Charles Darwin ruminates on the pros and cons of marriage

Illustration for article titled Charles Darwin ruminates on the pros and cons of marriage

Charles Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, in January 1839 — but not before giving it some serious thought. In the months leading up to his marriage proposal in November of 1838, the preeminent naturalist maintained a number of lists, scrawled in his journal, dedicated to the pros and cons of marriage, and the impact that the two divergent paths might have on his personal and professional life.


As Brain Pickings' Maria Popova points out, Darwin's entries bespeak "the timeless, and arguably artificial, cultural tension between family and career, love and work, heart and head," while offering "a beautiful antidote to the cultural myth that love and meaningful work can't coexist." (Darwin and his wife would remain married throughout his highly productive career right up until his death, and had ten children together.) Included here is an excerpt from one of Darwin's list of pros and cons, penned in July of 1938. You'll find a few more lists like it over on Brain Pickings; they're but a small sampling of a time-devouring collection of the letters that together comprise the Darwin Correspondence Project — explore it at the peril of your productivity.

This is the Question [circled in pencil]


Children –(if it Please God) - Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, - object to be beloved & played with. - –better than a dog anyhow. - Home, & someone to take care of house - Charms of music & female chit-chat. - These things good for one's health. - but terrible loss of time. –

My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all. - No, no won't do. - Imagine living all one's day solitarily in smoky dirty London House. - Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps - Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro' St.

Not Marry

Freedom to go where one liked - choice of Society & little of it. - Conversation of clever men at clubs - Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. - to have the expense & anxiety of children - perhaps quarelling - Loss of time. - cannot read in the Evenings - fatness & idleness - Anxiety & responsibility - less money for books &c - if many children forced to gain one's bread. - (But then it is very bad for ones health[19] to work too much)

Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool.

[The Darwin Correspondence Project via Brain Pickings]



"better than a dog anyhow"

When and if I marry, I want it to be for this reason