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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.6 Thomas Nast, cartoon

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This satire by the famous American political cartoonist Thomas Nast appeared among the advertisements on the back page of an issue of Harper’s Weekly, published in New York in August 1871. Nast worked for this journal through the 1870s, and ‘Mr. Bergh to the Rescue’, with its strong contours and bold hatching, is typical of his style.  

A ‘defrauded gorilla’, anthropomorphised like those in Punch’s Darwinian fantasies, is howling childishly because ‘”That Man wants to claim my Pedigree. He says he is one of my Descendants.”’ The man in question is Darwin, who stands defiantly with a copy of Origin of Species (surprisingly, not his just-published Descent of Man) tucked under his arm. His stumpy figure and pot belly are standard features of comic characters, betraying Nast’s lack of knowledge of Darwin’s actual appearance. The offended gorilla stands outside the door the New York office of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1866 by Henry Bergh, who became the Society’s first President. Bergh is the elegant figure in the centre, intervening on the gorilla’s behalf: ‘”Now, Mr. DARWIN, how could you insult him so?”’ The idea that a claim of connection to human beings insults the ape perhaps reflects Nast’s damning view of the conduct of politics in New York: he continually attacked the rampant corruption of Tammany Hall, the Democrat party machine. 

  • physical location British Library 

  • accession or collection number LOU.A 107 

  • copyright holder British Library 

  • originator of image Thomas Nast 

  • date of creation August 1871 

  • computer-readable date 1871-08-01 to 1871-08-18 

  • medium and material anonymous wood engraving from a drawing by Nast 

  • references and bibliography Harper’s Weekly, 15:764 (19 August 1871), p. 776. Diane L. Beers, For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States (Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press/ Ohio University Press, 2006), pp. 43-5. Janet Browne, ‘Darwin in caricature: a study in the popularization and dissemination of evolutionary theory’, in Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer (eds), The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, University Press of New England, 2009), pp. 18-39 (pp. 27-8). J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 184. 


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