While Charles Darwin was slaving away on his groundbreaking work of staggering genius, On the Origin of Species, his 10 children apparently entertained themselves by doodling on its pages. And it turns out their childish vandalism may actually have spared the works from being lost in the literal dustbins of history: only 45 pages of the original 600-page manuscript exist, and of those that do, most were used by Darwin's kids as canvasses for their naïve doodles. Did Darwin keep them because he was proud of his children’s artistic talent? Perhaps.
The drawings mirror classic English obsessions of the time such as knights, coats of arms, Dickensian beggars and, more surreally, a perturbed-looking fish carrying an umbrella. The 57 drawings have been preserved as part of the momentous Darwin Manuscripts Project, a digitisation effort being undertaken by the American Museum of Natural History and utilising the Cambridge University Library’s Darwin collection.
The project involves scanning and transcribing 96,000 of Darwin’s original, hand-scrawled manuscript pages into a high-resolution, online database. It’s all very serious work. Here’s hoping these drawings brought a little colour into the life of the poor soul charged with archiving them.
The full story behind the project, as well as a slideshow of the pictures, are available over on the New Yorker.