Darwin’s Kid Drew on First “Origin of Species”

Check out this drawing, on the back of a page from the original manuscript of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The sheet will go on public display Monday as part of “A Voyage Round the World,” a new exhibit at Cambridge University Library that will explore Darwin’s experiences on the Beagle. (The library is reported to have another 23 sheets from the manuscript, and it’s believed there are about 10 more out there.)
But there seems to be a bit of confusion over who drew the picture and whether the drawing, which library staff is said to be calling the “Battle of Vegetables,” has been on display before. According to the Telegraph:

It is not known which of Darwin’s 10 children drew the picture but it is thought the child would have been between eight and 10 years old.

And:

A spokesman at Cambridge University said it was believed that this is the very first time the drawing had been put on display to the public.

But in an American Scientist article from 2006, Robert Dorit, a biologist at Smith College, describes seeing the same drawing at the American Museum of Natural History’s Darwin exhibit curated by Niles Eldredge. He also includes an image (weirdly, with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library) and notes:

Contrary to the stereotype of the dispassionate scientist, however, Darwin was a man to whom family and friends mattered profoundly, and many poignant objects in the exhibition remind us of his humanity. On the back of a rare manuscript page of the Origin, we find a drawing, “The Battle of the Fruit and Vegetable Soldiers,” by Darwin’s young son Francis.

(Discover, too, had a review of the exhibit with an image of the drawing, courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH and pictured here.)

In any case, it’s remarkable to think we might not have the manuscript pages today had Darwin not given them to his kids to draw on and then kept their artwork, as the library’s John Wells tells the Telegraph:

There are just thirty or so of these original sheets in existence and the vast majority have a child’s drawing on the back. It’s quite amazing to think these priceless historical exhibits have only survived because of a child’s drawings on the back. It demonstrates the importance of his family and brings it home that he surrounded himself with family, and friends, as he worked.

Heather Wax


Science’s Most Influential Ideas on Display

Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changes the World,” a new permanent exhibit at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, will open on November 1. The exhibit of books, manuscripts, illustrations, and scientific instruments will be divided into four galleries assembled by theme—astronomy, natural history, medicine, and light—and will showcase some of science’s greatest achievements from such famous figures as Ptolemy, Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein. The focus of the Dibner Hall of the History of Science will be on the changing role of science over time and its influence on culture (the exhibit displays 250 copies of On the Origin of Species, for example, to convey the influence of Darwin’s famous book), and it will highlight many of the discoveries that broadened our imaginations (such as those that caused us to rethink Earth’s place in the heavens or how to understand the evolution of species). According to senior curator Daniel Lewis, the goal is to get people to think about “the beauty of science in an historical context—the elegant breakthroughs, the remarkable discoveries, and the amazing people and stories behind them.” —Michele Calandra


The Evolution of Anti-"Bodies"

Scientific exhibits using real human bodies as models have met with criticism before—in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, for example—but there’s a different note in the reaction to the Body Worlds exhibit set to open June 13 in Edmonton, Alberta. Unlike the archbishop of Cincinnati, who nixed plans of Catholic schools in his diocese to see a similar exhibit, Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith has struck a somewhat more conciliatory note. While Smith stressed that these bodies “are not just an object to be gawked at as an object of curiosity, but to be honored,” his archdiocese isn’t telling parishioners not to visit the exhibit, and students in local Catholic schools may even see it on a field trip—provided they receive parental permission. —Dan Messier


Faith-Based Group Saves Darwin Exhibit

Darwin: The Evolution Revolution,” an exhibit that originated at the American Museum of Natural History, found itself in some trouble when it arrived at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where it opened last week. Turns out the museum’s regular sponsors, which include both companies and private patrons, were worried about attaching their names to what they saw as a controversial show, reports the Toronto Star. That’s when The United Church Observer magazine (which operates independently from the church) decided to offer up a donation of 40,000 dollars, its largest donation ever. The magazine will co-sponsor the exhibit with the Humanist Association of Canada, which donated 50,000 dollars. “We were dismayed to learn that the exhibit had been unable to secure corporate sponsorship in Toronto or in any of the other North American cities where it has been mounted. Our support is modest but symbolic. If a small church-based operation such as The Observer doesn’t fear a backlash from those who oppose Darwin’s theory of evolution, then secular corporate entities with much greater resources shouldn’t fear it either,” David Wilson, the magazine’s editor and publisher, said in a press release.
“There is nothing in the exhibit that threatens or diminishes religion or people of faith in any way. If anything, it shines light on the inherent beauty and wonder of a creation that is constantly and eternally evolving,” he added. “The Darwin exhibit deserves support, and we’re not afraid to say so.” —Heather Wax

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