Happy Darwin Day!


I thought I'd include a picture of the young Charles Darwin, since we are celebrating his birthday today. That's him in 1816, when he was 6 or 7 years old, with his younger sister, Emily Catherine Darwin. And then I started wondering about that other person in the picture. Darwin's sisters were an extremely important influence on his life, and I don't know a heck of a lot about her; Darwin had four sisters and one brother, Erasmus, and most of the biographies say quite a bit about the older brother who preceded him to university, but the sisters seem to be background noise. It seems Catherine's life was mainly about caring for her father's household, and she married late in life, at age 53, only to die a few years later. You can read some of Catherine's correspondence, and she seems to have been a lively and intelligent person.

According to Darwin's autobiography, she was also the smart one.

I have been told that I was much slower in learning than my younger sister Catherine, and I believe that I was in many ways a naughty boy. Caroline was extremely kind, clever and zealous; but she was too zealous in trying to improve me; for I clearly remember after this long interval of years, saying to myself when about to enter a room where she was-"What will she blame me for now?" and I made myself dogged so as not to care what she might say.

Roughly the same age, roughly the same intelligence, but Catherine Darwin didn't have the opportunity to go to college or to sail on the Beagle. It makes the picture even more interesting: foreground and background, different fates, different choices, different chances. We know what will happen to those two children — Darwin will die in 1882, Catherine in 1866 — history does this odd thing of telescoping complex lives into just a few events, and I don't know, but it makes me sad.

I am now resisting the temptation to pull out the old photos of my kids from that box in the closet.

More like this

If you are in L.A. this Saturday a great way to celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin is to join the rally organised by UCLA scientists who are being harassed in their own homes by animal rights extremists.


It is time to confront the forces of unreason and extremist ideology that threaten the future of science!

By Paul Browne (not verified) on 12 Feb 2014 #permalink

I find the relationship between Charles Darwin and his sister quite representative of the inopportunities for many women of that time. It is a peculiar idea to apply Darwin's own idea of survival of the fittest to the success of his sister in relation to his own success. Maybe if women of that time were treated with the same equality, then Catherine could have been as successful, if not more successful in the science world as her brother? Maybe subconsciously Darwin thought of his survival of the fittest idea in more applications than one.

Re. Paul @ #3, re. animal rights extremists threatening researchers:

The FBI takes that stuff VERY seriously and puts it under the heading of domestic terrorism. The scientists should get in touch with their local FBI office, if they haven't already. The FBI will advise them how to report occurrences, and preserve evidence such as threatening email and voicemail messages.

There are additional steps that can be taken by supportive laypeople, such as going online to collect whatever information can be found about the individuals and groups who are engaged in the harassment.

Rule #1, most importantly: DO NOT interact with persons of interest who you are investigating. Observe and report ONLY.

Any interaction with POIs can be used by their attorneys to raise a "reasonable doubt" about entrapment. Yes, civilians can commit entrapment without knowing it, and with the best of intentions. Observe and report only, do not interact.

Rule #2: Take screen-shots of interesting material, and be sure they are date/time stamped and the full URLs are either visible or can be appended in a text document referring to the screen shots. Stamped screen shots and a notarized document with the URLs together count as facts-in-evidence. That kind of information can be used by FBI to investigate further.

You would be surprised to know, but FBI agents are not allowed to even do so much as a Google search on a suspect, without a court order. Online searches conducted by law enforcement count as "searches," but evidence provided by civilians who have done online searches count as "tips."

This is why we as civilians should be willing to help out. The information we can provide, really can help catch perps and prevent violence.

Yah for Darwin Day. BUT it's also the BD of Abraham Lincoln...