Some of our favorite pieces of our kids' artwork are just doodles on napkins or scraps of paper. Charles Darwin's kids also got the itch to draw and sketch too, but their scrap paper just happened to be the first draft of Darwin's legendary "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." Amazingly, only 45 pages out of a whopping 600 from Darwin's original manuscript are still in existence today, with many of the surviving pages doing double duty as a canvas for artistic expression by Darwin's kids.
Written in the years following Darwin’s voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, “On the Origin of Species” (as it is known today) appealed to the public and scientists alike. His theories of evolution and natural selection changed the world’s perspective on science, yet it appears that, to his kids, Darwin was a convenient source of extraneous paper. Darwin’s kids appear to be as prolific and as interested in a variety of subjects as their Dad: Darwin’s collection is currently being digitized and includes thousand of pages of notes and original writings, while his children’s contributions include several dozen drawings.
The drawings, made with pencil, ink, and watercolor, are playful and often humorous, although they reflect Dad’s talent for recording details, whether it be the multicolored wings of a butterfly or the pattern on a highlander’s kilt. Indeed, several of the drawings are more military-concerned and show battles or soldier’s portraits. Others show the children’s fluency with the natural world: bees buzz around flowers and a variety of animals are shown in profile and face-forward. Apparently, Darwin also recruited his kids for basic research including collecting various specimens and encouraged them to make their own observations.
The Darwin children’s imaginations were clearly evident in their drawings as well, whether creating new animals or (our favorite) staging a battle on various fruits and vegetables. Darwin had 10 children (seven of whom lived until adulthood) and scholars believe that at least three of the children were responsible for the charming doodles. So the next time your little one starts doodling on your To Do list or your grocery store receipt, give their drawings a little pause before tossing them in the recycling in and consider stashing them just as Darwin did a century and a half ago. Evolutionary biologists (and their kids)-they are just like us!
All images © American Museum of Natural History and Cambridge University Library