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Darwin’s Flowers: Unlocking Natural Selection


Welcome to the Sterling Morton Library’s first online exhibit. By putting our library’s current exhibit online, we have the opportunity to share our exhibit with the world, as well as add additional content that is not available in the library.

What I hope to do is to add interesting sidelines as they come to me. I hope this adds to the visitors’ enjoyment of a subject dear to my heart. These biographical tidbits were not in the exhibit but help one place Darwin as a human being with a very amiable personality.  Comments are welcome.

Personal facts to note – Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), Charles Darwin (1809-1882), and Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) became close friends, and their families often visited at Down House.  Huxley, Darwin, and Hooker shared the painful loss of a young child.  Annie Darwin died in 1851 at ten years, Noel Huxley in 1860 at five years, Marie-Elizabeth Hooker in 1863 at six years.  This kind of tragedy in these family-loving people formed a bond between the families over and above the men’s scientific camaraderie.

Hooker & Darwin – A further connection between Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker is in Hooker’s first wife and Darwin’s naturalist mentor at Cambridge University.  John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861) taught Darwin botany in the field and laboratory, recommended him for the Voyage on the Beagle, and discussed botany with him over the years.  Frances Harriet Henslow, daughter of John, married Joseph Hooker in 1851, and before she died in 1874 produced seven children.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895). Huxley defended Darwin’s Origin in a series of famous public debates, but he was an even more significant innovator in scientific educational methods in England and important contributor to invertebrate and vertebrate physiology, anatomy, and classification.

Etching and drypoint engraving by Leopold Flameng

The image to the left is on display in the library as part of the exhibit. It is an etching based on a portrait painted by John Collier in 1881, a year before Darwin died.

Leopold Fleming created this etching in 1881, from which he printed many copies.  Our copy hangs in the current exhibit and resides in the Suzette Morton Davidson Special Collections after the exhibit’s close.  Fleming added at the bottom margin of the etching head views of Collier, Darwin, and himself, not seen here.  John Collier (1850-1934) was, coincidentally, son-in-law of Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895).

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