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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.46 'Puck' cartoon 3

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In 1885 Darwin made yet another posthumous appearance in the New York satirical magazine Puck – again in a religious context. ‘SHEOL’ referred to the recently published Revised edition of the Bible, which modified the text of the King James or Authorised version; the purpose of the revisions being to improve the translations from ancient Hebrew and Greek sources, to modernise the diction and to assimilate recent biblical scholarship. The work had been undertaken by a very large group of British and American scholars from various Protestant denominations, who hoped that it would be adopted by the Anglican and Episcopal churches. The revised translation of the New Testament, initially published in 1881, was criticised as graceless and over literal, but Puck found less to criticise in the revised Old Testament, which appeared in 1885. The translators who had worked on the latter made few changes to the familiar Authorised version: the only important change was ‘the substitution . . . of the Hebrew word “Sheol” for the English word Hell. “Sheol”, it seems, is not Hell’, but ‘simply the abode of the dead, the Hades of the Greeks, not in any way a place of torment, but merely the retreat of the earth-freed spirit’. Puck, with its hatred of religious obscurantism – ‘antiquated theology of the sulphurous sort’ – rejoiced that people would no longer be made miserable by a ‘gross belief’ in hell fire, ‘that hideous threat of eternal torment . . . Let us not say of the meanest of our dead brothers that he is gone to hell – nay, not even if he were as certain a sinner as jeering Voltaire or as sure a child of Belial as fiddling, jigging Jacques Offenbach’. 

In Keppler’s richly detailed cartoon the door of Hell is barred and padlocked, with Satan, now unemployed, sitting grumpily outside it. Charon ferries the souls of the once-damned across the Styx to ‘Sheol’ – a ‘Pleasant Watering Place’ with a classical fountain, statues, a cooling stream and verdant groves. Here are seen not just famous cynics and debauchees who had gone to the grave, but also most of the leaders of western thought who had dared to express rationalist, heterodox or sceptical views on religion. Among them are Socrates, Galileo, Rousseau, Goethe, Jefferson, and Tom Paine. John Stuart Mill is leaning against a tree, apparently stirred by his own thoughts, while on the other side of the tree Darwin sits alone. However, Darwin’s proximity to the lovers emerging from the wood (who must be Dante’s damned adulterers, Paolo and Francesca), and to a horned goat (traditionally a symbol of lechery) may be a mischievous allusion to the controversial aspects of his theory of sexual selection in Descent of Man

  • physical location Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC. Other copies exist. 

  • accession or collection number control no. 2011661750; reproduction no. LC-DIG-ppmsca-28201 

  • copyright holder Library of Congress, Washington DC 

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

  • date of creation May 1885 

  • computer-readable date 1885-01-01 to 1885-05-26 

  • medium and material chromolithography 

  • references and bibliography ‘The present revision movement’ in Isaac H. Hall (ed.), The Revised New Testament and History of Revision (Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers; Atlanta: C.R. Blackall; and New York: A.L. Bancroft, 1881). Puck 17:429 (27 May 1885), p. 194 and centrefold. A Selection of Cartoons from Puck, by Joseph Keppler; with Text and Introduction by H.C. Brunner (New York: Keppler and Schwarzmann, 1893, pp. vi-vii, with biographical information on Keppler. Marion Harry Alexander Spielmann, article on ‘Caricature’ in Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 edition, vol. 5, p. 335. 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). 


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