Student daze

Early October inevitably brings signs of autumn to Cambridge: chilled breezes, colourful leaves, and wide-eyed Freshers wandering through town and library full of fear and anticipation for their university career. Clearly, the university experience has changed dramatically in the last two hundred years, but some student concerns remain the same – where to live, whom you’ll meet, whether classes are interesting, how to take advantage of a new city and independence.

 

Charles Darwin was not immune to any of these concerns. He went off with his older brother, Erasmus, to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in October 1825. Darwin was only sixteen, and was not known to be particularly studious. His first letter back to his father, written [23 October 1825] strikes a familiar note to everyone who has been a student – he dutifully told his father about his accommodation, sending the address and a description, pointing out that the rooms were nice, light, and also very near their lectures, to justify the cost and their choice. They were oriented by a kindly theology professor who took pity on them and gave them a map. They acquainted themselves with the city, went to the theatre, and attended their matriculation ceremony. Darwin was pleasantly surprised that when they attended a local church the sermon was limited to twenty minutes, having feared that a Scottish homily would go on for hours! Throughout his studies Darwin continued to make the most of the entertainment possibilities presented to him, attending dinner parties, the theatre, and reading the popular novels of the day (and, of course, occasionally asking his father for money), as shown in a letter to his sister Susan in January 1826.

 

Darwin kept in touch with all his sisters, a written conversation that he continued years later even when he was far away on the Beagle. By the time he wrote to his sister Caroline in January he was very accustomed to his studies, and had settled opinions on his lecturers and their topics. He seemed to enjoy the practical lectures involving particular patients (despite being very distressed by some), but had no taste for anatomy. He recorded in his Autobiography that he twice witnessed operations; in 1825 and 1826 there was no form of anaesthesia available, and he found the experiences so appalling that both times he had to rush out before the operation was complete and after the second time refused ever to go back again. Darwin wrote in his Autobiography of the way his scientific thought was formed during his years at the University of Edinburgh can, and suggested that many of the experiences he later found most important were related to the people he met and the societies he joined rather than lectures, which for the most part he found rather dry. He made good use of the scientific acquaintance available to him through the university, finding people to encourage his interests in geology and marine zoology.

 

After two years, it was clear to the Darwin clan that Charles was not cut out to be a physician. Accordingly, his father sent him off to Cambridge, preferring to have a clergyman for a son than an idle gentleman. This, of course, was a whole new chapter of life that led ultimately to his journey around the world on the Beagle – and would need a whole new blog post to itself!

 

For more information on Darwin’s earliest student days, check out our article on his student reading notebook, available here.

Darwin’s Women Film

Dr Philippa Hardman in the Darwin archive at Cambridge University Library

Dr Philippa Hardman in the Darwin archive at Cambridge University Library

To conclude the Darwin & Gender research project a short film has been produced. In the film Dr Philippa Hardman presents the project’s findings saying: “Darwin was no feminist, but our research has shown that his views on gender were a lot more complex than has been acknowledged in the past.”

 

As a man who, when working out whether to marry, once reasoned that a wife was “better than a dog, anyhow” Charles Darwin is not known to history as a leading advocate of gender equality.

 

Controversial though his views on other subjects may have been, historians have typically seen the great scientist as the epitome of the Victorian conservative when it came to gender. Famously, Darwin even stated that there were fundamental “differences in the mental powers of the sexes”.

 

Now, though, it seems that there may have been more to Darwin’s views on gender than he allowed into the public eye.

 

In his book Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), Darwin famously attacked John Stuart Mill’s feminist tract, The Subjection Of Women, arguing that: “Woman seems to differ from man in her mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness”.

 

The letters show, however, that in private he relied on a range of women correspondents for help with some of his most serious work. These included his own daughter, Henrietta, who was heavily involved in editing Descent – a book which counted as positively risqué by the standards of the time for its explicit information about sexual display.

 

Other correspondents included scientists like Mary Treat, the New Jersey-based naturalist, Lady Florence Dixie, a British traveler and writer, and Lydia Becker, the Manchester-based secretary of the National Society of Women’s Suffrage.

 

Philippa regards the stories that emerge from the correspondence as a message as well as an inspiration. “If we really want to honour the achievements of the women whose words we read in Darwin’s letters, we should do more than celebrate their lives,” she concludes in the film. “We should pick up where they left off.”

