Dear Diary, from Darwin's daughter
Darwin saw his daughter as a "co-labourer" (Image: Darwin Correspondence Project/Cambridge University Library)
"How long, how long has this twelve hours been - & will it be the end? I go over every chance every possibility, in so far as I can conceive them - but come to no conclusions - not unnaturally considering the insufficiency of my data."
This emotive passage has a curiously scientific bent – curious until you learn it was written by Charles Darwin's daughter, Henrietta. As Darwin's eldest daughter to survive to adulthood, Henrietta was a key editor of some of her father's most famous works. The contents of the passage indicate that she had more nuanced views on science and religion than previously thought, and that she probably made constructive contributions to Darwin's writings.
"The wonderful thing about the diary is that she was very sophisticated about her thinking on science and religion," says Alison Pearn of the Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge. "My interpretation is that she was moving toward a humanistic division. Like Darwin, she was unable to reconcile aspects of his theories with orthodox Christian religion."
Writings in the small leather diary – recently donated by the Darwin family - deal with topics of religion, free will and eternal life. They overturn the prevailing image of Henrietta as a rigid believer who tried to suppress the agnosticism in Darwin's writings.
The diary was written over a few months in 1871, when Henrietta was 28 years old. It was the same year that Darwin published The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.
Pearn says the diary helps "rehabilitate" Henrietta as well as help better understand the editorial role Darwin's whole family played in shaping his work. "Henrietta's contribution to Darwin's work, in particular on religion, has been seen as purely negative – 'editing out' rather than editing in any constructive sense," Pearn says. "Now we can see her as her father saw her, as a 'dear coadjutor & fellow-labourer', and as a lively member of an intellectually stimulating household."