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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.25 'Punch' 1877 re. Cambridge doctorate

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Punch often ridiculed Darwin by showing him as a monkey or in other animalistic forms, but in 1877, when he at last received an honorary degree from Cambridge University, it paid its tribute to ‘wisdom’. ‘Punch to Dr. Darwin’ is a poem celebrating his work as ‘the clear light that shall illume/ The Future’s farthest ages’, though once impeded by religious ‘zealots’  – the obstinately deluded and dogmatic. In the accompanying drawing, Darwin appears at top left with an open book, above a bearded man with an even larger tome; the latter holds a label in his hand, apparently identifying him as the university’s orator, who made a celebratory speech at the award ceremony on 17 November 1877. The capital ‘O’ of the first line of the poem encloses an allegorical figure with a brightly burning lamp, and a palette is inscribed ‘Ars Longa’: the benefits conferred by Darwin’s wisdom and knowledge, like those of the great doctor Hippocrates, will outlive him. Dazzled by this revelation, creatures of the night – owls and a bat – fly off; the bat holds a smoking censer in its mouth, in a clear reference to religious ritualism. Punch returned to its more customary, jocular form of appreciation in the following pages, with a cartoon by Linley Sambourne depicting the ‘Great International Quadhumanous [sic] Congress’. A rabble of grimacing monkeys scrap over a sheet of newspaper inscribed ‘The Times. Cambridge University election of Prof. Darwin Doctor of Law’. The account of this ‘Congress’, as an assembly of apes and monkeys, clearly alludes to the jape of the Cambridge undergraduates, who dangled a stuffed monkey over Darwin’s head during the proceedings. 

  • physical location Punch magazine, Cambridge University Library and other locations 

  • accession or collection number T992.b.1 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator of image the image is apparently signed ‘P.E.[?] Wallace’ 

  • date of creation late November 1877 

  • computer-readable date c.1877-11-18 to 1877-11-30 

  • medium and material wood engraving 

  • references and bibliography Punch 73 (1 December 1877), p. 241. J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 187. 



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