 

 

Learn more about the Darwin & Gender Project on our website and read more about the film in the Cambridge University press release: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/darwins-women#sthash.SKQakeJh.bmbmNjp0.dpuf

Lost in Patagonia

A "Patagonian Indian" sketched by Conrad Martens at Gregory Bay in 1834, MS.Add.7983: 31, ©Cambridge University Library

A “Patagonian Indian” sketched by Conrad Martens at Gregory Bay in 1834, MS.Add.7983: 31, ©Cambridge University Library

In 1874, when Darwin was preparing the second edition of Descent of Man, he received letters from all over the world in reply to his queries about human behaviour; one in particular would have stirred up unexpected memories of his own time among the native peoples of South AmericaTitus Munson Coan, an American doctor, passed on a message to Darwin from his father, also called Titus Coan, who, as a young missionary, had spent a few hazardous weeks among the indigenous peoples of Patagonia on the north shore of the Magellan Strait.The 32-year-old Coan had landed at Gregory Bay (now in Chile) on 14 November 1833, and left again on 25 January 1834. Just one day later, the twenty-two year old Darwin arrived in the Strait on board HMS Beagle.  In his diary entry for 29 January 1834, Darwin described anchoring in Gregory Bay and going ashore with Captain FitzRoy where they were met by a group of Toldos:  their appearance, he wrote, was rather wild, with long hair and faces painted red and black, but they gave the Beagle crew a kind reception.

 

Coan and his fellow missionary, William Arms, were also made welcome, but they were poorly equipped and unprepared and after sharing the daily lives of the natives for two months without being able to communicate beyond a few shared words of Spanish, they abandoned their mission. Extracts from their diaries were published in the Missionary Herald in 1834 and 1835 , and a complete transcript of Coan’s diary,  now in the Library Congress,  was made available online just this month.

 

Darwin’s queries about the practice of infanticide reached Coan in Hawaii where he and his wife had been running a mission station since 1835, his next posting after his return from Patagonia.  Through his son, he told Darwin that although infanticide was sometimes practised, it was not prevalent in Hawaii, and moreover  didn’t favour the survival of one sex over the other as Darwin had suspected it might.

 

Much later, Titus Coan published an account of his missionary career and Darwin acquired a copy which is still on the Darwin Archive in Cambridge University Library. The Library also has two sketchbooks of Conrad Martens, the official artist on the Beagle voyage, which are available here.

We are adapting…

Having successfully completed two research projects this summer – Darwin & Human Nature, and Darwin & Gender – we are making some changes to our blog and twitter feeds. So much that is intriguing, quirky, or topical in Darwin’s letters just gets passed around the table here at teatime and never makes it into our footnotes, so we’re looking forward to being able to share some of our more entertaining gems with you.

 

In order to integrate our twitter output we will be rebranding @DarwinWomen and discontinuing @DarwinHuman in the coming weeks. The rebranded twitter feed will be @MyDearDarwin and will cover a wider range of subjects, make announcements about the Darwin Correspondence Project, and pass on quotes from Darwin letters.

 

The blogs for the Human Nature and Gender projects will also be discontinued, but the posts will stay available and we will continue posting to our main Project blog “Natural Selections”.

 

Sadly the end of the research projects also means that we are saying goodbye to a number of colleagues who worked with us on them: Sophie Defrance who was the research associate on the Human Nature project, and Philippa Hardman, the research associate on the Gender project who were both based here in Cambridge, but also our research team in Harvard – Geoff Belknap, Myrna Perez, Katie Ericksen Baca, Megan Formato, and Andrew Inkpen. We wish them all the very best of luck for the future.

 

Darwin & Human Nature Project 
The Darwin & Human Nature project was a major international research initiative in the history of evolutionary views of human nature.  Its goals have already been accomplished and we hope those following this project will continue to take an interest in the main blog and twitter account. Take a look at the web pages for more information about the Darwin & Human Nature project which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the National Science Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation.

