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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.18 'Figaro' chromolithograph 1

In a cartoon of 1874 by Figaro’s French-born artist Faustin Betbeder (known as Faustin), Darwin holds up a mirror reflecting himself and the startled ape sitting beside him. Their hairy bodies, seen against a background of palm trees, are made to look closely alike, but their heads are quite unalike. These features of the caricature relate to a commentary on page 3 of the journal, headed ‘Man not monkey’. The unnamed author argues that Darwin’s brilliance as a naturalist has made his theory of humans’ relationship to apes seem persuasive; but it is unproven – indeed, ‘an untenable and repulsive theory’, which the ‘instinct of humanity rejects’. ‘Mr. Darwin . . . notes resemblances, and concludes that man and monkey are one race; but he passes by the still more conspicuous dissimilitudes’. ‘To point the satire’ in Faustin’s caricature, ‘the man and monkey are drawn with resemblances that do not exist in nature’, but ‘it was impossible for the artist to veil the difference which makes it apparent that man is not the offspring of the monkey’. Whether this anti-Darwinian argument – a surprising one for 1874 – was genuine or tongue-in-cheek, it is impossible to say; but James Paradis has suggested that Figaro in London was an important ‘conduit for conveying scientific ideas of the day to the broad public’ through satire. 

Figaro was founded, edited and owned by James Mortimer and at this time it had a very wide circulation. Faustin’s caricature of Darwin appeared on the front page of the issue for 18 February 1874, surrounded by an elaborate wood-engraved frame, which is titled ‘Figaro’s London Sketch Book of Celebrities’. In the spaces on either side of the image, there is an advertisement for the February number of Figaro’s sister paper The London Sketch-Book (a more expensive monthly publication), which was also edited by Mortimer. This was to contain five caricature chromolithographs of celebrities ‘on plain paper’, apparently inserted as loose sheets, so that they could be lifted out for albums, framing etc. They included royalty, politicians, and a medley of public figures, emulating the famous series in Vanity Fair. The caricature of Darwin was not included until the May 1874 issue of the Sketch-Book (vol. 1, no. 5).  

Faustin’s caricature of Darwin survives in copies with many variations in the wording and typography of the caption, suggesting that it was frequently reissued in different formats. Several such variants are in the Warren D. Mohr collection of Darwiniana in the Huntington Library at San Marino, California. There is also an impression in the Victoria & Albert Museum, Prints and Drawings (E531-1964). 

  • physical location Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library 

  • accession or collection number DAR 140 4.9 and 225.177 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator of image Faustin Betbeder; signed ‘F’ at bottom left. 

  • date of creation February 1874 

  • computer-readable date c. 1874-02-01 to 1874-02-17 

  •  medium and material chromolithograph, here with a wood-engraved ornamental frame 

  • references and bibliography Information and photographs kindly provided by Stephanie Arias of the Huntington Library. Figaro no. 475 (18 February 1874), cover illustration. James G. Paradis, ‘Satire and science in Victorian culture’, in Bernard Lightman (ed.), Victorian Science in Context (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 143-175 (p. 147). Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Volume II of a Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 376. Browne, ‘Presidential address: Commemorating Darwin’, British Journal for the History of Science, 38:3 (Sept. 2005), pp. 251-274 (pp. 253-4). 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), pp. 18-39 (pp. 24-6). 


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