November 1, 2012 - 11:55 pm
Irradiated by LabRat

Today I found the best thing on the internet, which are these excerpts from a letter Charles Darwin wrote to Charles Lyell in 1861.

For those who aren’t experts on Charles Darwin and can’t make out his handwriting, which appears to have been developed on the theory that if one is having difficulty forming a word one should simply press on and eventually it will all be over*, the quote is this:

“But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.”

Oh Charles. Buddy. I can so relate.

It goes on like this:

“I am going to write a little book for Murray on orchids, and today I hate them worse than everything.”


*Which, not to bash on Darwin, everybody who’s ever had to quickly take notes develops awful handwriting regardless of how beautiful their penmanship began. Mine looks like it was written by someone who is having a seizure, or possibly jotting something down quickly during an earthquake. I worry someday someone who has to deal with my checks or credit card slips will notice my signature is never the same twice.

11 Responses to “Vintage”

  1. Tatyana Says:

    There is a Russian idiom characterizing someone’s illegible handwriting: “writes like a hen with her paw”.
    My elementary school teacher improved it: “you write like a drunken hen with injured paw!”

  2. Sparrowkin Says:

    I wrote my MA thesis on Henry Knox, who I love to this day…but take a 6 foot 5 inches tall man who weighs three hundred pounds and had to drop out of school in third grade, give him a soft lead pencil and then get him really, really hyper and, well, it’s an adventure but not a legible one. I myself have handwritting like a demented 8 year old on meth. THANK you for the letter transcriptions; they are awesome.

  3. Matt G Says:

    Chuck was sickly in his later years, and given to lots of blue periods. Some people have tried to make hey over that, at times. I speculated that it was just a case of a man who was smart enough to realize that he had a lot to say, but wasn’t getting it all done, and wasn’t feeling much gumption to. Such has many times caused depression, and attending illness.

  4. Old NFO Says:

    Interesting to know he had his ‘off’ days too… :-)

  5. Leigh! Says:

    Y’know that just makes him sound like someone you can hang out with. He’s got personality about his work.

  6. JFM Says:

    I have never felt as close to Charles Darwin as I do right now. Thank you.

  7. Heather Says:

    I’m required at work to maintain a signature card (to compare against lab notebook work). It’s supposed to be amended every time my signature changes. They don’t have enough cards for me on that!

  8. acairfearann Says:

    Nice. Great men are human! Always a useful reminder.
    Oddly, it is easier to read medieval hands (if you get past the whole using contractions in Latin thing) than most work written after about 1600 when strict scribe based rules for handwriting declined. Individualism and higher literacy rates apparently don’t help with legibility…

  9. LittleRed1 Says:

    One of the most fascinating handwritings I ever saw in the archives was that of a ranch foreman in Texas. It was a cross between Spencerian and medieval, especially his numbers. Once I learned to read it, I could fly through his reports, but the learning took a while. Always wondered what his education had been.

    Thus far the hardest to read has been an English Royal Navy captain with cramped handwriting who cross-wrote in blue ink on blue paper. Thin blue paper, so it bled through. It took me eight hours of deciphering before I really mastered it, and even then I’m not certain about a few words.

  10. acairfearann Says:

    Signatures and place names are what drive me nuts. Usually (it might take the better bit of a day) context and patience allows one to decipher almost everything; but those two, paradoxically the most important at times, can be impossible. Although if you get a signature once, you have it.
    Don’t get me going on cross writing…was it even legible to the writer??

  11. Firehand Says:

    I had very nice handwriting, until I spent four years as a dispatcher at a LE agency.
    Hit the point that if I didn’t go over my notes and transcribe them on the typewriter within half an hour, I couldn’t read the damn things myself.