Diaries of Darwin's wife to be published online

By John Crowley


The great man: Photo of Charles Darwin with his son, William Erasmus, in 1842

Charles Darwin's wife Emma - who was also his cousin - in an 1840 portrait.

The diaries of the wife of naturalist Charles Darwin have been published online.

Emma Darwin's diaries cover six decades of the couple's life together and provide an insight into the daily life of the Victorian scientist and his family.

The 60 pocket books were previously known only to a handful of academics familiar with the Darwin archive at Cambridge University Library.

Appointments, family visits and illnesses are all noted in the books.

The first diary is dated 1824 when the then Emma Wedgwood was 16 years old.

She married Charles, her first cousin, in 1839 and kept a diary until the last year of her life. The diaries - which can be viewed at http://darwin-online.org.uk/ - reveal how the Darwins entertained visiting scientists, with guests sometimes numbering 10 or 15.

The complete works of Charles Darwin, who showed how natural selection could explain evolution, were published online last year.

Dr John van Wyhe, the project's director, said: "The diaries are extremely fascinating and provide so many details about the private life of this famous man who changed the world.

"They also fill in the gaps where we didn't know where Darwin was or what he was doing because we find Emma has written 'Charles to London' or 'Charles returned'.

"The diaries also bring to life the domestic side of Darwin as a father and as a husband.

"Having these diaries online is the next big step towards making the complete collection that exists available to everyone and not just to academics in big libraries."


Emma Darwin ( née Wedgwood, 2 May 1808 7 October 1896 ) was the wife and cousin of the English naturalist Charles Darwin and mother to their ten children.

Emma Wedgwood was born in 1808 at the family estate of Maer Hall , Maer, Staffordshire , the youngest of six children of Josiah Wedgwood II and his wife Bessy (Elizabeth). She grew up in a wealthy manufacturing family; her grandfather Josiah Wedgwood had made his fortune in pottery , and like many others who were not part of the aristocracy they were nonconformist , belonging to the Unitarian church. Charles Darwin was her first cousin; their shared grandparents were Josiah Wedgwood and his wife Sarah; and as the Wedgwood and Darwin families were closely allied, she had been acquainted with him since childhood.

She was very close to her sister Fanny, the two being known by the family as the "Doveleys", and was charming and messy, getting called "Little Miss Slip-Slop". She helped her older sister Elizabeth with the Sunday school which was held in Maer Hall laundry, writing simple moral tales to aid instruction and giving sixty village children their only formal training in reading, writing and religion.

For a time in her youth she was sent to Paris , where she studied piano with the celebrated composer Frédéric Chopin , and conducted a grand tour of Europe . In 1826 she went with her sister Fanny to stay with their Aunt Jessie (Madame de Sismondi, wife of the historian Jean Charles Leonard de Sismondi ) for eight months near Geneva . When her father went to collect them he was accompanied by Caroline Darwin and also took Charles Darwin as far as Paris , where they all met up again before returning home in July 1827 . She was keen on outdoor sports and became a "Dragoness" at archery .

At Maer on 31 August 1831 she was with her family when they helped Charles Darwin to overturn his father's objections to the Voyage of the Beagle . During the voyage Charles's sisters kept him informed of news including the untimely death of Emma's sister Fanny and the gossip that his brother Erasmus Alvey Darwin was "paired off" with Emma to avert "an action in the Papers" over his "carrying on" with Hensleigh Wedgwood 's wife. When Charles returned and was quick to visit Maer she joined in the interest in his travels.

Emma herself had turned down several offers of marriage, but after her mother suffered a seizure and became bedridden Emma had to nurse her mother and look after her older sister Elizabeth who was dwarfish and had severe spinal curvature.

She accepted Charles' marriage proposal on 11 November 1838 , at the age of 30, and they were married on 29 January 1839 at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Maer, Staffordshire . Their cousin, the Reverend John Allen Wedgwood officiated. Following a brief period of residence in London , they moved permanently to Down House , located in what was then the rural village of Down, close to the city.

Charles and Emma had ten children. They raised them in a distinctly non-authoritarian manner, and several of them later achieved considerable success in their chosen careers. Sir George Darwin , for example, became a scientist.

Emma Darwin is especially remembered for her patience and fortitude in dealing with her husband's long-term illness which became apparent shortly after their marriage. In nursing and humoring Charles through his many ups and downs, she was a crucial factor in her husband's scientific accomplishments.

She also nursed her children through frequent illnesses, and endured the deaths of three of them:

Anne , Mary, and Charles Waring. By the mid 1850s she was known throughout the parish for helping in the way a parson's wife might be expected to, giving out bread tokens to the hungry and "small pensions for the old, dainties for the ailing, and medical comforts and simple medicine" based on Dr. Robert Darwin's old prescription book.

A source of difficulty in the Darwins' marriage was conflict between Charles' scientific findings (most
particularly, the origin of humanity in the undirected process of evolution ) and Emma's own devout Christian beliefs. The difficulty was increased when, following the painful and emotionally devastating death of their 10-year-old daughter Anne, Charles no longer accepted the orthodox Christian view of God. After T.H. Huxley coined the word " agnostic " around 1868 , Darwin used it to describe himself. Charles was evidently pained by the anxieties his beliefs produced in Emma, and tried to express them as gently as he could.

Emma often played the piano for Charles, and in Charles' 1871 The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex , Darwin spent several pages on the evolution of musical ability by means of sexual selection .