 

Darwin & Gender Project
The ‘Darwin and Gender’ research and education project, funded by The Bonita Trust, ran from 2009 until 2013. Conducted in parallel with the Human Nature project, it explored issues of gender in relation to Darwin’s life and work, and created educational resources based on Darwin’s correspondence for use in both universities and schools. For more, see the Darwin & Gender: An Introduction article.

 

The Darwin Correspondence Project Harvard office
The team at Harvard, who also included Alistair Sponsel, Rebecca Woods, and Jenna Tonn, and were directed by Janet Browne, have supported many activities of the Darwin Correspondence Project over the last four years. They helped develop materials for the Darwin & Gender project and the Darwin & Human Nature project, and contributed widely to the University Courses, as well as blogging and tweeting. They transcribed manuscript material, and provided invaluable support for the editorial team, tracking down research queries that were sometimes very obscure indeed. We are also very grateful to Kelly Buttermore of the American Council of Learned Societies, and all our other colleagues there, for the support they provided to the Harvard office over the last few years.

Supplanted by Jane

Existing portrait of Charles Darwin on the £10 note and the concept portrait of Jane Austen set to replace him. © Bank of England

Existing portrait of Charles Darwin on the £10 note and the concept portrait of Jane Austen set to replace him. © Bank of England

Charles Darwin is to be replaced on the £10 note by Jane Austen! Today (25 July) there are pictures of the new design in the press. So would Darwin have been disappointed that a naturalist has been usurped by a writer of popular novels? Before we take umbrage on his behalf, let’s look at the evidence.

 

Darwin was an enthusiastic devourer of novels. He wrote in his Autobiography:

 

A surprising number have been read aloud to me, and I like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily—against which a law ought to be passed. A novel, according to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if it be a pretty woman all the better.’
(pp. 138-9)

 

He did keep a couple of reading notebooks and although the vast majority of titles are scientific, they include a little poetry, some Shakespeare and a few novels. You can find out more about these notebooks at http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/what-darwin-read.

 

Darwin notes that in 1840 while staying at Maer, the family home of his wife, Emma Wedgwood, he read Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey (DAR 119: 9b).

 

Emma’s sisters were close readers of Jane Austen. As Darwin prepared for his voyage round the world, Charlotte Wedgwood wrote to him about Fitzroy, the commander of the Beagle, ‘I am delighted that you have fallen in with a Captain Wentworth—’ and tells him the following anecdote:

 

Miss Julia Mainwaring came here today to intreat some of us to go & help her to entertain a party of officers today she being the only lady— nobody would go but Emma, who when she found she could not get Fanny to go & keep her in countenance had great scruples lest she should appear too Lydiaish, however by going rather early she hoped she should appear to be staying with Miss Julia, rather than come express to meet the officers.

 

So Charlotte reckoned that Darwin knew Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice, and indeed he wrote to his own sister, Caroline, ‘Love to Susan and tell her I will not take Persuasion, as the Captain [FitzRoy] says he will not read it, & there is no danger of my forgetting it’; and to his sister Catherine, ‘When you read this I am afraid you will think that I am like the Midshipman in Persuasion who never wrote home, excepting when he wanted to beg: it is chiefly for more books; those most valuable of all valuable things’.

 

And what about Emma? Darwin’s sister, Susan, wrote:‘Your letter has been read very often over to Papa (like Mrs. Bates)’.

 

Darwin assumed that his male friends were appreciative of Jane Austen, too. To Charles Whitley, a friend from Shrewsbury School, he wrote:

 

I do hope you will write to me. (“H.M.S. Beagle, S. American Station” will find me); I should much like to hear in what state you are, both in body & mind.—  . . . if you are not a married man, & may be nursing, as Miss Austen says, little olive branches, little pledges of mutual affection.— Eheu Eheu, this puts me in mind, of former visions, of glimpses into futurity, where I fancied I saw, retirement, green cottages & white petticoats.—

 

As for Emma herself, she wrote:

 

so Goodbye my dear old Charley Tell me how you are. I do not like your looking so unwell & being so overtired   when I come & look after you I shall scold you into health like Lady Cath. de Burgh used to do to the poor people.

 

A few weeks before their wedding she wrote to her fiancé:I am reading Mansfield Park which I find very suitable. Did you ever see such lovely weather. Write soon like a good boy for your letters are not thrown away upon me’.

