Charles Darwin, born February 12, 1809, has been celebrated for more than two centuries—and for good reason. He was an adventurous soul, who documented the life and times of faraway place like the Galapagos Islands. He was not only a methodical gardener, but an eminent naturalist and the progenitor of the modern theory of evolution. But perhaps his greatest gift was for the scalding one-liner. A prolific diarist and generous correspondent, Darwin wrote enough zingers to fill a burn book. Here, in honor of his 210th birthday, are some of his best. Keep some cold water handy.
Ad hominen attacks
“I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.”
“Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods… but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle.”
“He who understand[s] baboon[s] would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.”
- “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” (More on Darwin’s skepticism of beauty here.)
The shortcomings of his own species
“An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus was wiser than many men.”
“We stopped looking for monsters under our bed when we realized that they were inside us.”
“I feel most deeply that the whole subject [of a divine creator] is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.”
“But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.”
“It was a very stupid blunder on my part… I shall, of course not allude to the subject, which I rather grieve about, as I wished it to be true; but alas a scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections—a mere heart of stone.”
“Often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may have not devoted myself to a fantasy.”
“I am dying by inches, from not having anybody to talk to about insects…”
For more Darwin quotes, you can visit the Darwin Correspondence Project, which has catalogued more than 9,000 of his letters and articles, or any one of his many books.