The C. Warren Irvin, Jr., Collection
of Charles Darwin and Darwiniana

Overview | Warren Irvin on Collecting Darwin | Boyhood and Edinburgh | Cambridge | The Voyage of the Beagle | Zoology and Botany | Geology | Vestiges and Lamarckianism | Marine Biology and the 1850s | The Origin of Species | After the Origin | After Darwin

The Origin of Species

The first public announcement of natural selection
Charles Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace, 1823-1913.
"On the tendency of species to form varieties: and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection."
Communicated by Sir Charles Lyell and J. D. Hooker.
Journal of the proceedings of the Linnean Society: Zoology, 3 (1858): 45-62.

On June 18th, 1858, Darwin, well launched into writing his long-planned multi-volume work on species, was shocked to receive a letter mailed in February by a fellow-naturalist on his way to New Guinea. The letter propounded a theory of natural selection in species development eerily like the theory he had himself long hugged to himself as the culmination of his researches. Influential allies immediately took charge, and arranged that both theories should be read into the scientific record on July 1st, a bare two weeks after Wallace's bombshell had arrived. Wallace, long an admirer of Darwin, took it all with remarkable good grace, but Darwin had to abandon his full-scale book and instead prepare the preliminary overview of his theory that we know asThe Origin of Species.

"The most important biological book ever written"
Charles Darwin,
On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 
London: John Murray, 1859.

Darwin's most famous book was at first envisaged as only a brief overview of his central case, that "species have changed, and are still slowly changing by the preservation and accumulation of successive slight favorable variations." Inevitably, it drew in a broad range of the issues and evidence he had been contemplating for so long. He began writing in July 1858, and the whole text, totaling nearly 500 pages, was in proof by the following September. By the time it was first offered for sale to the public, on November 22nd 1859, the first edition of 1250 copies (less review and presentation copies) had all been taken by the trade. Darwin's apprehension about public response to the book can be seen in his careful choice of the two epigraphs that face the title-page.

The first reprinting (and first revisions)
Charles Darwin,
On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.
5th thousand. London: John Murray, 1860. Second edition, second issue.

Perhaps because the publisher Murray had not expected so rapid a sale, theOrigin had not been stereotyped. Murray invited Darwin, still recuperating at a hydropathic hotel in Yorkshire, to make some modest revisions to the original standing type before additional copies were printed. The most obvious change is the addition of the third preliminary epigraph. The title-page description "Fifth thousand" obscures the actual size of this second printing: 3000 copies, which, with the first edition, meant a total of just 4250 copies were in print, all sold by November 1860. These figures hardly indicate a bestseller by comparison with a typical Dickens novel, a new Tennyson volume, or even the contemporary theological cause de celebre Essays and Reviews, but they mark the beginning of growing interest.

Huxley and the management of public response 
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825-1895,
Review of Darwin's Origin of Species,
Westminster Review, (January 1860).

This review by the man who would emerge as Darwin's strongest public advocate marked the first appearance in print of a new word, "Darwinism," and prophesied the future "domination of Science" over carefully-unnamed but easily-guessed "regions of thought into which she has as yet hardly penetrated." Darwin thought the review "brilliant." The Victorian practice of anonymous reviewing allowed Huxley to review Darwin'sOrigin twice, once for the Westminster(where he had beenscience editor in the early 1850s) and once for the Times (whose staff reviewer was glad of the help with a topic he did not understand).

The three chromolithographic cartoons here are from the series in the magazineVanity Fair. The third figure, with Huxley and Darwin himself, is Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford ("Soapy Sam"), who attacked Darwin at the British Association meeting in 1860, and was routed by Huxley in the subsequent discussion.

Further revision and a new historical perspective
Charles Darwin,
On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.
3rd ed., with additions and corrections. (7th thousand). London: John Murray, 1861.

