"Better than a dog" : Charles Darwin's pros and cons to marriage.


In July of 1838, Charles Darwin was twenty-nine and recently returned from his “legendary voyage around the globe . . . and a few months away from sketching the first outline of natural selection in his notebooks” (pg 8).

He was also contemplating if h should I get married or stay single.

So, to help clarify his quandary, he made a pros and cons list, “dividing two facing pages in his notebook into two columns.” At the top of one column he wrote “Not Marry.” On the other, “Marry.”

He concluded the following:

Not Marry

- Freedom to go where one liked
-Choice of Society and little of it
-Conversation of clever men at clubs
-Not forced to visit relatives and bend in every trifle
-Expense and anxiety of children
-Perhaps quarreling
-Loss of Time
-Cannot read in the evenings
-Fatness and idleness
-Anxiety and responsibility
-Less money for books etc.
-If many children forced to gain one’s bread (But then it is very bad for one’s health to work too much)
-Perhaps my wife won’t like London; then the sentence is banishment and degradation into indolent, idle fool


-Children (if it Please God)
-Constant companion (and friend in old age) who will feel interested in one
-Object to be beloved and played with. Better than a dog anyhow
-Home, & someone to take care of house
-Charms of music and female chit-chat. These things good for one’s health- but terrible loss of time.
-My God, it is intolerable to thing of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, an nothing after all - No, no won’t do
-Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London House
-Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire and books and music perhaps
-Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Great Marlboro Street, London

How long he deliberated over this list is uncertain. His decision, however, is clear, and not only because he wrote, “Marry, Marry, Marry QED” at the bottom of the page, “but also because he did, in fact, wed Emma Wedgwood six months after writing the words”, a marriage that would “bring much happiness to Darwin” (pg 9). I assume his marriage was a success, in part, because she never saw this list, or at least I suspect she didn’t. Because if she had, I would like to think their discussion would be similar to Ross and Rachel’s.