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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.4 Thomas Huxley, caricature sketch

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This amusing sketch signed by Thomas Huxley is in a letter that he wrote to Darwin on 20 July 1868. By the late 1860s, Origin of Species had given rise to extreme adulation of Darwin on the part of some of the younger German scientists. Ernst Haeckel, the principal preacher of Darwinismus in Germany, visited Down in 1866, and was ecstatic about his face-to-face meeting with Darwin. Huxley, knowing Darwin’s poor state of health, explained to the latter that another enthusiast, the physiologist Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne, a ‘monstrous clever fellow’  wanted to know whether there was ‘any possibility of his paying his devotions at the Shrine of Dr. Darwin’. He continued, ‘I have told him that that great Saint though always kind to worshippers is not always in a condition to be worshipped – In fact that the best incense occasionally gives him a sick headache. However I promised to make inquiries & let Kühne know. Tell me what I shall say, if you do not care to see him.’ As it happened, the Darwin family went to the Isle of Wight in July 1868, so the visit is unlikely to have taken place. 

In Huxley’s drawing, Kühne, looking older than his actual age of thirty-one, is imagined as kneeling before Darwin, swinging a censer from which the perfume of adoration rises, as the great man extends his hand in blessing. Darwin is enthroned on a dais and wears papal robes. His mitre is inscribed ‘Pangenesis’ – then considered the most difficult or questionable of Darwin’s theories. His crozier bears a cloud-like attachment inscribed ‘variation’, and its staff is ‘selection’ – the linked phenomena on which the theory of natural selection depended.  While neatly inverting the general association of Darwinism with atheism and anticlericalism, the sketch is a cheerful celebration of the growing international acceptance of Darwin’s ideas at this time, which made Down House a place of pilgrimage.  

Apparently Darwin’s brother Erasmus had made an equally irreverent but affectionate caricature of him twenty-one years earlier, in 1847, for the amusement of their young nephew, Alfred Allen Wedgwood, then a child of about five. This ‘grotesque drawing’ was included in an exhibition at the Wedgwood Museum in 1982, but is now untraced. There may have been many such doodled family portraits.    

  • physical location whereabouts of the original unknown: photocopy in the Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library  

  • accession or collection number DAR 221.4.254 (photocopy) 

  • copyright holder (photocopy) Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator of image Thomas Henry Huxley 

  • date of creation 20 July, 1868 

  • computer-readable date 1868-07-20 

  • medium and material pen and ink 

  • references and bibliography Darwin Correspondence Project, DCP-LETT-6283. Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (London: Michael Joseph, 1991), p. 562, illus. 75. For the ‘grotesque drawing’ of 1847: leaflet in the Wedgwood Museum archive, The Wedgwoods and the Darwins: an Exhibition to mark the Centenary of the Death of Charles Darwin (1982), no. 30. J. Van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 134: the original letter with Huxley’s pen drawing is ‘said to be in a private collection’. 


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