Darwin's personal 'Journal' (1809-1881). CUL-DAR158.1-76

An introduction by John van Wyhe

In August 1838, while living in London, Charles Darwin began his 'Journal' or diary in a small 3x4 inch notebook. He made back dated records of his life from birth to that date and continued adding entries recording his work and private events until December 1881, four months before he died. In his Autobiography, p. 116 Darwin referred to it as the "little diary, which I have always kept". In the 1887 Life and Letters his son Francis Darwin wrote "It is unfortunately written with great brevity, the history of a year being compressed into a page or less, and contains little more than the dates of the principal events of his life, together with entries as to his work, and as to the duration of his more serious illnesses." (LL 1: iv)

From 1846 the entries were divided across facing pages. The left side received entries about his work; personal and family matters were entered on the right. The Journal contains such important and oft quoted passages as: "In July opened first note Book on "transmutation of Species". — Had been greatly struck from about month of previous March on character of S. American fossils — & species on Galapagos Archipelago. — These facts origin (especially latter) of all my views." (click here)

The Journal was first transcribed and published in Life and Letters in 1887 but highly interleaved with other material. It appeared more fully in More Letters (1903). It first appeared in its entirety in English in 1959, edited by Gavin de Beer from a copy by an unknown copyist.1 The original manuscript was not re-discovered until 1962 and is now in the Darwin Archive, Cambridge University Library (DAR158.1-76). A corrected transcription of the entries up to 1867 appeared in the first 15 volumes of the Correspondence (1985-2005). These, together with a working transcription of the entries following 1867, were kindly provided by the editors of the Correspondence. Here it is provided in its entirety for the first time from the original manuscript. It has been rechecked against the manuscript; page numbers and brief editorial and textual notes have been added.

See also: Emma Darwin's diaries.

John van Wyhe

January 2006

[Darwin's personal 'Journal' (1809-1881)]. Text Image Text & image CUL-DAR158.1-76


1 Journal. An independent Russian translation appeared in Sobol 1957.


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