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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.29 Richard Grant White, 'Fall of man'

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At about the same time as The Hornet pictured Darwin as ‘A Venerable Orang-Outang’, a novella by the American journalist and critic Richard Grant White offered a more scurrilous take on The Descent of Man. The Fall of Man: Or, the Loves of the Gorillas. A Popular Scientific Lecture upon the Darwinian Theory of Development by Sexual Selection was published in London, New York, Toronto and possibly elsewhere in 1871, and must have been a potent influence on the spate of monkey-likenesses of Darwin through the 1870s. However, while most of those caricatures were relatively decorous, White’s satire plays on the notion of female desire involved in the theory of sexual selection, and on the deep-rooted association of apes – gorillas especially – with libidinousness. The ‘wayward fancy and unnatural longing’ of some female gorillas has led – not to aesthetic refinement, but to gross abominations through the mixing of species. In this way the pure race of the gorilla, ‘the ideal creature of the universe’, has gradually degenerated into the ‘cruel, cowardly and ungrateful’ human race. Yet White also turns the joke upside down when he claims to be anxious to ‘convince the world that a Shakespeare may be but an oyster raised to the one-thousandth power, or even a Darwin the cube root of a ring-tailed monkey’. Darwin himself, ‘the learned Um Bugg Hee’, ‘a large and solemn male gorilla, somewhat past middle age’, figures in the story as a lecturer expounding these confused ideas to a gathering of apes and monkeys; he is recognisable by his bushy beard and eyebrows, but is otherwise purely simian. In the two illustrations where he makes an appearance, the naked apes around him, of both sexes, are shown embracing amorously, fighting or cavorting in trees. One wonders whether Darwin viewed this satire with as much good-humoured indulgence as he did the cartoons in The Hornet, Punch etc.   

The wood engravings are prominently signed ‘Stephens’, but it is unclear whether this so-far unidentified artist was the draughtsman or the engraver, or both. 

  • physical location British Library 

  • accession or collection number BL 12315.bbb.40 

  • copyright holder British Library 

  • originator of image ‘Stephens’  

  • date of creation c.1870-1871 

  • computer-readable date c.1870-01-01 to 1871-12-31 

  • medium and material wood engraving 

  • references and bibliography [Richard Grant White], The Fall of Man: Or, The Loves of the Gorillas. A Popular Scientific Lecture upon the Darwinian Theory of Development by Sexual Selection, by a Learned Gorilla. Edited by the Author of ‘The New Gospel of Peace’ (New York: G.W. Carleton and London: S. Low, 1871). Gowan Dawson, Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 39-40. Jane Munro, ‘”More like a work of art than of nature”: Darwin, beauty and sexual selection’, in Diana Donald and Jane Munro (eds), Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 253-291 (pp. 255-6). J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 184. 


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