display | more...

The wife of Charles Darwin; both a strong supporter and a sharp critic of his work. Because she remained a Christian after he ceased to believe, he needed to take care that his arguments were convincing for her; and he might have delayed publication or toned down crucial points out of concern for her.

She was born Emma Wedgwood in 1808. They were cousins: Darwin's mother Susannah was daughter of Josiah Wedgwood of the great pottery dynasty. Emma and Charles married on 29 January 1839, when he was twenty-nine; he having proposed to her on 11 November 1838, after drwaing up a list of pros and cons. They had ten children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. The loss of their daughter Anne made a considerable impression on Darwin's belief in the impossibility of a divine order.

Emma was literate, intelligent, social. Charles found it hard to be social; nevertheless their marriage was very happy despite some incompatibilities.

Emma Darwin was with Charles when he died, on 19 April 1882, at Down House. His last words were 'I am not in the least afraid to die'. A smear was put about that he had made a deathbed conversion, but this is refuted by those who were there.

They lived almost all their life together at Down House, near the village of Downe in Kent, having moved there on 17 September 1842. It is now a museum to Darwin, with his study preserved, and maintained by English Heritage. It's in pleasant countryside and worth going to see. After his death Emma continued to spend summers there, alternating with Cambridge. She died in 1896 and was buried at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Downe. Charles had wanted to be buried here, but was interred in high honour in Westminster Abbey. She stayed in Downe during his funeral, though she had agreed to it, on the grounds that he would have been pleased to see the importance of his work acknowledged this way.

Charles's autobiography was prepared posthumously by their son Francis. Emma asked him to omit several sentences because they would distress their religious friends: they express Darwin's strong belief that moral and spiritual principles in human cultures were on a par with other evolved behaviour. The cuts were restored in a 1958 edition. Darwin's original words were:

...Thus disbelief crept over me at very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlasting punished.

And this is a damnable doctrine

Emma annotated the text asking for the parts 'and have never since doubted' up to 'damnable doctrine' to be omitted, saying:

I should dislike the passage in brackets to be published. It seems to me raw. Nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of everlasting punishment for disbelief -- but very few now wd. call that 'Christianity,' (tho' the words are there.) There is the question of verbal inspiration comes in too. E.D.

There is a recent biography by Edna Healey, entitled Emma Darwin, subtitled The inspirational wife of a genius.

Their children were the following:

  1. William Erasmus b. 1839
  2. Anne Elizabeth b. 1841, d. 1851
  3. Mary Eleanor, b. and d. 1842
  4. Henrietta Emma b. 1842
  5. George Howard b. 1845, who became a renowned astronomer; his daughter was the renowned artist Gwen Raverat
  6. Elizabeth b. 1847
  7. Francis b. 1848, who became a renowned botanist
  8. Leonard b. 1850
  9. Horace b. 1851
  10. Charles Waring b. 1856, d. 1858

Note that the alleged "Emme Bounting Woolmoor" in the node of that name is a complete fiction, an invention for E2 by the same people who brought you the fables of "Florian von Banier".

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.