Posted by Nick Matzke on May 20, 2007 03:17 PM

The New York Times has a good story on the Darwin Correspondence Project, which now has 5,000 Darwin letters online. Some good bits are in there. Darwin when he was 12:

Just as I was going, she said she must ask me not a very decent question, that was whether I wash all over every morning — no — then she said it was quite disgustin — then she asked me if I did every other morning, and I said no — then she said how often I did, and I said once a week, then she said of cour you wash your feet every day, and I said no, then she begun saying how very disgusting and went on that way a good while….so then I went and told erasmus, and he bust out in laughing and said I had better tell he to come and wash them her self, besides that she said she did not like sitting by me or Erasmus for we smelt of not washing all over, there we sat arguing away for a good while.

And then we have Darwin writing to Asa Gray on slavery in 1861 (amongst discussing carnivorous plants, orchids, scientific method, and a brief reference to their continuing discussion over the Design argument):

I cannot believe that the South would ever have fellow-feeling enough with the North to allow of government in common. Could the North endure a Southern President? The whole affair is a great misfortune in the progress of the World; but I shd not regret it so much, if I could persuade myself that Slavery would be annihilated…. I sometimes wish the contest to grow so desperate that the north would be led to declare freedom as a diversion against the Enemy…. But Heaven knows why I trouble you with my speculations; I ought to stick to Orchids.

Abraham Lincoln of course did just this in 1862 with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Here is some other fun-with-the-Darwin-database, not mentioned in the article: Search for Darwin’s views on “intelligent Design” and “special creation” (apparently a term coined by Herbert Spencer around 1850), “eugenics,” “slavery,” and Venus Flytraps and their relatives.

While I’m discussing Darwin quotes, I just have to mention the fantastically juvenile quote-mine creationist Salvador Cordova has been spreading around the internet trying to smear Darwin as a degenerate puppy-beater. Most recently on Sal’s own blog:

May 16, 2007
Darwin’s Victim
Filed under: Darwinism — scordova @ 10:41 am

I beat a puppy, I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power.

Charles “Gas” Darwin

Yes, the puppy pic is original. Nice one, Sal! Fortunately anyone with two brain cells stuck together can google a bit and figure out the source. This comes not from Darwin’s letters, but from his Autobiography, which is online at The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, darwin-online.org.uk. Stick the “I beat a puppy” quote in the search engine and you get the hits. From p. 27 of the original unedited Autobiography:

Once as a very little boy, whilst at the day-school, or before that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure as the spot was near to the house. This act lay heavily on my conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my love of dogs being then, and for a long time afterwards, a passion. Dogs seemed to know this, for I was an adept in robbing their love from their masters.

(Sal’s quote bolded)

Hmm, the context turns that around a bit, I’d say.