In the fall of 1842, six years after he returned from his trip aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, Charles Darwin moved with his wife, Emma, and their two small children to Down House, in rural Kent, England. It was here, in a nicely appointed ground-floor study—fireplace, wheeled armchair, heavy red drapes to match the red floors—that Darwin finished the first manuscript of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,” the book that secured his name in the annals of biology. It was also here that the Darwins raised their sizable family. They had ten children—six boys and four girls, seven of whom survived into adulthood—and Down House was by all accounts a boisterous place, with a wooden slide on the stairs and a rope swing on the first-floor landing.
The naturalist’s life work, both professional and familial, has recently become more accessible than ever before, thanks to the Darwin Manuscripts Project, an effort by scholars at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, to digitize, annotate, and make public online some ninety thousand pages from the Cambridge University Library’s Darwin collection. “The scope of the enterprise, of what we call evolutionary biology, is defined in these papers,” David Kohn, the D.M.P.’s director, told me. “He’s got his foot in the twentieth century.” Though the project focusses on Darwin the scientist, there are glimpses of him as a father, too. Among the twenty-six thousand pages that have so far been digitized are fifty-seven pages of the Darwin children’s drawings—nine of them on the back of the manuscript of “On the Origin of Species.”
What may seem like sacrilege now—turning the only handwritten copy of a seminal work of science into scratch paper—appears to have been normal then. Once Darwin had sent a fair copy of the manuscript off to his publisher, John Murray, he made the rest of his changes to the book directly on the galley proofs, and evidently he wasn’t precious about the originals. Paper being a hot commodity, the children co-opted the pages for themselves. Kohn doesn’t know for certain which kids were the artists, but he guesses that at least three were involved: Francis, who became a botanist; George, who became an astronomer and mathematician; and Horace, who became an engineer. The drawings are lively and full of color, made in pencil, ink, and watercolor, depicting real and imagined worlds, always with a Darwinian eye for detail. Part of the joy of these images, of course, is what they imply about Darwin—not the stereotype of a tortured, isolated great thinker but the abettor of scientific curiosity in others as much as in himself. Indeed, he often put his children to work on his research. “The kids were used as volunteers—to collect butterflies, insects, and moths, and to make observations on plants in the fields around town,” Kohn said.
The drawings, though exacting, are also playful. One image, of a green fish with pink legs and fins and a bright-blue umbrella, reminded me of Honoré Daumier’s caricatures, with its rough but evocative lines and shading. The anonymous artists lavished as much attention on a series of seventeen drawings of military personnel—Hussar, Highlander, sapper, and so on—as they did on a series that the archivists at the Museum of Natural History dubbed “The Battle of Fruits and Vegetables,” which depicts soldiers, armed with muskets, lances, and bows, riding produce into battle. There are also short stories. “The Fairies of the Mountain,” written in a careful serifed scrawl, tells the tale of Polytax and Short Shanks, whose wings have been cut off by a “naughty fairy.” The pair travel along a ray of light from the moon to the sun, where the flora and fauna, like fanciful Galápagos finches, seem to have adapted to their environment: “The trees had no leaves because it was so boiling hot. The birds had hairs instead of feathers. The flowers instead of petals had feathers and inside the flowers were little grinning faces grinning at you.”
Bank of America Corp. BAC +1.24% has brought in an outside law firm to help examine a soured lending arrangement that led to a $292 million charge in last year’s fourth quarter, according to people familiar with the matter.
The losses sprang from financing involving troubled South African firm Steinhoff International Holdings SNH 8.66% NV, the people said. Bank of America is trying to figure out if the losses, which surfaced at many big global banks, could somehow have been avoided, the people said.
The inquiry is being conducted by law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and began late last year, the people said. The law firm recently has interviewed Bank of America staff, some of the people added.
Bank of America’s board is being kept abreast of the inquiry, which is ongoing, some of the people said.
“One of the reasons we have record-low credit losses is because we take the time to analyze what happened when things don’t go as planned and learn from it. It’s the responsible thing for a financial institution to do,” a bank spokesman said.
Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan alluded to the inquiry on the bank’s earnings call in January. “It is always a wake-up call that some things don’t turn out well, and we got to go back and what are lessons learned and what did we do right or wrong on that and how we avoid that in the future,” Mr. Moynihan said of the loss. “We weren’t happy with it, from the top of the house through to the actual people who were involved in it.”
Bank of America was one of a number of global lenders that held pieces of a €1.6 billion ($2.0 billion) loan to Christo Wiese, then chairman of the South African retailer. Mr. Wiese’s shares in the company served as collateral for the financing.
Those shares collapsed in value last fall after the retailer, which owns Mattress Firm and the Sleepy’s brand, disclosed accounting irregularities.
The retail banking industry is undergoing another major shift, and the future looks high-tech, sophisticated, and, for big banks, very urban. So what has changed? Photo: Shaumbé Wright/The Wall Street Journal
The speed of the resulting share-price decline—the stock was worth 120% of the loan on Dec. 5 and less than 24% two days later—left banks few good options. In addition to Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group disclosed losses to what was typically described as a single-name client in the fourth quarter.
This client, people familiar with the matter said, was Steinhoff. The four banks booked a combined hit to fourth-quarter earnings of more than $1 billion.
Bank of America’s $292 million loss was the second-largest charge for the quarter and was spread across its global banking and markets divisions.
That drove the bulk of loan-loss provisions in both units in the fourth quarter, a sign of both how large the Steinhoff loss was—and how healthy the rest of the units’ portfolios were by contrast.
Citigroup had the highest charge, described as up to $370 million.
The losses hit banks so quickly and broadly that many analysts have brushed off the charges as a one-time occurrence that isn’t indicative of broader underwriting problems. Still, Bank of America is looking to see how the exposure to Steinhoff came to be and how the bank can avoid similar problems in the future, the people familiar with the matter said.
Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Nomura put together the original loan to Mr. Wiese. Those banks sold off large chunks of their exposure to several other banks, including Bank of America.
The loan was made to a vehicle controlled by Mr. Wiese in September 2016 to help him fund a Steinhoff capital-raising needed to pay for one of its many acquisitions. Mr. Wiese’s vehicles pledged 628 million shares—at that point worth €3.175 billion—as collateral against the loan.
In essence, Mr. Wiese borrowed against his Steinhoff shares to buy more Steinhoff shares. Such stock-based lending had been booming across the banking industry due to what was until recent days a long, low-volatility stock rally and the loans’ light capital requirements.
Bank of America, which experienced major losses and fines in connection with the financial crisis, has become much more conservative in recent years across its businesses.
Write to Rachel Louise Ensign at firstname.lastname@example.org