Somewhat Famous

Do you know who this is?

I thought I would do a travel post today, even though no-one is traveling. We can still hope and dream. When I opened a photo file, this face came up.

Since there is no cost to a digital image, I always try to take a picture of the caption for artwork, just in case my memory fails me. I didn’t in this instance.

I didn’t need to. You probably recognized him too: 19th century naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin. Father of the theory of evolution. In some circles these days he appears to be a minor god.

I came across this head on a plaque on a visit to Cambridge University a few years back. I had had a meeting in London the day before, and the colleague I was traveling with suggested we make a day-trip to Cambridge so he could revisit his school days. I jumped at the chance. I might have preferred Oxford if I had had the choice, though I had never been to either.

The plaque is near the entrance to Christ’s College, one of many colleges that make up the university. Darwin was a student there almost 200 years ago. Some of the university buildings and courtyards are open to the public, while for others you have to pay an admission fee, which I wasn’t interested in doing.

Very few famous people approach iconic status where their faces are instantly recognizable more than a century after their deaths. You would probably recognize Napoleon. Queen Victoria had a distinct look – but would you recognize any of her descendants? I’ve seen George V and George VI’s images on coins (which were common in my childhood) but I doubt I could identify them from a picture.

I might recognize Lenin and Trotsky – but would not be able to name most 19th century American presidents from their pictures, except Abraham Lincoln.

in the past, political leaders and royalty have more of a chance of being remembered by later generations than the average citizen. Those were the people who had their portraits painted, or were the subject of statues and busts.

A hundred years from now, I wonder if any of today’s political leaders will have reached iconic status, so well known that no captions are needed. Barack Obama maybe? Donald Trump? Probably not – he looks too much like Boris Johnson, people will confuse them.

Perhaps instead it will be the entertainers of our era that are remembered. John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe have powerful brands that to me seem to be approaching iconic status.

Somehow I doubt it will be the scientists. I would probably recognize a picture of Bill Gates, but doubt I could pick Mark Zuckerberg out of a photo lineup. And I can’t name any notable physicists or chemists.

That Darwin had such an impact on our society that we remember him today is impressive. I guess that is why the picture needed no caption.

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