Did you know that for about the last 45 years of Charles Darwin’s life, after returning from his voyage on HMS Beagle, he suffered a mysterious illness which lasted until his death of a heart attack at the age of 73?
Many have speculated that an exotic parasitic disease contracted overseas was the cause of Darwin’s problem. Others have pointed to the strong predominance of apparently psychosomatic features.
A more recent proposal by David Rutherford in the Australian Natural History journal concludes that Darwin’s problem was most likely agoraphobia, a pathological fear of being in open places.1
Rutherford gives the example that at the age of 33 Darwin retired to a secluded village and constantly declined to chair meetings or attend conferences. Such social ‘demands’ led to symptoms which made these events intolerable for him, such as sweating, dizziness, palpitations, headaches and limb weakness.
Others have suggested, perhaps less charitably, that his knowledge of the enormity of what he had done to mankind contributed substantially to his psychological problems.
The Australian, September 24, 1990, p. 5.