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14 February 2014

Scientists in Love

In honour of St. Valentine’s Day, Rebecca Withers shares three romantic tales of important scientists of the past.

Charles Darwin celebrated his 205th birthday on 12 February. Largely known for his observational and reflective skills which inspired his theory of evolution and natural selection, he was also a prolific letter writer, and entirely enamoured with his wife, Emma Wedgewood. The extracts below, taken from The Correspondence of Charles Darwin include letters that reveal Darwin’s thoughts and feelings on love and marriage.

In July 1838, Darwin had returned from his voyage aboard the Beagle and in this note weighs the pros and cons of marriage:


By November that same year Charles was convinced of his love for Emma and his desire to marry. She readily accepted his marriage proposal. The two continued to live apart and exchange lengthy, detailed letters before settling down in London:

“… there never was anybody so lucky as I have been, or so good as you. …I have thought how little I expressed, how much I owe you; and as often as I think this, I vow to try to make myself good enough somewhat to deserve you.-”

And then two weeks later:

“… I positively can do nothing, & have done nothing this whole week; but think of you & our future life.-”

Emma’s response two days later:

"There were several things in your last letter that pleased me uncommonly."

Writing to Emma on the 30th of November, 1838, Darwin pens:

“what a strict good wife, I am going to be married to, who will send me to my lessons, & make me better, I trust, in every respect, as I am sure she will infinitely happier and happier, the longer I live to enjoy my good fortune.-”

Charles and Emma married on 29 January 1839 and soon after settled into a home in London where they began their long, happy life together.


Marie Curie (née Sklodowska) was 15 when she moved from Warsaw to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. Two years later, in 1894, she met Pierre Curie through her research professor who invited them both to dinner at his house.

In Pierre Curie, the biography written by Marie Curie (1924), she describes their first meeting:

“As I entered the room, Pierre Curie was standing in the recess of a French window opening on a balcony. He seemed to me very young, though he was at that time thirty-five years old. I was struck by the open expression of his face and by the slight suggestion of detachment in his whole attitude. His speech, rather slow and deliberate, his simplicity, and his smile, at once grave and youthful, inspired confidence.”

Pierre quickly took an interest in Marie, as she describes:


“Pierre Curie came to see me, and showed a simple and sincere sympathy with my student life. Soon he caught the habit of speaking to me of his dream of an existence consecrated entirely to scientific research, and he asked me to share that life.”

And when Marie returned to live with her father in Poland in 1894, Pierre wrote to her frequently. She includes the contents of one such letter in the biography:

“We have promised each other (is it not true?) to have, the one for the other, at least a great affection. Provided that you do not change your mind! For there are no promises which hold; these are things that do not admit of compulsion. It would, nevertheless, be a beautiful thing in which I hardly dare believe, to pass through life together hypnotized in our dreams: your dream for your country; our dream for humanity; our dream for science. …” 

When Marie returned to Paris their relationship grew and they were married the next year. They really were an ideal match, as she writes of their work and her opinion of her husband on two separate occasions after their marriage:


“We lived together entirely united, we were interested in all the same things: theoretical work, laboratory experience, preparing courses or exams.”


“He was everything and more than I had dreamed of from our encounter. Constantly increasing my admiration for his exceptional qualities, to such a great extent, that he sometimes seemed to me to be almost, a unique character…”

The research that Pierre and Marie Curie did together on the spontaneity of radiation was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, along with Henri Becquerel. Marie Curie went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for her further research on radioactivity. Marie Curie was the first woman to ever receive a Nobel Prize and is the only woman, so far, to have been awarded two.


Thomas Edison, who celebrated his 167th birthday on 11 February, was a remarkable man who greatly changed the world with his inventions. Despite his brilliant mind, Edison was not a well-groomed man. While unappealing to many, he did appeal to Mina Miller. The two fell in love. Edison taught Mina Morse code so the two could communicate in secret whilst in the presence of others. Edison eventually proposed to Mina as follows:

.-- --- ..- .-.. -.. -.-- --- ..- -- .- .-. .-. -.-- -- .

to which she replied:

-.-- . ...

(A guide to translate the code above)

(And if you need a last minute sciencey Valentine’s day card)

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Science Team at the British Library!


note: Translations taken from

Article written under a CC BY 4.0 unported licence.


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