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

originally exhibited May-June 1992
Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina

text by Roger Mortimer
hypertext by Jason A. Pierce

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin


 Similarities between man and other vertebrates have been noted and discussed by Western thinkers since Classical times, and numerous theories, many of an evolutionary nature, have been formulated to account for those resemblances. It was not until the early nineteenth century, however, that knowledge of existing plant and animal morphology, coupled with the study of the record of past life preserved in the geological time scale, permitted the scientist to begin to draw precise parallels between present-day life-forms and to relate them to fossil antecedents. 

Assisted by this scientifically definable methodology, Charles Darwin was able to formulate a theory of evolution free of the theological or metaphysical implications inherent in earlier evolutionary theory. His theory of evolutionary selection holds, simply, that variation within species occurs randomly and that the survival or extinction of each organism is determined by that organism's ability to adapt to its environment. Though aspects of the mechanism of natural selection continue to be debated in the scientific community, Darwin's principal thesis remains central to modern scientific thought.

The C. Warren Irvin Jr. Collection has been formed carefully to reflect Darwin's writings and interests and to place them in the context of the work of his immediate predecessors, his grandfather Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Robert Malthus, Jean Baptiste Lamarck and Sir Charles Lyell; and of his principal colleagues and followers, Alfred Russel Wallace (who formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection simultaneously with and independently of Darwin), Thomas Henry Huxley, and Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, founder of the study of eugenics.

It is with pleasure and a sense of privilege that the University of South Carolina's Thomas Cooper Library presents this exhibition of items from the Irvin Collection of Darwiniana and the history of evolution. The listing below gives descriptions of all items on display (three supplementary titles selected from the Library's collections are identified), placing each within the context of the exhibition as a whole. We hope that patrons will avail themselves of the opportunity to view this fine collection of first editions of works central to the development of present-day scientific thought.

Preface, by Dr. C. Warren Irvin, Jr.

 When I was forty years old, having spent the most of the previous thirty-five years in acquiring a scientific (Medical) education, I began a systematic program of re-education. The reading of World History, philosophy, literature, some graphic arts, and science all interested me and have continued to be an enjoyable and fruitful part of my life over the last thirty years. During this latter time it became evident that rare, original ideas changing the way mankind thought and lived were the most fascinating. Charles Darwin and evolution soon became my favorite man and subject.

This love affair of Darwin was a gradual process, but one that grew in importance as I recognized the extent of "The Theory" and its effects on all aspects of society - not just science, but religion, economics, ethics, government, and literature to mention a few. The man himself is easy to admire and respect. A quiet, reserved, timid, thorough, hard working, humane, brilliant scholar who concerned himself with the feelings and motions not only of his family, but friends and peers as well. His burial in Westminster Abbey indicates the lack of estrangement of the Church over his gradually developing agnosticism (?atheism).

Interest in Darwin leads to "before, with, and after". Grandfather Erasmus, the Lunar Society, Wedgwoods, Romantic poets, cousins, and the entire coterie lead to even wider interests. Natural Theology, Chambers, Bishop Ussher, Malthus, Cuvier, Lyell, and Lamarck all became alive as I pursued these "giants on whose shoulders" Darwin stood. Colleagues such as T. H. Huxley, Spencer, Agassiz, Haekel, Gray, LeConte, and others added to my knowledge.

One would be greatly amiss not to refer to Alfred Russel Wallace. Although a co-discoverer of "The Theory," he was always diffident to Darwin even when disagreeing with him. A long, worthwhile, interesting life has made him one of the unrecognized gentlemen scholars.

In the twentieth century interest in Darwin and evolution has increased with the advent of modern genetics and wider interest in archeology, ecology, anthropology, eugenics, catastrophism and other scientific endeavors. The social, ethical, historical, literary, and legal interests are all pursued with continued enthusiasm. Darwinism has not only enriched the culture of European and American societies, but reaches into the far corners of the world. A small sample from my library or recent works is attended to this exhibit.

Some fifteen or so years ago I began to collect Darwiniana. At first it was just Darwin, but later is enlarged to include many of the people noted above. As these editions are primarily of English origin I have had the delightful experience of dealing with London rare booksellers as well as rare booksellers in the United States. It has been a joyful endeavor, one that I am delighted to share with others. I would not have missed it for the world.

C. Warren Irvin, Jr.

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Updated 23 June 1999 by the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
Copyright © 1999, the University of South Carolina.