 

So Charles Darwin and his sisters, and his wife Emma and her sisters, were all enthusiastic Janeites. But here is the last word from the younger generation, Darwin and Emma’s third son, Francis, who wrote to his sister, Henrietta, on 13 April 18[69] when they were in their 20’s:

 

I have just finished Sense & Sensibility what capital fun it is— it was so long since I had read one of her novels that I thought I didn’t like them— But how fearfully vulgar the people are— I suppose its true to nature but thanks good, commonplace worldly gentlemen & ladies are not so vulgar now
(DAR 210.2: 9).

Darwin’s Photographic Portraits

Charles Darwin, 1878, Leonard Darwin, Dar 225:119, ©Cambridge University Library

Charles Darwin, 1878, Leonard Darwin, Dar 225:119, ©Cambridge University Library

Darwin’s picture is everywhere. It’s on the £10 bank note, it’s all over this website, and in most science textbooks. But where exactly did these images that we know so well come from?

 

The archives of the Darwin Correspondence Project are full of various photographs made for and of Darwin – the largest collection relating to Darwin’s work on Expressions and Emotions in Man and Animal. But when you look more closely at his letters, there are hundreds more photos – ones that were sent and received in the post by Darwin and his scientific friends. Many of these photographic letters now only contain a reference to the portrait – with the image removed from the enclosure and placed in a frame or in an album.

 

Darwin’s photographic portraits were sent everywhere. They were included in letters, sold in shops and reproduced in newspapers. Here, we bring together a list of the various photographs which were produced of Darwin throughout his life, and a discussion of who did the producing.

 

For more information please see our new article on Darwin’s Photographic Portraits.

 

Posted by Geoff Belknap

The elusive Mr Roberts

Bridegroom or Priest? A ring intwined with a dog-collar.   In 1874, when Darwin fell out spectacularly with the zoologist St George Jackson Mivart, and refused to communicate any further with him, an intermediary was proposed – a Mr Roberts. But Mr Roberts proved intriguingly elusive: was he a Catholic priest, or an eager bridegroom – or possibly even both?

 

In the 1860’s Mivart had supported Darwin’s theories, but later he became less enthusiastic and more disputatious (as discussed in volume 19 of the Correspondence. After an unforgivable anonymous attack on an article by Darwin’s eldest son, George, Thomas Huxley suggested approaching Mivart through an intermediary, a Mr Roberts, who came to his public lectures.

 

So who was Mr Roberts? A letter from Huxley to Hooker (19 December 1874) refers to Roberts as Mivart’s ‘ghostly father’ and also describes him as ‘a gentleman’. Rome’s recruits (a list of English converts to Catholicism) lists in its earlier editions a ‘William W. Roberts, M.A., Oxford. A priest’ and in the published lists of Oxford students we find ‘Roberts, William Walter, [first son of] John Walter, of London . . . Merton College, matric[ulated] 15 March, 1849, aged 19’. He appears in the 1851 census, an Oxford undergraduate, with his widowed mother and his sister as the son of Capt. John Walter Roberts, R.N. In 1859, Father Roberts was mentioned in a bizarre court case apparently involving a pupil whom he refused to allow to leave his school. He appears in the censuses for 1861 and 1871 as a Catholic priest in London; in 1871 he is also described as a landowner. There is no evidence of his death as a Catholic priest.

 

However, there is a report in the Scotsman of 28 February 1879 on the efforts of the Revd William Walter Roberts to live with his wife, Ann Shannon Caird, the daughter of James Caird, of the Seafield Arms Hotel, Cullen. The couple had contracted an irregular marriage on 10 September 1878, but the bride’s father was unwilling to give her up to her husband. William and Ann Roberts and their subsequent family appear in the censuses for 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. He is always described as a clergyman. William Walter Roberts died aged 81 on 28 August 1911.

 

So is there just one William Walter Roberts? Since the name is not uncommon, we had to make sure we weren’t conflating two separate individuals, even though the catholic priest’s death was unrecorded and the married priest’s previous life was undocumented.

