skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

4.44 'Puck' cartoon 1

< Back to Introduction

In March 1882, a month before Darwin’s death, an admiring image of him appeared in the American comic journal Puck. It was in a cartoon drawn by Joseph Keppler, Puck’s co-publisher, co-editor and chief cartoonist, titled Reason Against Unreason. In a beam of light descending from a dark sky, Darwin leads a phalanx of enlightened rationalists and freethinkers – Huxley, Haeckel and Tyndall, and behind them famous philosophers and scientists of earlier centuries. These thinkers representing ‘Reason’ dazzle and confound the clerical representatives of ‘Unreason’, who hide behind a great black umbrella inscribed ‘Bigotry Supernaturalism Fanaticism’. The unreasoning men include ranting preachers and a crouching zealot who clutches a ‘fetish’ – perhaps the Bible or a dogmatic work. Puck’s particular animosity towards Roman Catholicism is evident in the scene at bottom right, inserted as though on a sheet of paper: the Pope, a priest and a monk have trepanned the head of a disreputable plebeian, and are pouring ‘Superstition’ into it through a funnel. The scene at top left is the antithesis to this; we see three beautiful maidens, perhaps representing the Graces, who are bestowing divine gifts on a new-born child: ‘God made Man and Endowed him with Free Will, Memory and Understanding’.  

The device of the giant umbrella sheltering institutional religion is reminiscent of Our National Church, the satire designed in two versions by George Jacob Holyoake, which also featured Darwin, Huxley et al. as the adversaries of Popish superstitions and fanaticism. Keppler may well have seen an impression of the first version of this print, published in London c.1873. However, the representation of Darwin as an active enemy of religious obscurantism and tyranny is more characteristic of mainland European countries and of the United States than it is of Britain. Keppler’s Reason Against Unreason could be compared with (for example) André Gill’s caricature in La Lune Rousse of 1878, which showed Darwin as a circus animal jumping through paper hoops labelled ‘Credulité’ and ‘Ignorance’. 

Joseph Keppler was Austrian-born, and many of the other artists and writers employed by Puck – America’s first successful humorous magazine  – also came from Austria or Germany, as did its printers. In fact, Puck started in 1876 as a German-language publication, but was published in English from 1877 onwards, as a New York weekly magazine. (A German edition continued alongside for a time; Reason Against Unreason exists in a version with German captions.) Puck was notable for its liberalism and its daring attacks on political corruption, charlatanism and religious humbug in America. It had a large circulation and influence in the 1880s and 1890s, its success being largely attributable to its innovatory and lavish use of colour lithography, with several full-page illustrations in each issue. The co-editor of Puck, H.C. Bunner, in his introduction to an anthology of Keppler’s cartoons, claimed that the combination of cartooning with bold caricature was a German tradition, now introduced to America. Puck’s expressive house style is certainly very different from the staid manner of contemporary Punch political cartoonists like Tenniel. Yet Keppler’s drawings, with their rich combination of personal caricature, visionary symbolism and mock-heroic parody, often seem to be inspired by an earlier phase of English graphic satire  – the style of James Gillray in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 

  • physical location Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC. Other copies exist.
  • accession or collection number control no. 2012645621; reproduction no. LC-DIG-ppmsca-28456 

  • copyright holder Library of Congress, Washington DC 

  • originator of image Joseph Ferdinand Keppler (signed lower right ‘J. Keppler’) 

  • date of creation March 1882 

  • computer-readable date 1882-01-01 to 1882-03-07   

  • medium and material chromolithography  

  • references and bibliography Puck 11:261 (8 March 1882), centrefold. A Selection of Cartoons from Puck, by Joseph Keppler; with Text and Introduction by H.C. Bunner (New York: Keppler and Schwarzmann, 1893),, with biographical information on Keppler. Marion Harry Alexander Spielmann, article on ‘Caricature’ in Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 ed., vol. 5, p. 335. Online information and catalogue of the Library of Congress. Michael Alexander Kahn and Richard Samuel West, What Fools These Mortals Be! The Story of Puck: America’s First and Most Influential Magazine of Color Political Cartoons (San Diego: IDW Publishing, 2014), pp. 11-15. 



In this section: