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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.14 'Fun' cartoon, 'That troubles'

Of all the cartoons showing Darwin as an ape, ‘That troubles our monkey again’ by John Gordon Thomson is the only one that hints, albeit playfully, at improper behaviour. Descent of Man had been criticised for its apparent focus on sexuality, and the drawing may even have recalled ancient fears – allegedly amplified by Descent - of the possibility of couplings between apes and human women, which, as Gowan Dawson has shown, were commonplace in the pornographic literature of the period. Darwin squats animal-fashion, his tail forming a rampant, erected S-bend, to feel the pulse of a fashionably dressed lady, and raises a finger of the other hand as though gratified by confirmation of his theories. The ‘Female descendant of Marine Ascidian’ looks down with surprise and disapproval, protesting over the insinuations in Darwin’s recently published Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals: ‘Really, Mr. Darwin, say what you like about man; but I wish you would leave my emotions alone.’ Darwin had devoted a whole chapter of Expression to the phenomenon of blushing, which he found to be much more prevalent among women, especially young women, than among men. A ‘relaxation of the muscular coats of the small arteries, by which the capillaries become filled with blood’ could be caused by shyness, self-consciousness as to one’s appearance or dress, a sense of shame or offended delicacy – all emotions to which sensitive and well-bred ladies were particularly prone. Darwin concluded, ‘a pretty girl blushes when a man gazes intently at her, though she may know perfectly well that he is not depreciating her.’ ‘No doubt a slight blush adds to the beauty of a maiden’s face’, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had explained, ‘the Circassian women who are capable of blushing, invariably fetch a higher price in the seraglio of the Sultan than less susceptible women.’ Darwin wanted to know how far down the female body a blush normally extended, and rather obsessively sought enlightenment on this point from artists who drew modest girls posing for them as life models, and from doctors who sounded the chests of female patients. However, in a poem titled ‘The emotions’ accompanying Thomson’s cartoon in Fun, Darwin stands accused of naivety rather than prurience: 

We think we see a blush – 

Why, tush! 

‘Tis but a flush 

Obtainable with powder and a brush, 

Or coloured lotion! 

And so we fail to trace 

In woman’s face 

The real, plain expression of Emotion! 

The fashionable lady in the drawing is indeed a creature of high artifice, her gigantic bustle and fitted jacket tapering upwards to a tiny face and hat, at the furthest extreme from Darwin’s much larger grizzled head. 

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

  • accession or collection number DAR 140.4.7 

  • 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’ below Darwin’s feet) 

  • date of creation November 1872 

  • computer-readable date 1872-11-01 to 1872-11-15 

  • medium and material wood engraving 

  • references and bibliography Fun magazine (16 November 1872), p. 203. Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (London: John Murray, 1872), chapter 13 (pp. 310f.), ‘Self-attention – Shame – Shyness – Modesty: Blushing’. ‘The Emotions’, a poem in Fun (16 November 1872), p. 200. 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. Jonathan Smith, Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 20-1, 240-243. Gowan Dawson, Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 28, 55, 73-4. Janet 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: Dartmouth College Press and University Press of New England, 2009), p. 28. 


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