Cats for Darwin and Lincoln Day

Darwin, unfortunately, was a dog person and seemed to dislike cats. I haven’t been able to find much information on Darwin and felids, and my inquiries to Janet Browne, the preeminent biographer of Darwin, have yielded bupkes.

But loyal reader SGM has sent a drawing of a cat that appeared in Darwin’s works (perhaps the only such feline illustration in CD’s oeuvre):

Figure 10 from Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Caption reads “FIG. 10.—Cat in an affectionate frame of mind, by Mr. Wood.”

Darwin Kitty

UPDATE:  Greg Mayer, in the comments below, notes and links to two other drawings of cats in the same Darwin book. I’m adding them here:

Picture 3

And note, in the caption to this next picture, Darwin’s denigration of feline back-arching as “ridiculous”.  How anthropomorphic of him!

Picture 4

Let us not forget, though, that today is also “Lincoln Day,” for Abraham Lincoln was fortuitously born on the exact same day as Darwin. And Lincoln was quite fond of cats. As the U. S. National Park Service recounts:

Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, loved cats and could play with them for hours. When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln replied, “cats.” President Lincoln visited General Grant at City Point, Virginia in March of 1865. The civil war was drawing to a close and the enormous task of reuniting the country lay ahead, yet the President made time to care for three orphaned kittens. Abraham Lincoln noticed three stray kittens in the telegraph hut. Picking them up and placing them in his lap, he asked about their mother. When the President learned that the kittens’ mother was dead, he made sure the kittens would be fed and a good home found for them.


  1. jesse
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Another person I read about recently who adored cats was actor James Mason.

    • starskeptic
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      They would have been better off taking a cat to the center of the Earth than that stupid duck…

      • jesse
        Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        I dunno. Stupidity might help when managing actors.

        And all you have to do is clip a duck’s primaries and he’s there for you.Can you imagine giving a cat directions on how to act?

        That was one of my favorite movies growing up. So full of intrigue! And better than some movies where everything is produced with CGI and nothing’s left to the imagination.

        • Posted February 12, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          As a child, I loved the pelycosaurs. I also loved the score by Bernard Herrmann… and I still do.

          • jesse
            Posted February 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

            I’ll have to look for the score on youtube. I’m sure I’ll instantly recognize it.
            “Lost World” was the other cool one on TV all the time while I was growing up.

          • jesse
            Posted February 12, 2013 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

            Someone has uploaded the Hermann suite:

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted February 13, 2013 at 4:06 am | Permalink

          A friend of mine was taking part as an extra in the Edinburgh crowd scenes, and assures me that a large group of extras was shouting “Hearts* for the cup” when they were supposed to be cheering! (*Local football team Heart of Midlothian).

          • jesse
            Posted February 13, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

            Funny. When an on-location film is made using members of a community, there is a long-term effect lasting at least a generation if not more. Then of course is the pride that goes on as long as the movie survives.

            Totally, totally not on topic, since you are Scottish and since I mentioned actors/movies, I thought you (or anyone else reading this later) might enjoy this exchange, from the film Gosford Park.

            “Have you heard about Mr. Weissman’s valet? Turns out he’s a fraud. He isn’t Scottish at all.”

            “No–I could have told you that. Who is he, then? Do you think he is the murderer?”

            “It’s worse than that. He’s an actor.”

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted February 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted February 12, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Darwin was indeed a dog person. Just one more reason (if ever one were needed) to respect the great man.

    I read that Darwin’s daughter’s cat once got amongst his pigeons, so he had the vile creature destroyed. Unfortunately, I have good reason for doubting the reliability of the book in which I read this tale. As a vehement cat-hater, though, I’d prefer to give the book the benefit of the doubt on this particular point.

    • Marta
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      People like what they like, and dislike the rest, but why hate cats, never mind “vehemently”?

      Why express this thought at all a website hosted by a person known to be fond of cats? This is not good manners, yo.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, it’s horrible manners and apparently designed just to make the rest of us feel bad.

      Some people just can’t be civil.

      • Posted February 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        He’s acting a bit strident, if you ask me.

        I mean why hate cats, why not hate the sky?

        • Posted February 12, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          The sky? That foul, vacuous void? All-encompassing emptiness, all NOTHING.

          Ha! Not even the stars can redeem it.

    • Posted February 12, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink


      This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

    • D'oh!
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      It is odd that a man who uses FCD after his name would be so eager to get at cats that he doesn’t mind Darwin taking collateral damage. After all,
      what kind of father would destroy a child’s beloved pet? With friends like Carter, Darwin doesn’t need enemies.

  3. Kevin Meredith
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I seem to recall several instances where Darwin lamented the fact cats play cruelly with mice before they kill them. I’m pretty sure his context was that such a thing wouldn’t happen in a perfect world designed by a perfect god. Maybe that’s why Darwin didn’t like cats?

    • Posted February 12, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink


      This message was sent from my Blackberry!

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted February 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

        Hey now. You take that back about lizards!

      • Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

        Puss, have you been reading William Lane Craig? Don’t you realize that cats are too smart for sociopatheodicy?

  4. Posted February 12, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Darwin maybe not, (though we will recall deaf cats with blue eyes from the Origin)
    [see also the Darwin online web pages where you can search all his works for key words] however you may also recall Galton his cousin did write a bit about cats including this from the Spectator in 1896

    • Dominic
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      PS Read a good book last year – Darwin’s Dogs by Emma Townshend.