 

In the end, all was made clear in an article by Mivart about Thomas Huxley that explained the transition. Roberts’ mother was an aunt of Cardinal Henry Manning by marriage. After his wife’s early death, Henry Manning converted to Catholicism in 1851. ‘Mr Roberts was at that time [1868] leading a very austere life, dwelling at a school in a slum known as Charles Street, Drury Lane. At that time Mr Roberts was Father Roberts, a priest of the Congregation of the Oblates of St Charles Borromeo [founded by Cardinal Manning]… about eight years after the Vatican Council [1869-70] he seceded from the Catholic Church.’
In the end we found lots of facts about William Walter Roberts, but not the ones you really want to know. Was he a religious enthusiast with a taste for litigation, an idealistic objector, or a handsome charmer who fell for younger women? The editors are undecided . . .

Coming soon to a library near you

 

We were very excited this morning to receive a package with our first Darwin with volume 20copies of volume 20 of The correspondence of Charles Darwin, which contains letters from the year 1872. This was a very significant year for Darwin, who was not only re-visiting material from the Origin of species in order to produce a cheap edition, but at the same time was finishing his work on  Expression of the emotions, continuing his experiments on insectivorous plants, and also starting in earnest to gather information on worms. Additionally, Darwin’s friend Joseph Dalton Hooker was involved in a dispute  with Acton Smee Ayrton, first commissioner of works, about the running of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew; Darwin did some  some discreet lobbying behind the scenes to drum up support for Hooker. The breadth of subjects covered in this volume is astonishing, even for Darwin, so it was a fascinating one to produce. We hope  it will also be an engaging read.

A year in Darwin’s life – in (dirty) pictures

Work in progress: 1873 visuals during preparation

Work in progress: 1873 visuals during preparation

Behind every great website…. lies a lot of research, and quite often, a printed book. Or several.

 

Some of you may not be aware that in addition to appearing on this website, all of Charles Darwin’s letters are being published by Cambridge University Press in a series of large, green hardcover volumes as The correspondence of Charles Darwin . The first seven volumes each cover several years, but from volume 8 (which covers 1860) each volume contains the correspondence of just one year of Darwin’s life. We sent the most recent, volume 21, to press this week (and yes, we did celebrate), and when it is published, you will be able to read all the letters Darwin wrote and received in 1873.

 

For a great snapshot of Darwin’s life and work that year you just have to look at the many visuals contained in the letters. Darwin’s correspondents that year sent him delicate watercolours of sprouting seeds from France, tracings of ancient Egyptian pictures of dogs and oxen, ink drawings of a hairy ear and a frightened lemming, a photograph of two Dutch students – clutching their very own Darwin letter – not to mention lots of botanical illustrations and sketches of pieces of experimental apparatus. There is even a pencil drawing of a pair of lacy knickers sent by an Australian museum curator along with an English translation of a dirty poem by a German physiologist! It’s an unusually large and varied set, and has provided hours of entertainment for our technical experts who prepared all these for publication, often from high quality digital images taken by the Library’s Imaging Services Department, before being inserted into the letter texts.

 

Watch this space to find out the publication date of volume 21, and in the meantime we hope very soon to announce the publication of volume 20!

5000 letter images go online

We are collaborating with the Cambridge Digital Library to publish images of 1200 letters exchanged by Darwin with his closest friend, Joseph Dalton Hooker – more than 5000 images in total.  This is the single largest publication of images of Darwin’s letters and 300 of the letters are previously unpublished.

 

No single set of letters was more important to Darwin than those exchanged with the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911). Their letters account for around 10% of Darwin’s surviving correspondence and provide a structure within which all the other letters can be explored.  They are a connecting thread that spans forty years of Darwin’s mature working life from 1843 until his death in 1882, and bring into sharp focus every aspect of Darwin’s scientific work throughout that period. They illuminate the mutual friendships he and Hooker shared with other scientists, but they also provide a window of unparalleled intimacy into the personal lives of the two men.

 

The 300 previously unpublished, cover the last decade of Darwin’s life and give almost day to day detail on the experiments that led to his books on insectivorous plants and plants that move – both crucial evidence of the relatedness of plants and animals (and humans of course). And also to his final and most popular book – on earthworms, published shortly before he died. They cover the death of Hooker’s first wife, Frances, and his remarriage to Hyacinth Symonds. And Darwin’s behind-the-scenes involvement in lobbying parliament to control, but not altogether to ban, vivisection.

 

Read more about the letters here.