Charles Darwin’s Kids Draw on Surviving Manuscript Pages of On the Origin of Species

darwin kid 2

Charles Dar­win not only cre­at­ed the the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion, but he appar­ent­ly dab­bled often in human biol­o­gy and sex­u­al­i­ty. To wit: he fathered 10 chil­dren with his cousin Emma Wedg­wood, six boys and four girls. It was this bois­ter­ous brood that filled the Darwin’s house in rur­al Kent, Eng­land, while Charles worked in his study on the first draft of On the Ori­gin of Species by Means of Nat­ur­al Selec­tion, or the Preser­va­tion of Favoured Races in the Strug­gle for Life, his ground­break­ing, world-chang­ing work.

darwin kid 1

Last year we report­ed on the huge effort to dig­i­tize 30,000 pages of the scientist’s writ­ing at the Dar­win Man­u­scripts Project at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry. Among Dar­win’s many papers, one thing the dig­i­tiz­ers have found, curi­ous­ly enough, is art­work drawn by his chil­dren, often on pages of Dar­win’s man­u­scripts.

Dar­win had no real use for the orig­i­nal man­u­script once gal­ley proofs came back from the pub­lish­er. So one can imag­ine father Charles giv­ing his kids the only worth­while paper in the house to draw on. It seems flip­pant now, but at the time, it was per­fect­ly nor­mal.

darwin kid 3

Accord­ing to the New York­er, they’ve found 57 draw­ings in total, nine of them on the back of pages from Ori­gin of Species. Only 45 man­u­script pages out of 600 from that book sur­vive, and those nine are because of his kids. You can find a whole sec­tion at the Dar­win Man­u­scripts project web­site ded­i­cat­ed to the draw­ings of the Dar­win kids.

Researchers sur­mise that the major­i­ty of the art comes from three of the 10 chil­dren, Fran­cis, George, and Horace, all of whom went into the sci­ences as adults. The illus­tra­tions are col­or­ful and wit­ty, drawn in pen­cil and some­times col­ored in water­col­or. Birds and but­ter­flies are drawn and col­ored with atten­tion to detail. Some crea­tures are imag­i­nary, like the green fish with legs car­ry­ing an umbrel­la, and there are short sto­ries about fairies and bat­tles too.

Over­all, the draw­ings show a Dar­win who was a fam­i­ly man and not a reclu­sive sci­en­tist. We’re just glad that the kids let dad do his work in rel­a­tive silence.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The British Library Puts Online 1,200 Lit­er­ary Trea­sures From Great Roman­tic & Vic­to­ri­an Writ­ers
What Did Charles Dar­win Read? See His Hand­writ­ten Read­ing List & Read Books from His Library Online

19th Cen­tu­ry Car­i­ca­tures of Charles Dar­win, Mark Twain, H.M. Stan­ley & Oth­er Famous Vic­to­ri­ans (1873)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.