  5. darrelle
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    “Darwin, unfortunately, was a dog person and seemed to dislike cats.

    That tears it. I am now sure that evolution is false. I’ll have to take another look at creationism I guess. Does the Pope like cats?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      That wins the thread.

    • Brian
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      And is there a pro-cat faction among the Cardinals who will elect a new Pope?

      • starskeptic
        Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Just one pro-cat person in the cat-bird seat would do it.

        • darrelle
          Posted February 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          I had a brain stutter trying to read your comment. For some reason in my mind I kept reading “pro-cat persian” instead of “person.” Don’t know if that is some kind of obscure Freudian slippage going on, or what? Maybe something to do with the CC’s fancy dress code being along the lines of ancient Persian royalty? The cat connection is obvious of course.

          • Posted February 12, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink


            This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

          • starskeptic
            Posted February 13, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

            Your version would have been better…

    • Marella
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

      You’ll have to try Islam, Mohammad loved cats apparently. There was also a story of the Prophet cutting off his shirt sleeve rather than disturbing his sleeping cat when it was time for prayers.

  6. Veroxitatis
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    It is surely no coincidence that the cat in the illustration is making the manoeuvre which all wise cats inflict on those who do not like cats.

  7. Posted February 12, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    There are two other illustrations of cats in “The Expression of Emotions”; they can be seen here:

  8. haymanj
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Darwin could not have been entirely ‘anti-cat’. In a letter to John Weir in 1873 he did agree to be patron of a cat show.
    Ref: Darwin Correspondence Database, accessed on Wed Feb 13 2013

    • Posted February 12, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink


      • Posted February 12, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink


        This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

  9. W.Benson
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Let’s confound cats, Darwin, and Lincoln. Cats are neat. Darwin tried to fair and truthful. Lincoln was a manipulative politician who exemplified the maxim: “It is an ill wind that blows no good.”

    On Aug. 14, 1862, Lincoln told a “Deputation of Free Negroes” invited to the White House:
    “You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence.”

    Lincoln’s most sickening, most unforgivable claim makes enslaved Africans responsible for all the death and destruction of the Civil War:
    “See our present condition–the country engaged in war!–our white men cutting one another’s throats . . . and then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.” What a pig.

    The purpose of the meeting was to coerce black community leaders to support deportation to tropical America under the euphemism of “colonization”.

    • Mark
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:23 am | Permalink

      Lincoln’s views evolved over time. At the very end of Lincoln’s life, he supported the wholesale abolition of slavery through the 13th Amendment, enlistment of blacks in the army with equal pay and voting rights for blacks. I believe Lincoln abandoned the fantasy of “colonization” by 1865 and probably a year or two before that.

      Here is the text of the last speech Lincoln ever delivered in which he praises Louisiana for giving blacks the right to vote. In fact, John Wilkes Booth is said to have listened to this speech and then said, “That means n_____ citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through.”

      Lincoln’s moral evolution probably got him killed. I think if we are going to evaluate historical figures, it is important to look at what they accomplished for history and how they grew and changed over time.

      • jesse
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        “… it is important to look at what they accomplished for history and how they grew and changed over time.”

        Very true.
        And it’s true for every person who grows and matures, really.

    • steve oberski
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.”

      What a pig.

      If you are going to lay the blame on dead politicians, you’ll need to go back to the American founding politicians, the US constitution would never have achieved ratification by the original states without throwing the “colored race” under the (horse drawn) bus.

      Lincoln was faced with the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess.

      I suspect you lack the background and objective viewpoint to back up your “what a pig claim”.

      And make whatever interpretation of Lincoln’s comment you will, but, stripped of the emotional overtones you heap onto it, you will have admit that it is a factually true statement about the causes of the US civil war.

      It’s pretty easy to project our current day zeitgeist onto historical figures but the reality is that the man probably did the best he could for the time, which was far better than most.

  10. Mark
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Darwin includes what, for the time, must have been quite a zinger in the 1st edition of “On the Origin of Species.”

    “On the other hand, cats, from their nocturnal rambling habits, cannot be matched, and, although so much valued by women and children, we hardly ever see a distinct breed kept up…” [emphasis added]

    The implication for Darwin being, of course, that dogs are the more appropriate pet for grown men.

    • Dominic
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Or rather that dogs are more controllable with regard to mating & breeding. That is one reason cats have maintained a ‘wilder’ nature I would suggest, as they are far more likely to breed at will.

  11. ichneumonid
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    I may get myself banned from this bl.. errr website for saying this, but this is so patently another one of the many things that Darwin got absolutely right!

    More seriously, though, I can also imagine what comforting companions his dogs were to him after the deaths of two of his children in infancy and his favourite Annie when only ten.

    • jesse
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      I have heard a lot of people tell me they hated cats, until they had one in the house as a pet and it changed their lives. Never underestimate your ability to change, and to love an animal that cuddles in your lap and purrs when you pet it. There is the most wonderful moment when they settle in your lap and every muscle in their body relaxes. You can feel it. It’s very lovely.

  12. Dominic
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I think ‘ridiculous’ in the sense CD meant is ‘preposterous’ tather than ‘risible’. In 1879 SC Bartlett wrote (in Egypt to Palestine) “Gazelles sometimes occur, with ridiculous magnitude of horns.”

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Cats for Darwin and Lincoln Day ( […]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42,280 other followers

%d bloggers like this: