On November 29 2018, Twitter user @Plant_Phillips shared a transcribed image of a quote attributed to Charles Darwin:
Even the most famous scientists have rough weeks. Charles Darwin, for example:
“But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.” pic.twitter.com/o03pBG4ScI
— Alyssa Phillips (@Plant_Phillips) November 30, 2018
A version was captured and shared by the Facebook page “Shit Academics Say” on December 4, 2018; between them, the posts had thousands of shares.
Quotes like the purported Darwin comment are often fondly received on social media, largely for the reasons described in the original tweet — they show that even historically-lauded scientific geniuses are not always at their best. But as is often the case with anything that is highly relatable yet novel attributed to a historical figure, social media users weren’t confident about its veracity.
In October 2012, NPR published an article specifically about the Darwin quote. The author thanked the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia for supplying a photograph of an October 1861 letter, and wrote:
I guess everybody, even the smartest people who ever lived, have days when they feel dumb — really, really dumb. Oct. 1, 1861, was that kind of day for Charles Darwin.
In a letter to his friend Charles Lyell, Darwin says, “I am very poorly today,” and then — and I want you to see this exactly as he wrote it, so you know this isn’t a fake; it comes from the library of the American Philosophical Society, courtesy of their librarian Charles Greifenstein. Can you read it?
[Darwin: “I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.”]
…this is Charles Darwin writing in 1861, two years after he’d published On the Origin of Species. His years of labor (which “half-killed me,” he said) were behind him. He was famous now, already working on his next book, which was going to be about orchids.
According to Vice in May 2015, a longer version of the quote made an appearance at an exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum:
A quote from Darwin, scrawled on a column, greets visitors as they enter the music room at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum: “But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything. One lives to only make blunders.” Perhaps a strange find in a museum dedicated to optimistic visions of the future and precision in design, but the quote itself stumbles into a kind of ars poetica for the exhibition it introduces—Maira Kalman’s Maira Kalman Selects—which celebrates the incidental, the happenstance, and perhaps even the occasional error or malfunction.
Charles Darwin’s “very poorly today … and hate everybody and everything” quote was verified by NPR in 2012, and appeared in a Cooper Hewitt exhibit in 2015. A representative from the American Philosophical Society also verified the quote for us:
I was forwarded your request for verification of the Darwin quote mentioned in the NPR piece from 2012. I can confirm its veracity. I checked both the original letter in our collection and The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 9 (Cambridge: 1994), which prints this letter with the lines as mentioned in the NPR article.