Happy Birthday Charles Darwin!

Charles Darwin was born 203 years ago today. In honor of his birthday, the American Museum of Natural History has unveiled its Darwin Manuscripts Project, a collection of 15,000 digitized manuscript pages and thousands of other documents, including such treasures as notes from Darwin’s time aboard the HMS Beagle, pocket diaries and early drafts of Origin of Species. It’s a wonderful resource, and a fun website to explore. You can view the earlier drafts of the Origin with or without Darwin’s revisions, and see previously unpublished material such as an “experiment book” in which Darwin recorded his original research on plant breeding.

One fun tidbit of information: one reason why there are so few remaining manuscript leaves of the Origin (only 42) is that Darwin used to let his children use the backs of the paper for their drawings! As the website notes, “Darwin often used the backs of his old manuscripts for rough notes and his son Francis recorded that ‘in this way, unfortunately, he destroyed large parts of the original MS. of his books.’ (Life and Letters 1.121.). A pile of papers was kept in a cupboard under the stairs for the children to use for drawing.” (I do that too–my son uses the back of my book drafts for his drawings–though I doubt future historians of science are going to be upset about it!).

Drawing by Francis Darwin on back of manuscript leaf

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