How the naturalist’s scribbling children accidentally saved a priceless historical artifact
On a page from Charles Darwin’s original manuscript of On the Origin of Species, two mounted swordsmen face off—one’s steed a mighty galloping carrot while the other, wearing a plumed yellow turban, approaches on a menacing-looking, four-legged eggplant. No, this isn’t an early, discarded theory, in which the English naturalist hypothesized a vegetable origin for equine life, but instead, a series of doodles created by his children on the backs of his handwritten manuscript pages. After the book’s publication, Darwin gave his kids these pages, covered on one side with the notes and scrawls that would eventually become one of the most influential scientific works in history, as drawing paper. And it’s a good thing he did; out of the almost 600 pages of Darwin’s original work, only 45 remain and at least four of these are likely to have been preserved only as sentimental mementos of his progeny’s childhood fancies.