Handwriting in Darwin's papers & manuscripts

It is well known that Darwin was often assisted by other people in his research and writing. He frequently dictated documents to a member of his family or they would write out reading notes or record experimental results for him. He also paid copyists. He relied on his servant during and for a time after the Beagle voyage, Syms Covington, to copy out clearer or "fair" copies of his notes, drafts or hand-written catalogues of specimens to be given to other men of science. Later local schoolmasters, Joseph Fletcher and Ebenezer Norman were employed over many years to copy Darwin's manuscripts, especially drafts of publications. Darwin's own handwriting was more legible when he was younger, and become far worse in his later years.

Out of tens of thousands of manuscripts in Darwin Online, the samples given below are offered as a quick guide to Darwin's handwriting and those whose handwriting frequently appears amongst his vast surviving corpus of papers and manuscripts.

Searching the Darwin Online Manuscript Catalogue for names and ticking the "Available digital images" box is the easiest way to find further examples of an individual's handwriting in Darwin Online.

Darwin's first daughter, Anne, known as Annie, died too young to help Darwin with his work but she copied some recipes into her mother's recipe book so her handwriting can be seen here CUL-DAR214.

An extract from Darwin's barnacle notes.
Extract from Darwin's catalogue of barnacle slides.

Charles Darwin

1826, Edinburgh diary. CUL-DAR129.-

1835, Beagle diary. EH88202366

1839-81, 'Journal'. CUL-DAR158.1-76

1844, Down House plants. PC-California

1848, Instincts in wasps and bees. CUL-DAR73.21-22  

1859, Draft of Origin of species. NHM-MSS-DARA

1869, Reading notes. CUL-DAR80.B101  

1876, Autobiography. CUL-DAR26.1-121

1880, Notes on Wallace's Island life. NHM-WP6.4.1

1881, Reading notes. CUL-DAR53.1.B3

Darwin family

Robert Waring Darwin (Darwin's father)

1820s, Letter. CUL-DAR210.6.1

Josiah Wedgwood (Darwin’s uncle Jos)

1852, Letter CUL-DAR210.10.18

Erasmus Alvey Darwin (Darwin's brother)

1875, Letter CUL-DAR58.1.130-131

1879, Letter CUL-DAR92.B1

Catherine Darwin (Darwin's sister)

Reading notebook. CUL-DAR119.-

Reading notebook. CUL-DAR120.-

Emma Darwin (Darwin's wife)

1824-96, Diary. CUL-DAR242

1851, Letter. CUL-DAR210.13.4

1864, Notes for Darwin. CUL-DAR205.6.76

1879, Letter. CUL-DAR211.93

Darwin's children:

William Erasmus Darwin

1863, Letter. CUL-DAR76.B188-B190

c.1887, Letter. CUL-DAR112.A26-A27

1909, Letter. McGill-CA-OSLER0-P110[.21]

Henrietta Emma (Etty) Darwin Litchfield

1880, Letter. CUL-DAR92.B93-B94

1870s, Reading notes. CUL-DAR80.B118

1904, Letter. CUCNY-HerterBox1[.4]

George Howard Darwin

1880, Worm notes. CUL-DAR63.68

nd, Reading notes. CUL-DAR85.A58-A59

1909, Postcard. McGill-CA-OSLER0-P110[.33]

Elizabeth (Bessy) Darwin

1865, Climbing plants. CUL-DAR157.1.122

1908, Letter. McGill-CA-OSLER0-P110[.113]

1909, Letter. McGill-CA-OSLER0-P110[.26]

Francis (Frank) Darwin

c.1871, Draft of Expression. CUL-DAR53.2.2-3

1877, Worm notes. CUL-DAR64.2.54-57

1909, Letter. McGill-CA-OSLER0-P110[.130]

Leonard Darwin

1878, Letter. CUL-DAR186.34

1881, Letter. CUL-DAR186.36

1909, Letter. McGill-CA-OSLER0-P110[.34]

Horace Darwin

1880, Worm notes. CUL-DAR63-65

1880, Worm notes. CUL-DAR64.2.54-57

1909, Letter. McGill-CA-OSLER0-P110[.38]

Darwin's paid copyists

Syms Covington

1835, Coral Islands. CUL-DAR41.13-23

c.1838, List of shells. CUL-DAR29.3.2

Joseph Fletcher

1844, Fair copy of sketch of species theory. CUL-DAR113

1840s, Buenos Ayres The fossil shells. CUL-DAR43.2.A1-A46

Ebenezer Norman

1857, Fair copy of species sketch for Asa Gray. GHL-HU-gra00078-48

c.1870, Notes on primates. CUL-DAR80.B149

1870, Draft of Descent. CUL-DAR109.B111r

1871, Draft of Expression. CUL-DAR52.D8r-D9r


John van Wyhe, 2022

With thanks to Christine Chua and Gordon Chancellor.



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