skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

4.43 'Illustrated London News' article

< Back to Introduction

In September 1887 the Illustrated London News reviewed G.T. Bettany’s popular biography of Darwin, and the reviewer took this opportunity to offer his own thoughts on the ‘domestic tranquillity’ and ‘unassuming modesty’ of Darwin’s life at Down. He was a man of noble character who ‘cared more for the cause of science than for personal self-exaltation’. A few months later, this view of Darwin was presented pictorially in the same journal. In a whole-page spread of wood engravings, we see, firstly, Boehm’s statue of Darwin in the Natural History Museum, symbolising his status as ‘one of the greatest of naturalists and thinkers on natural philosophy’. Below, a taxidermy group of various breeds of domestic pigeons fluttering round a dovecote, exhibited in the grand entry hall of the Museum, illustrates Darwin’s central theory about the evolution of species. The pigeons’ common ancestor, the wild ‘blue rock-dove’, is shown hovering at the top of the display case.  

The other images on the page evoke Darwin’s private life at Down, ‘the places and objects amidst which he quietly continued a series of studies, perhaps more important than any since those of Sir Isaac Newton to the knowledge of the laws of the material universe’. A pattern had already been provided by the Graphic magazine, which, soon after Darwin’s death, had published an engraving of his study, his familiar cloak still thrown over the chair back. It was a poignant image of loss, reminiscent of Fildes’s famous picture of Dickens’s empty chair, which had also appeared in the Graphic. The Illustrated London News now went further: drawing on information in Francis Darwin’s recently published Life and Letters, it showed Darwin’s daily routine in his last years. He is lost in thought at his desk; visiting his greenhouse, to examine a plant; taking his ‘usual walk’ in the grounds; and conversing with two ladies on the lawn, with the garden front of the house seen beyond. This calm, civilised and respectable milieu, with its pleasure in the observation of nature, seemed to confirm the message of the accompanying article: that those with ‘educated minds’ no longer viewed Darwin’s theories as ‘hostile to spiritual religion’. 

  • physical location Cambridge University Library 

  • accession or collection number NPR.C.313 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originators of images Alfred Parsons and Daniel Robert Warry (some of the engravings are signed or initialled) 

  • date of creation 1887 

  • computer-readable date 1887-12-1 to 1887-12-10 

  • medium and material wood engravings from photographs and from drawings by the named artists 

  • references and bibliography ‘Mr. Darwin’s house at Down, Kent’, Graphic, 26:657 (1 July 1882), p. 16, illustration by J.R. Brown. ‘The late Mr Darwin’, Illustrated London News, 91:2527 (24 September 1887), p. 377. ‘The late Mr Darwin’, second article, Illustrated London News, 91:2538 (10 Dec. 1887), pp.686-8. 


In this section: