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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.53 Claud Warren, 'Outlines of Hands'

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Claud Warren’s The Life-size Outlines of the Hands of Twenty-four Celebrated Persons was a ‘portfolio’, circulated in varying editions in 1881-2. It is an amateurish and rather eccentric work, without typographic letterpress – Warren’s hand-written text was crudely lithographed with the illustrations. The hands of a number of public figures – ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury and Gladstone to Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh – were drawn at life-size, with their contours and lines, and accompanied by Warren’s commentaries. Some palmistry or physiognomy was involved, but Warren repudiated the idea of fortune-telling. He maintained that hand-reading was ‘a most interesting study, one out of which ordinary intelligent persons may get no end of amusement and information . . . as a wonderfully safe guide to character’. This ‘reading’ of character was of course actually shaped by existing knowledge of the famous subjects. Warren claimed that the latter had politely allowed him to draw outlines of their hands, and had added their autograph signatures. This seems difficult to credit, but Warren’s promise that any profits from the work would go to a children’s hospital in Edinburgh conceivably produced a favourable response from the ‘Celebrated Persons’ who were to be featured. Warren does candidly admit that his analyses of his subjects’ characters were not endorsed by them. Whatever the difficulties and rebuffs that he experienced in some cases, ‘The Success of the idea has been quite surprising, and the amount of interest it has evoked, among highly educated and cultured persons, very different from what I half expected.’  

‘Charles Darwin; Scientific Philosopher’ was one of those who allegedly acquiesced and cooperated with Warren in his enterprise. Warren correctly notes, ‘Darwin is rather a large man, and his hand is not a large one in proportion’. The lithographed signature is also like Darwin’s real handwriting, although of course Warren could simply have copied a facsimile signature on a published studio photograph of him. He describes Darwin’s hands as rough and hairy, with ‘knotty’ fingers. ‘It is a very interesting hand to those studying “Fingerology” – for instance compare it with that of an Artist, or of a man devoid of reasoning power’. Warren’s analysis of Darwin’s character and standing emphasises the controversy that his ideas aroused. He plays on the colloquial meaning of ‘Charlies’ – ‘inquisitive, mischievous, destructive, yet inventive little brats’, and congratulates Darwin on living ‘in 1881, and not in, or near 1581’. In the sixteenth century he would probably have been burnt at the stake. Although civilisation has advanced since then, and his person is safe, his subversive ideas still suffer martyrdom by misrepresentation, at the hands of the protectors of ‘State-Religion’. ‘Thus the “Theory of Evolution” is discovered to be just the very thing that was wanted to prove and corroborate the ”Story of Creation”!! . . . 300 years hence this era will be called that of twisting and torturing ideas, and of “The Darwinian Theory”.’            

  • physical location British Library 

  • accession or collection number 1830.b.6 

  • copyright holder British Library 

  • originator of image Claud Warren 

  • date of creation 1881 

  • computer-readable date 1881-01-01 to 1881-12-31 

  • medium and material lithography 

  • references and bibliography The title on the cover of the portfolio is Celebrated Hands by Claud Warren. The title on the contents page is The Life-Size Outlines of the Hands of Twenty-Four Celebrated Persons. A variant edition, of which a copy exists in the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester (Special Collections R36745), is dated 1882, and has twenty-two hands. J. Van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 143. 


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