Nothing For any Purpose

Note: The following post refers to a previous incarnations this blog, which was then named The Red Notebook.

A few years ago, I added the mysterious phrase Nothing For any Purpose to the bottom of the Red Notebook blog's sidebar [Postscript (2013): This blog is no longer named The Red Notebook and the mysterious phrase has been removed]. I've never bothered to explain it before, as it was intended to be my own private little joke—and to act as a reminder that it doesn't matter if nothing useful comes out of this blog.

The phrase is, as if you couldn't have guessed, a Darwin quote. It is to be found in—or, more correctly, on the back of—the original Red Notebook. I will let Darwin scholar Sandra Herbert explain:

The Red Notebook is one of a series of notebooks kept by Charles Darwin during and immediately following his service as naturalist to the 1831-1836 surveying voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. It forms part of the collection of Darwin manuscripts at Down House in Kent, Darwin's former home, and, since 1929, a museum in his honour. The notebook came to Down House by arrangement with the Darwin family following Sir George Buckston Browne's purchase of the house for use as a museum. It is a well-made but otherwise ordinary pocket notebook, measuring 67/16? × 315/16? (164 mm × 99 mm), leather bound with a metal latch, which still works, and, as the name suggests, red in colour, although the original brilliance has faded. The leather cover is embossed with a border design on both sides. The front cover of the notebook bears the initials 'R.N.', written on a rectangular piece of white paper. On the back cover is pasted a similar piece of paper with the identical initials and the additional phrase 'Range of Sharks', referring to an entry within the notebook. There is also an ominous epigram written in larger letters across the back of the notebook: 'Nothing For any Purpose'. All of these inscriptions are written in brown ink in Darwin's handwriting.

Darwin clearly thought that his own Red Notebook did not contain anything useful. What better tribute could I pay the great man than ensuring that my own red notebook is equally unproductive?

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

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