This edition, of 2000 copies, introduced two new features that would become established parts of every subsequent Murray Origin: Darwin's "Historical Sketch," tracing and weighing earlier theories of species development, and a table listing the many new revisions that he had introduced each time he was given the opportunity. A fourth edition was not needed till 1866, and a further three years passed before the fifth, in which Darwin first adopted Herbert Spencer's haunting phrase, "the survival of the fittest." The sixth edition (the last major revision, introducing the word "evolution") appeared in 1872.

Darwin's Origin of Species in America 
Charles Darwin,
On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.
New York: Appleton, 1860. Presented by John Shaw Billings from the library of Redcliffe, in memory of James H. Hammond (Class of 1825) and Harry Hammond (Class of 1852).

In the mid-19th century, British books had no copyright protection in the United States. Darwin's longtime American correspondent, the Harvard botanist Asa Gray (1810-1888), began planning an American edition, but was forestalled by the New York publisher Appleton, who got out their reprint from the unrevised first British edition by mid-January 1860. Three further printings were required within the year, though only the last incorporated Darwin's textual revisions.

Huxley on the significance of Darwin's Origin
Thomas Henry Huxley,
On our knowledge of the causes of the phemomena of organic nature.
London: Robert Hardwicke, 1862. Spine title On origin of species.

Darwin's new theory won interest and acceptance, not only from professional scientists, but also among working men bent on self-improvement and open to a theory that suggested that both individuals and society were capable of progressive change. Huxley offered a special series of public lectures designed for this audience, concluding a ringing endorsement of Darwin's theory as "the greatest contribution which has been made to biological science" since Cuvier, "destined to be the guide of biological and psychological speculation for the next three or four generations."

Pushing on to dangerous ground: natural selection and the human species 
Thomas Henry Huxley,
Evidence as to man's place in nature.
London, Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1863.

In the Origin, Darwin had avoided direct affront to orthodox readers, by skirting the application of his theory to humans. Huxley had no such compunction and (often to Darwin's enjoyment) relished opportunities to show the independence of science from orthodoxy, both in his famous riposte to Bishop Wilberforce at the British Association meeting in 1860 and in this graphic frontispiece to another set of his popular lectures. When the first copy reached him at Downe, Darwin is reported to have exclaimed "Hurrah! The Monkey Book has come."

The older generation struggles with Darwinism 
Sir Charles Lyell,
The geological evidences of the antiquity of man: with remarks on theories of the origin of species by variation.
London: John Murray, 1863.

The geologist Lyell, Darwin's early hero, was also one of his strongest supporters in writing the Origin. Nonetheless, for over thirty years, Lyell had maintained that the fossil record showed the immutability of species. The prestige of Lyell's earlier works ensured large sales for this new book, and Darwin was disappointed by the very limited and partial support the older man would give to his theories, lest they be applied also to humans.

Wallace, natural selection and the question of racial difference
Alfred Russel Wallace
"The development of human races under the law of natural selection," in hisContributions to the theory of natural selection.
London: Macmillan, 1870.

Neither Darwin (with his Quaker abolitionist inheritance from the Wedgwoods) nor Wallace (a longtime socialist who had done fieldwork among the Dayaks of Borneo) wished their theories about species to be hijacked in justification of racialism, but in a decade when Britons debated the Jamaica Rising and Americans fought over Emancipation and in the subsequent decades of imperialist expansionism, debate on racial issues was inevitable. In this essay, first published in the Anthropological Review in May 1864, Wallace uses Darwinism both to assert the ultimate unity of the human species and to theorize about racial differentiation.

A Victorian poet on man's Darwinian origin
Robert Browning, 1812-1889,
"Caliban upon Setebos, or natural theology in the island," from hisDramatis Personae,
London: Chapman & Hall, 1864.

In one of the first overt poetic responses to Darwin's theory, Browning imagines the thought processes of primitive man (Shakespeare's Caliban) as he struggles to construct an idea of God that fits with his experience in a world of natural conflict and Darwinian struggle.

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