Monday, 11 December 2017

Darwin and Darwinism in Victorian Cartoon and Caricature

The publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) provided plentiful material for the cartoonists and caricaturists. One of my favorites is this one, published in Punch in the year of Darwin's death, 1882. It plays on the fact that Darwin had also written the definitive work on earthworms. A worm emerging from CHAOS is evolving into a variety of questionable primate forms before emerging as a proper Victorian gentleman tipping his hat to Darwin, portrayed as a Greek philosopher. Scientific it isn't, but it is a worthy tribute to the great scientist.    

Many of the caricatures of Darwin highlighted the then frightening notion that man was descended from an ape or monkey, although Darwin stressed that humans were not descended from any existing primate species but from earlier, extinct forms. 

Punch published the two below in 1861, one of an ape arriving for a Victorian formal affair, the other of an ape asking about his relationship to homo sapiens. 

Intentionally or not, "Monkeyana" had definite racist overtones. In the 1780's Darwin's grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, had produced a medallion for anti-slavery organizations in England in which an enslaved African in chains asked the same question. 

Darwin himself was sometimes presented as an ape-like man, or apes were portrayed as resembling him. The four below are from the 1870's, after the publication of the Descent of Man.

The last of these four, from Punch, was inspired by Darwin's book on climbing plants, reissued in 1875.

But Darwin was not the only famous person to be associated with apes, as this 20th century poster shows.

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