Darwin’s Children

Fruit v. vegetable. Photo: MASONS
Fruit v. vegetable. Photo: MASONS

Jari’s post on Darwin Day got me thinking. Darwin was a fascinating character. By all accounts he was a low key personality. But he became a bit of a scientific and pop culture star in his day, after publishing his account as the ship-board naturalist for the HMS Beagle, a British round-the-world geographic survey. But his proposal of natural selection as the driving force of evolution brought him into conflict with elements of British society, especially the Church of England. While many biologists quickly recognized the merits of Darwin’s natural selection, some in the scientific establishment, like Richard Owen, who ran the British Museum, did not. Darwin also had to deal with the death of his 10-year-old daughter and his own chronic illness– a medical mystery he seems to have contracted during his overseas voyage as a young man. Charles’ wife, Emma, took comfort in the church, but Darwin rejected religion. Nevertheless, he was intellectually energetic, eventually publishing about 21 books and monographs. Despite their differences, Charles and Emma remained devoted to one another and their 8 surviving children. All of which brings me to what I really wanted to share…

The manuscript of the Origin, which has been called one of the most important books ever written, was doodled on by the Darwin kids. An article from The Telegraph in 2009 (Darwin’s 200th birthday) relayed the fact that the original manuscript was vandalized by his own children. His son Francis drew a “battle of the fruit and vegetable soldiers” on one page, and there are many other drawings, presumably by the Darwin children, on his papers. With two kids of my own, it’s not hard to see how this could happen. And it’s an endearing reminder that Charles Darwin was human.


If you’re interested in learning more about Darwin’s life, check out this NPR piece about how the death of his daughter may have influenced him. There’s also the 2009 film, Creation, which speculated on Darwin’s thoughts about family, religion, and the implications of his ideas for society.


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