Darwin has been featured in a lot of books and documentaries in honour of his birthday over 200 years ago – he was born in February 1809.
And of course there have been countless photographs of Darwin – most of them with severe expressions – like this one – even though he was quite young at the time. In those days people didn’t take selfies and considered it much more fitting and dignified to look thoughtful and unsmiling.
I’ve always thought that because the Photographs of Darwin seem so formal and posed they maintained the 200 year distance between us. Somehow, they reveal very little about the man, himself.
The photo of Darwin on the right at age 45 shows him even more serious in a dignified, reflective mood – your typical professor type. Which is exactly what I mean. It doesn’t capture the whole man. Because Darwin was a man of high adventure.
After all, he voyaged around the world in the famous Beagle examining the flora and fauna of our world for a period of no less than 5 years!
He met many primitive tribes all over the world too. In fact, he put up with severe sea sickness in order to carry out his mission.
The featured picture at the top of this article is a much later photo of Darwin. But does it tell us any more about him beyond the fact that he was a lot older, had a beard and was even more serious than before?
My point exactly! In actual fact the photos tell us very little about Darwin, the man.
There’s a Better Way to find out about Darwin
Because when you look at Darwin’s handwriting it’s a completely different story. His handwriting brings him to life and shows us what he was really like – it’s almost like looking at his personality in 3D!
The following sample of Darwin’s handwriting together with his famous tree of life sketch is taken from a collection of his rough notes.
This is Darwin’s first diagram of an evolutionary tree. His handwriting is as lively, vibrant and vigorous as when he first wrote it. It highlights his dynamic personality as nothing else can.
It shows the fire and the passion that moved him. It sparkles with enthusiasm and fervour about his subject. He was totally inspired!
His speed of thought and high intelligence are clear to see too. Take a careful look at this sample and note the decisive strokes and the intelligent shortcuts. In the word “distinction” he crosses both t’s with one dynamic t-bar.
He is clearly impatient to get his thoughts onto paper. The last 2 words on the page are written with such excitement that they are quite illegible. And of course the sideways inserts at the top right of the page show his thoughts coming so thick and fast that the page cannot contain them.
The Dark Side of Darwin’s Personality
But there’s more. There are signs of impatience, and yes, even a violent temper. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and he was not easy to get on with. His wife must have been an angel because he could be dictatorial, overbearing and autocratic.
He clearly suffered from some form of anxiety and there is also evidence of depression. Not only do we see clear evidence of repression but there are also signs of tremour and furriness in Darwin’s handwriting which may have something to do with illness or possibly medication of some sort.
Nevertheless, despite many contradictory patterns the picture that emerges is one of enthusiasm, passion and determination. Once again this fits the pattern for genius put forward in The Mark of Genius – where passion and determination appear to be such important ingredients for genius.
I don’t want to bore you with too much detail. For those who are interested, I have given more about Darwin’s handwriting in The Mark of Genius.