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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.11 'Fun' cartoon, 'A little lecture'

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‘A little lecture by Professor D----n on the development of the horse’, a cartoon drawn by John Gordon Thomson for Fun magazine in July 1871, features ‘Professor’ Darwin addressing an audience of his ‘fellow monkeys’. His supposed animality is in fact restricted to a bent-kneed posture, while a flying handkerchief in his back pocket simulates a waving tail. However, his face – probably based on photographs by Ernest Edwards – has been degraded by exaggeration of his bulbous nose and the flattening of his skull. These traits are mischievously antithetical to the aquiline nose and high forehead which, according to nineteenth-century physiognomic theory, marked out the true intellectual. Darwin’s ‘lecture’ on the evolutionary development of the horse is in fact a nonsensical play on words and puns: drawn on the blackboard, in a numbered sequence, are a horseradish, a horse chestnut, a clothes horse, a child’s hobby horse and so on. ‘We then come to the horse proper’ through all its exploited types, but ‘hors de combat’ (a horse wearing boxing gloves) and other drawings carry on the joke. Darwin says he will now conclude, ‘”feeling a little hoarse myself.” (Tumultuous applause, brickbats, &c.)’. 

Fun was a weekly satirical magazine, edited by Tom Hood (son of the writer Thomas Hood). It sold for a penny and perhaps reached a more popular and liberal audience than Punch. Thomson was one of a large team of cartoonists and illustrators who worked for Fun, and drew many of the political ‘big cuts’. In 1870 the magazine had been bought by the Dalziel family of wood engravers and publishers; here their signature, as engravers, accompanies Thomson’s monogram. 

  • physical location Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library. Other copies are extant. 

  • accession or collection number DAR 140.4.5 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator of image drawn by John Gordon Thomson (signed in monogram bottom left) and engraved by the firm of Dalziel (signed ‘DALZIEL’ at the bottom). 

  • date of creation July 1871 

  • computer-readable date 1871-01-01 to 1871-07-21 

  • medium and material wood engraving 

  • references and bibliography Fun magazine (22 July 1871), p. 38. George and Edward Dalziel, The Brothers Dalziel. A Record of Fifty Years’ Work in Conjunction with Many of the Most Distinguished Artists of the Period 1840-1890 (London: Methuen, 1901), pp. 272-314. J. Don Vann, ‘Comic periodicals’ in Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdell (eds), Victorian periodicals and Victorian Society (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1994), pp. 278-90 (pp. 283, 285). Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Volume II of a Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 377. Browne, ‘Darwin in caricature: a study in the popularization and dissemination of evolutionary theory’, in Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer (eds), The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture (Hanover, NH, and London: Dartmouth College Press, University Press of New England, 2009), pp. 18-39 (pp. 27-9). 


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