completes medical school and then does not use this eduction, but enters another field and gains great success.

First, some background

Our protagonist here was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. His father, an accomplished physician, was married to wealthy Susannah Wedgwood, daughter of Josiah, founder of the porcelain company that carries his name.

In 1825, after working the summer as an apprentice to his father, he entered the University of Edinburgh Medical School where both his father and his grandfather attended. His grandfather was a philosopher, physiologist, and physician who turned down an offer to be a physician to the king.

In his second year, he found medical material to be boring. He neglected his studies and his exams. He became very much interested in natural history and studied botany and marine invertebrates.

His father-realizing that his son’s aptitude for medicine was wanting-took him out of school and then enrolled him in Christ’s College in Cambridge. Here, he became engulfed in entomology, botany, and marine life.

In January 1831, he graduated 10th in his class of 178. He spent that summer with friends, trying to learn more about plants and animals and was proposed by a friend to travel on the HMS Beagle that was going to spend a few years on a voyage around South America. This was to be a self-funded venture to investigate geology and making natural history collections.

His father decided to fund this 2-year voyage, which lasted about 5 years. Along the way ports of call included Chile, Brazil, Patagonia, and The Galapagos Islands. On his return from spending 5 years at sea, he returned being well known among people who studied natural history.



Author, author

He wrote many books and essays, not the least of which includes a journal outlining his trip. The first one being in 1839; a second book, “The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs,” was published in 1842; and a third book on barnacles was published in 1849.

During this entire time, he sought about writing a truly big book about natural selection. In 1859, after more than 20 years of studying his theories, his book was published of which only 1,250 copies were first issued. The publication was over sold and the 1,250 people who got the first copy of his book were very much enthused.

Although the book brought about great controversy, particularly in the religious community, our protagonist achieved great success and is considered to be the “Father of Evolutionary Biology.”

When he died in 1882, he was buried in Westminster Abbey next to many of England’s great historical figures.

To find out the name of this famous truant, click “Next” below.




"On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," by Charles Darwin (Image courtesy of Norman B. Medow, MD, FACS)The answer: Charles Darwin. The book he wrote-of which only 1,250 copies were printed-is “On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” published in 1859.


Norman B. Medow, MD, FACS, is editor of the Our Ophthalmic Heritage column. He is director, pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus, Montefiore Hospital Medical Center, and professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY. He did not indicate a financial interest in the subject matter.