Yes, let that sink in. Charles Darwin – the man who created evolutionary theory – actually married his first cousin. (That may be common knowledge, but it came as news to me. Albert Einstein married his first cousin as well.) Cousin marriage was a more routine practice during Darwin’s time, of course, one that was employed by the British monarchy for generations and is still legal in Canada and Europe. But nonetheless, Darwin marrying his cousin is kind of hilarious if you think about the genetic implications of first cousins procreating. Then again, maybe Darwin gets the last laugh here, because some say the genetic effects of cousins having children are not as bad as generally thought.
The fact that Darwin married his cousin isn’t the most interesting thing about his marital life, though. His journals show that he was very much torn about whether or not he should marry at all. Here are some of his thoughts on the pros and cons of marriage and family:
Cons of marrying – Darwin wrote:
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 quarrelling — 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 to work too much)
Pros of marrying – Darwin wrote:
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.
In the end, Darwin chose to marry and he and his cousin Emma Wedgwood had 10 children. As Brain Pickings notes, Darwin and his wife “remained together until Darwin’s death in 1882 — a beautiful antidote to the cultural myth that love and meaningful work can’t coexist.” To read more of Darwin’s mixed feelings about marriage and children, visit Brain Pickings.