Charles Darwin Creates a Handwritten List of Arguments for and Against Marriage (1838)

Darwin Marriage Arguments

Plen­ty of us strug­gle, in the age when so many tra­di­tions in so many parts of the world now seem per­pet­u­al­ly up for revi­sion, with the choice of whether to get mar­ried. It even con­found­ed no less a mind than that from which On the Ori­gin of Species by Means of Nat­ur­al Selec­tion flowed. This hap­pened back in 1838, over twen­ty years before the pub­li­ca­tion of that most impor­tant book in biol­o­gy. And, for a moment, it must have seemed almost as vex­ing as the ques­tion of how all the species came about.

Lists of Note tells us that the “29-year-old nat­u­ral­ist Charles Dar­win found him­self fac­ing a dif­fi­cult deci­sion: whether or not to pro­pose to the love of his life, Emma Wedg­wood. This was his hand­writ­ten solu­tion — a list of the pros and cons of mar­riage that includes such gems as ‘bet­ter than a dog any­how’ and ‘not forced to vis­it rel­a­tives.’ ” (See orig­i­nal doc­u­ment above. Or click here to view it in a larg­er for­mat, and read a com­plete tran­scrip­tion.)

Of the tan­ta­liz­ing claims of the sin­gle life, Dar­win also includes “free­dom to go where one liked,” “con­ver­sa­tion of clever men at clubs,” free­dom from the “expense & anx­i­ety of chil­dren,” and no risk of the awful pos­si­bil­i­ty that “per­haps my wife won’t like Lon­don.” But mat­ri­mo­ny presents a strong case of its own, in the form of a “con­stant com­pan­ion, (& friend in old age) who will feel inter­est­ed in one,” “some­one to take care of house,” “charms of music & female chit-chat.” (And note his writ­ing of “Chil­dren — (if it Please God)” under the pros, an inter­est­ing phras­ing giv­en the sorts of debates his name gets hauled into today.)

And so Dar­win reach­es his con­clu­sion: “My God, it is intol­er­a­ble to think of spend­ing ones whole life, like a neuter bee, work­ing, work­ing, & noth­ing after all. — No, no won’t do. — Imag­ine liv­ing all one’s day soli­tar­i­ly in smoky dirty Lon­don House. — Only pic­ture to your­self a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music per­haps.” He would indeed mar­ry and spend the rest of his life with Wedg­wood, a union that pro­duced ten chil­dren (one of whom, Fran­cis, would go on to infor­mal­ly illus­trate On the Ori­gin of Species man­u­script pages).

You can peruse the full list, even in Dar­win’s own hand­writ­ing (if you can deci­pher it), at Dar­win Online. If he went on to write a list of his secrets of a suc­cess­ful mar­riage, Dar­win schol­ars haven’t yet dis­cov­ered it, but I think we can safe­ly say that it would include at least this rec­om­men­da­tion: think the deci­sion through, but don’t let it keep you from your life’s work.

via Lists of Note

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Darwin’s Son Draws Cute Pic­tures on the Man­u­script of On the Ori­gin of Species

What Did Charles Dar­win Read? See His Hand­writ­ten Read­ing List & Read Books from His Library Online

Watch Dar­win, a 1993 Film by Peter Green­away

Read the Orig­i­nal Let­ters Where Charles Dar­win Worked Out His The­o­ry of Evo­lu­tion

The Genius of Charles Dar­win Revealed in Three-Part Series by Richard Dawkins

Darwin’s Per­son­al Library Goes Dig­i­tal: 330 Books Online

16,000 Pages of Charles Darwin’s Writ­ing on Evo­lu­tion Now Dig­i­tized and Avail­able Online

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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