A Biographical Sketch of an Infant by Charles Darwin


A neighbor friend passed this along to me as a printout from the Brown University library dated 1971. This is a fun read for us who love language, the understanding of science and communication generally. A couple of quotes that stuck with me include:

“When two years and three months old, he became a great adept at throwing books or sticks, &c., at anyone who offended him; and so it was with some of my other sons. On the other hand, I could never see a trace of such aptitude in my infant daughters; and this makes me think that a tendency to throw objects is inherited by boys.”

And the final para:

“I believe at a very early period, the meaning or feelings of those who tend him, by the expression of their features. There can hardly be a doubt about this with respect to smiling; and it seemed to me that the infant whose biography I have here given understood a compassionate expression at a little over five months old. When 6 months and 11 days old he certainly showed sympathy with his nurse on her pretending to cry. When pleased after performing some new accomplishment, being then almost a year old, he evidently studied the expression of those around him. It was probably due to differences of expression and not merely of the form of the features that certain faces clearly pleased him much more than others, even at so early an age as a little over six months. Before he was a year old, he understood intonations and gestures, as well as several words and short sentences. He understood one word, namely, his nurse’s name, exactly five months before he invented his first word mum; and this is what might have been expected, as we know that the lower animals easily learn to understand spoken words.”

Here’s a link to the whole manuscript: http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?pageseq=1&itemID=F1779&viewtype=text

2 comments on “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant by Charles Darwin”

  1. This sketch made me curious. I wondered what kind of father Darwin was. Here’s a short article: https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/people/about-darwin/family-life/darwin-and-fatherhood. He and his wife Emma had 10 children; only 7 survived beyond 10. I got the sense from the article that history paints Darwin as a kind family man as well as a groundbreaking scientist. It’s fun to know a bit about him beyond his theory of evolution–which I never studied in detail.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I gotta be honest, I’m not Darwin’s biggest fan in terms of his character but I appreciate you sharing this– I really did enjoy this sketch of an infant and I read Darwin extensively because i hope one day to be able to communicate what he sees from the matriarchal perspective, instead of his patriarchal perspective. It’ll take a while, but it might be the core reason I’m still hanging in the sciences, creatively.


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