Darwin had both cats and d*gs, but it’s clear that he loved his d*gs more. I’ll forgive him for that; after all, he wrote the best science book ever, and that outweighs a lot of flaws. In fact, I don’t think The Origin even mentions cats, though I recall that it has a few words on canids.
Nevertheless, Darwin did occasionally refer to the feline group of mammals, and here, in a tw**t taken from Darwin’s Beagle journal, he even wishes he were a kitten. This appeared 7 hours ago:
But why are there tw**ts from a man who’s been dead since 1882. The Darwin Twitter comes from David Jones, who has it as a project described on his website Metaburbia. Jones explains that he doesn’t just make up the tw**ts:
2009 was the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin Of Species. I’ve had an interest in Darwin since I first read the Origin when I was a child, I’ve been to Down House, Darwin’s home for many years and now a museum, several times, Helen (my partner) teaches a course on evolution and I decided that it was high time Charles found his way onto Twitter.
Several people had already bagged Darwin-related names but cdarwin was free so @cdarwin I became,tweeting content from the Beagle Diary (and other journals, notes, essays, letters and books by him to fill in when he wasn’t too productive). At the time of writing, Charles is still on the eastern coast of South America, flitting about between southern Argentina, Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands. He’s getting quite fed up and looking forward to rounding the Horn.
I load the tweets into an on-line database periodically and then a cron job posts across to Twitter according to the current date and time so that the Tweets shadow the real world. When it’s the 5th of August here, it’s the 5th August on board ship, albeit 176 years in the past.
Shortly after setting up this automated tweeting I contacted Twitter and they permitted me to use the name TheBeagle for my tweeting client so that Tweets are apparently posted from TheBeagle. Twitter has recently changed the way client applications authenticate themselves to do this and although they’re not yet insisting that legacy applications use the new OAuth system, I’ve already created an OAuth-enabled client ready to deploy to my server.
I took to The Origin as soon as I read it and I’ve never accepted Darwin’s reputation for turgid prose. A whole new audience, responding to the humour, insight and imagination of the young Darwin as he begins to think about the marvellous, curious, and unexplained world he is circumnavigating agrees with me, I think.
I agree with Jones that Darwin’s prose was not turgid; indeed, as in the end of The Origin, and many places in the Beagle books, it is positively inspiring. But I doubt Darwin would have taken so eagerly to social media. He was a shy man, deeply wedded to his work and not eager to travel or interact with many people. Indeed, after he returned to England on the Beagle in 1836, he never left that country again, and, after moving to Downe, he rarely even went to London, which wasn’t that far. I also recall he had a mirror installed in his study so he could see who was approaching Down House, presumably so that he could hide or tell the staff to put off the caller if it was someone unwelcome.
At any rate, I wanted to check that kitten reference, and, sure enough, 181 years ago today on this date Darwin made the following entry in his diary (my emphasis):
Patagones to B. Ayres
. . . Sunday 18th
The Beagle had not arrived. — I had nothing to do, no clean clothes, no books, nobody to talk with. — I envied the very kittens playing on the floor. — I was however lucky in a hospitable reception by Don Pablo, a friend of Harris. —
Remember that most of the time when the Beagle was surveying the coast of South America (the purpose of its voyage), Darwin wasn’t aboard: he was traveling in the interior, observing the people, collecting specimens, and collecting most of the data that would eventually come together in The Origin. His entry on this day clearly reflects his boredom waiting to meet the ship. What puzzles me a bit is that today’s entry is not, as Jones says, 176 years in the past. It’s 181 years into the past. Maybe I’m missing something.
Finally, to show that Darwin didn’t neglect cats completely, there is a discussion in Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) about how they can be both hostile and affectionate, a discussion illustrated with two plates:
“Cat in an affectionate frame of mind”:
“Cat terrified at a dog”: