6 Things Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin Had In Common

Getty Images
Getty Images

On February 12, 1809, two of the most revolutionary men of the 19th century were born. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin had a lot more in common than a knack for growing epic beards. For example ...

1. Both Men Loved Shakespeare.

As a young man, Darwin particularly enjoyed the Bard’s historical dramas, although he became tired of the playwright as he grew older. Lincoln, meanwhile, recited Shakespeare’s work extensively throughout his life. In an eerie coincidence, Honest Abe quoted the following line from Macbeth mere days before his assassination: “After life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well.” 

2. Neither Man Rose to National Prominence Until Their Late Forties.

Although both men had previously enjoyed modest professional success, neither turned into a household name in their youth. For Lincoln, that all changed in 1858, when the Lincoln-Douglas debates helped him secure nationwide recognition and, eventually, the presidency. The following year, Darwin became one of the most famous scientists in history when On the Origin of Species was published after a lengthy gestation period.

3. Both Lost Their Mothers Early In Life.

Susannah Wedgwood Darwin lost her battle with an unknown disease on July 15, 1817. As for Nancy Hanks Lincoln, she died of milk sickness on October 5, 1818, at the age of 34. 

4. Both Suffered Through the Death of a Young Child.

Edward Lincoln died shortly before his fourth birthday, while Anne Elizabeth Darwin succumbed to an unknown illness at the age of 10 (her devastated parents kept a box full of keepsakes which went undiscovered until 2000).

5. Both Loved Music, But Neither Could Sing.

Lincoln adored opera, while Darwin enjoyed listening to church choirs, classical concerts, and his wife’s piano-playing. Despite this shared affinity for music, the former man refused to sing around others and the latter was tone-deaf.

6. Both Were Abolitionists.

“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” Lincoln once wrote. The “great emancipator’s” role in passing the Thirteenth Amendment, which officially eradicated slavery in the United States, speaks for itself. But Darwin, too, loathed the practice. While aboard the HMS Beagle (a voyage that inspired his theory of natural selection), Darwin frequently encountered “those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country.” He even weighed in on the American Civil War in a letter to New England botanist Asa Gray, writing “[I wish] that the North would proclaim a crusade against slavery … Great God, how I should like to see the greatest curse on earth, slavery, abolished.”

And Here’s One Critical Difference:

Lincoln was an avid cat fanatic, while Darwin was an avowed dog lover.

This article originally ran in 2014.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

What Are Sugar Plums?

Marten Bjork, Unsplash
Marten Bjork, Unsplash

Thanks to The Nutcracker and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," sugar plums are a symbol of the holidays. But what are sugar plums, exactly? Like figgy pudding and yuletide, the phrase has become something people say (or sing) at Christmastime without knowing the original meaning. Before it was the subject of fairy dances and storybook dreams, a sugar plum was either a fruitless candy or a not-so-sweet euphemism.

According to The Atlantic, the sugar plums English-speakers ate from the 17th to the 19th century contained mostly sugar and no plums. They were made by pouring liquid sugar over a seed (usually a cardamom or caraway seed) or almond, allowing it to harden, and repeating the process. This candy-making technique was called panning, and it created layers of hard sugar shells. The final product was roughly the size and shape of a plum, which is how it came to be associated with the real fruit.

Before the days of candy factories, these confections could take several days to make. Their labor-intensive production made them a luxury good reserved for special occasions. This may explain how sugar plums got linked to the holidays, and why they were special enough to dance through children's heads on Christmas Eve.

The indulgent treat also became a synonym for anything desirable. This second meaning had taken on darker connotations by the 17th century. A 1608 definition from the Oxford English Dictionary describes a sugar plum as “something very pleasing or agreeable, esp. when given as a sop or bribe.” Having a "mouthful of sugar plums" wasn't necessarily a good thing, either. It meant you said sweet words that may have been insincere.

As true sugar plums have fallen out of fashion, demand for Christmas candy resembling the actual fruit has risen. You can now buy fancy candied plums and plum-flavored gummy candies for the holidays, but if you want something closer to the classic sugar plum, a Jordan almond is the more authentic choice.