by Matthew Cobb
PhD student Benjamin Breen at the University of Texas at Austin has posted this treasure trove at The Appendix. Maybe you all know about it, but I didn’t, and neither did Professor Ceiling Cat. (It was originally published by The Daily Telegraph in 2009, to coincide with an exhibition at Cambridge University Library. PCC and his drudge were obviously napping at the time…)
The surviving 28 pages of the original manuscript of On the Origin of Species are now available online. They includes various scribbles that can be found on the back of the pages, such as this ‘battle of the fruit and vegetable soldiers’, apparently drawn by Darwin’s third son, Francis:
As near as I can make out, it shows a turbaned soldier mounted on a blueberry squaring off with an English dragoon on a carrot-steed. Perhaps inspired by the 1839-1842 Anglo-Afghan War, and filtered through the Darwin household’s fascination with plants and gardening?
And here we have some brightly-coloured birds, one catching a spider, another an indeterminate insect, and a brightly-coloured butterfly, while some other insects hang around a flower. The parrot looks like a serious attempt at drawing.
There’s also this painting of Down House, which Benjamin says is his favourite. I think Professor Ceiling Cat might like this, too, because of the cat in the attic. The perspective here is rather weird, as it’s clearly drawn from the inside…
Fascinatingly, this image might be detailed enough that it actually depicts Darwin’s famous sandwalk, his “thinking path” that led to the family greenhouse (which is, perhaps, the structure visible at the end of the path). The area was later made into a playground for the Darwin children.
The kids also scribbled all over the diary of Emma, Darwin’s wife
[JAC: note “much flatulence” on April 15. I suspect that refers not to Emma but to Charles, who was afflicted with gas his entire post-Beagle life. Darwin and his wife were much obsessed with his digestion as well as his diet, which was prescribed to relieve the symptoms of his chronic but unknown malady, and I’m hoping that someday a historian of science will write a book about it. I already have a title: On the Origin of Feces.]
One of my prize possessions is a printed sheet from an early 17th century natural history book – a lovely woodblock showing various insects. I bought it for €15 in Amsterdam – the reason it was so cheap is that at some point in the last 300 years, a small child got some salmon-coloured chalk and scribbled all over the drawings. This childish vandalism (which the chalk suggests took place before the 20th century) must have been greeted with a howl of parental fury, but only made the sheet more precious to me.
When I was little, my Dad wrote a 6th form (high school) textbook about East Asia; the manuscript was covered with pictures of steam trains, as I would get his attention by asking him to draw me a train (my favourite objects at the time). Sadly, the advent of computers has meant that such distractions don’t get preserved. For each of my books, the most that has happened when my kids have tried to distract me is that they’ve got me to watch some funny YouTube video. There’ll be no traces of such interactions for our Darwins to leave for future historians to pore over…
h/t Katerina Carbin on the University of Manchester Zoology FB page.