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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.45 'Puck' cartoon 2

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In Reason Against Unreason, a cartoon published shortly before Darwin’s death, the American humorous magazine Puck had celebrated him as the embodiment of ‘Reason’. Now, a month after his death, an imaginative drawing in the same journal by Friedrich Graetz makes him The Sun of the Nineteenth Century. The head of Darwin appears in the disc of the rising sun, touched with golden yellow above the deep blue of distant horizons. All around him, the dark clouds of religious obscurantism and tyranny are dispelled with the coming of day, which symbolises scientific enlightenment. A Bible, a papal tiara, cardinal’s hat and priest’s biretta are all visible in the murk, where the banished bigots stop their ears, cover their eyes and howl in dismay, along with creatures of the night or of witchcraft – an owl and flying bats. The cartoon is a clever parody of the great Baroque apotheoses of Graetz’s native Germany and Austria, where religious or princely heroes confound and throw down the forces of darkness – heresy or rebellion. 

The editors and cartoonists working for Puck seem to have detested Roman Catholicism, which they associated with the Irish Democrats involved in Tammany Hall corruption. Nevertheless, The Sun of the Nineteenth Century is not to be understood as a celebration of atheistic militancy. In the accompanying text, the writer (probably Joseph Keppler, the moving spirit of Puck) contrasts Darwin with a champion of agnosticism, Robert Ingersoll, whose popular lectures ridiculed religious dogmas. Darwin ‘had no thought of religion when he made his researches and established his theories. He simply sought scientific truth for its own sake, and he found it’; but, while necessarily combating many ‘long credited ideas’, he always treated the views of religious believers with respect. It is probable that the cartoon was inspired by the eulogies in the press which followed Darwin’s death on 19 April 1882. 

Puck, a weekly publication, had initially been published in German, but became English-language in 1877. It was notable for its use of colour lithography, with several full-page illustrations in each issue. Friedrich Graetz, a long-term associate of Keppler, produced cartoons for Puck c.1882-5, and also contributed to satirical and political magazines in Vienna. 

  • physical location Two copies in the Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library 

  • accession or collection number DAR 215.35d and DAR 216.54 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator of image Friedrich Graetz; signed bottom right ‘F. Graetz’ 

  • date of creation April-May 1882 

  • computer-readable date c.1882-04-21 to 1882-05-02 

  • medium and material chromolithography 

  • references and bibliography Puck, 11:269 (3 May 1882): text, ‘Cartoons and comments’, p. 132; cartoon itself on back page, p. 146. A Selection of Cartoons from Puck, by Joseph Keppler; with text and introduction by H.C. Bunner (New York: Keppler and Schwarzmann, 1893), introduction, pp. vi-vii. 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, 322. Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (London: Michael Joseph, 1991), illus. 89. Information about Friedrich Graetz kindly provided by Susan Liberator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University. 


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