Before we begin, let’s all recall the title of Darwin’s greatest work, in full: it was called On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, and it was published on November 24, 1859. (Remember the kerfuffle when Richard Dawkins was excoriated for not remembering it in full? Well, it’s a long title, and I doubt many evolutionists could recite it accurately. And it doesn’t matter.)
Well, it turns out that almost all of the original manuscript of what I’ll call “The Origin” is gone, but 45 pages remain—a few of which bear drawings by his children. The Darwin kids also drew all over his notes and his manuscript for his barnacle monograph and his orchid book. They also drew all over his writing paper. These pages have been digitized courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History and the Cambridge University Library as part of the Darwin Manuscripts Project.
Note that in her post on these drawings at Brainpickings, Maria Popova got it badly wrong, titling her collection of drawings “The charming doodles Darwin’s children left all over the manuscript of ‘On the Origin of Species’“, adding this:
There is no more endearing a testament to how this balance skews — to both the exuberant happiness that children bring and the benign misery of the innocent waywardness — than the doodles Darwin’s children left on the back-leaves and in the margins of his Origin of Species manuscript draft. . .
Nope. In fact, the vast bulk of what she reproduces came from other manuscripts, notes, and blank paper—something Popova doesn’t mention. She really should have exercised due diligence.
At the AMNH website you’ll learn how little of the original manuscripts remain; Darwin saved his letters religiously, but book manuscripts weren’t considered sacrosanct. The manuscript of The Origin was probably largely destroyed after it was set in type by publisher John Murray:
Darwin’s young children sometimes painted pictures and wrote stories on the back of draft manuscripts for Darwin’s books & notes. These drawings & stories were precious to the Darwin family. So it was thanks to the fortunate meeting of the children’s play with their father’s science that these extremely rare manuscripts of the Origin of Species (4 pages), Origin Portfolios type notes (2 notes), Cirripedia (9 pages), Orchids (1 page) were preserved. Otherwise, these items, precious to scholars, would have most likely been destroyed. Moreover, the four Origin pages are part of the only 45 Origin pages (plus 9 insert slips) that are extant–out of the original c. 600 page draft. The 9 surviving Cirripedia pages (8 fragments and 1 full page) are the sole survivors of that massive work. However, most often the children simply used their father’s writing paper–without his writing–to produce their pictures and their tales. We present here the totality of 111 images, which includes 94 images produced by the children and 17 images with drafts or notes in Darwin’s handwriting.
Here are three drawings from manuscript pages of The Origin. This one is “aubergine and carrot cavalry” by Francis Darwin (initialed FD).
Birds and butterfly, probably by Francis Darwin, drawn on back of Origin ms. page:
Down House (the family home), watercolor by Francis Darwin in an Origin ms page. Is that a dog or a cat in the window?
Soldiers with turbans on old Darwin notes; artist not identified:
The horse “Bright,” artist not identified, drawing not on Darwin ms.:
And, presciently, a fish with legs; artist unidentified, not on Darwin ms.:
And here is a rarity: one of the 45 surviving manuscript pages of The Origin (see them all here, along with other information relating to publication). You may remember his famous discussion about how the eye could evolve from a light-sensitive pigment spot: