We need more imagery of the young Darwin

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

That popular imagery of Darwin too often portrays him as old and bearded has been discussed much recently (and acted upon!), and there seems to be an effort to bring in the image of a young Charles Darwin to academic and popular audiences. A smattering of the young Darwin:

Blog posts: Tetrapod Zoology: Why I hate Darwin’s beardThe Ethical Palaeontologist: Darwin’s ImageBeagle Project Blog: An Open Letter to Simon Gurr: more hair please; “Darwin’s not a stuff-shirted Nigel Bruce”; Young Darwins in February: Bora 1, Greg 0; Got evolution?; Young Darwin sculpture by a young Darwin sculptorDispersal of Darwin: Beagle-Bobble; Darwin Portrait by Carl Buell; This one’s for you, Karen; Pictures of the Young Darwin.

Recent books: The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson; Darwin in Cambridge by John van Wyhe; Young Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle by Ruth Ashby; The Voyage of the Beetle by Anne Weaver; The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer; One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathyrn Lasky; Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle; What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosayln Schanzer; Darwin by Alice B. McGinty; What Mr Darwin Saw by Mick Manning; Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist; Charles Darwin, the Discoverer by Vargie Johnson; and The Darwin Story: A Lifetime of Curiosity, a Passion for Discovery by H.M. Ahn and T.S. Lee.

Performance: A Glimpse of the Young Darwin; biology instructor Greg Bole’s impersonation of a young(ish) Darwin.

Films: The Young Charles Darwin (trailer on YouTube; review at The Friends of Charles Darwin); Creation (forthcoming Darwin biopic featuring Paul Bettany as a young and middle-aged Darwin).

Art: Young Darwin’s evolution adventures; the logo for The HMS Beagle Project; Anthony Smith’s bronze sculpture of a young Darwin (hanging out with me! & a mini version of this sculpture makes its own voyage); Charles Darwin as a graduate student; Russian paintings of a young Darwin; a new Dover colouring book; Darwin and Galapagos; a young Charles Darwin; young Darwin image for The Great Plant Hunt; Young Charles Darwin (comic illustration); set of images from The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; statue of a young Darwin in Portugeuse exhibit.

Darwin was, for much of his life, unbearded and not an old man. He was only 22 when he embarked on HMS Beagle (he did, however, grow a beard during the voyage – Darwin wrote in his diary while in Tierra del Fuego: “They received us with less distrust & brought with them their timid children. — They noticed York Minster (who accompanied us) in the same manner as Jemmy, & told him he ought to shave, & yet he has not 20 hairs in his face, whilst we all wear our untrimmed beards”). Darwin was 50 when he published On the Origin of Species. So why is it that he is more often than not portrayed like this?

Old, bearded Darwin

Old, bearded Darwin

And not like this?

Young, adventurous Darwin

Young, adventurous Darwin

Probably because an image of an old man shows more respectability. And the beard shows his wisdom. But a young Darwin shows a curious mind, and, I think, can enable a younger generation to follow his story, as many of the recent books about Darwin for young readers seem to grasp on. What prompted this post, however, was coming across a book in a small Montana town toy store this past weekend. The book is part of the Who Was? series, telling the lives of notable historical figures (others include Einstein, Franklin, Magellan, King Tut, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare). Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson (Grosset & Dunlap, 2005) features illustrations by Nancy Harrison. Harrison also painted the image on the front of the slim book. This is it:

Time-traveling Darwin

Time-traveling Darwin

Huh?

Here we have Darwin, writing in one of his notebooks on the Galapagos Islands, amongst the tortoises with HMS Beagle hanging out in the background. This image has to be in 1835, when the Beagle visited the islands. Yet pictured here is an anachronistic Darwin from the 1870s, iconic beard in hand, er, on chin. Please, illustrators for children’s Darwin books, be accurate. If we are to see Darwin as a person, then let’s see him as he was in a particular time.

The cover of this book was too good not to spend the five bucks on it. As for the text of it, overall a nice treatment of Darwin for children.

If you know of any other neat examples of young Darwin art, books, or blog posts, let me know so I can add them.

11 thoughts on “We need more imagery of the young Darwin

  1. Pingback: Cambridge Trip #7: Beetles, Finches and Barnacles at the University Museum of Zoology « The Dispersal of Darwin

  2. The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

  3. Pingback: More on the Young Darwin « The Dispersal of Darwin

  4. Pingback: Young Darwin Flickr Photo Group « The Dispersal of Darwin

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  6. Pingback: Young Darwin Bobblehead « The Dispersal of Darwin

  7. Sorry that I can’t help with any images but I was thinking if this favouritism over the older Darwin image as opposed to the younger image is one of medium? in that the older images are photographs, while the images of the younger Darwin are paintings and sketches? Do people feel (subliminally) that the photographs are more ‘real’?

  8. That’s interesting, Ruth, I hadn’t thought of that nor have I seen anyone else mention it…

  9. Pingback: New Young Darwin Statue « The Dispersal of Darwin

  10. Pingback: Two new Darwin statues, as a young naturalist | The Dispersal of Darwin

  11. Pingback: Charles Darwin in the Smithsonian’s Deep Time fossil hall | The Dispersal of Darwin

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