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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: October 2017

APPENDIX VII - Darwin's honorary LLD: the public oration

from Appendixes

On 17 November 1877, Darwin was awarded an honorary LLD degree (doctor of laws) by the University of Cambridge. Darwin himself attended the ceremony, with his wife, Emma, his daughter Elizabeth, and his sons Leonard and Horace, and probably George and Francis, looking on. There was considerable uproar among the undergraduates, apparently good-natured as far as it concerned Darwin, and a stuffed monkey in cap and gown, and a ring tied with ribbons (the ‘missing link’?) were suspended from the galleries. According to Emma, when the vice-chancellor appeared, Darwin was ‘marched down the aisle behind two men with silver maces, and the unfortunate public orator came and stood by him and got thro’ his tedious harangue as well as he could, constantly interrupted by the most unmannerly shouts and jeers; and when he had continued what seemed an enormous time, some one called out in a cheerful tone “Thank you kindly.” At last he got to the end with admirable nerve and temper, and then they all marched back to the Vice-Chancellor in scarlet and white fur, and [Darwin] joined his hands and did not kneel but the Vice-Chancellor put his hands outside and said a few Latin words, and then it was over, and everybody came up and shook hands.’ (Emma Darwin (1915), 2: 230–1.)

The orator was John Edwin Sandys, and the oration was published in his Orationes et epistolae Cantabrigienses (1876–1909) (Macmillan and Co.: London, 1910), pp. 6–7. There are at least three printed copies of the oration in the Darwin Archive– CUL; one (DAR 210.1: 63) was probably sent by Darwin to his son George, a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, who acted as intermediary in negotiations before the event, and another (DAR 95: 464) was probably sent to his friend Joseph Dalton Hooker. A third is in DAR 139: 2. Below is a transcription of the printed oration, and a translation by Professor Philip Hardie, who has contributed extensively to the footnotes.

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The Correspondence of Charles Darwin
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