The Origin of Species


Events leading to publication

An 1855 paper on the "introduction" of species, written by Alfred Russel Wallace, claimed that patterns in the geographical distribution of living and fossil species could be explained if every new species always came into existence near an already existing, closely related species.[46] Charles Lyell recognised the implications of Wallace's paper and its possible connection to Darwin's work, although Darwin did not, and in the spring of 1856 Lyell urged Darwin to publish his theory to establish priority. Darwin was torn between the desire to set out a full and convincing account and the pressure to quickly produce a short paper. He decided he did not want to expose his ideas to review by an editor as would have been required to publish in an academic journal. On 14 May 1856, he began a "sketch" account, and by July had decided to produce a full technical treatise on species.[47]

Darwin was hard at work on his "big book" on Natural Selection, when on 18 June 1858 he received a parcel from Wallace, who stayed on the Maluku Islands (Ternate and Gilolo). It enclosed twenty pages describing an evolutionary mechanism, a response to Darwin's recent encouragement, with a request to send it on to Lyell if Darwin thought it worthwhile. The mechanism was similar to Darwin's own theory.[47] Darwin wrote to Lyell that "your words have come true with a vengeance, ... forestalled" and he would "of course, at once write and offer to send [it] to any journal" that Wallace chose, adding that "all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed".[48] Lyell and Hooker agreed that a joint paper should be presented at the Linnean Society, and on 1 July 1858, the papers entitled On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection, by Wallace and Darwin respectively, were read out but drew little reaction. While Darwin considered Wallace's idea to be identical to his concept of natural selection, historians have pointed out differences. Darwin described natural selection as being analogous to the artificial selection practised by animal breeders, and emphasised competition between individuals; Wallace drew no comparison to selective breeding, and focused on ecological pressures that kept different varieties adapted to local conditions.[49][50][51] Some historians have suggested that Wallace was actually discussing group selection rather than selection acting on individual variation.[52]

After the meeting, Darwin decided to write "an abstract of my whole work".[53] He started work on 20 July 1858, while on holiday at Sandown,[54] and wrote parts of it from memory.[55] Lyell discussed arrangements with publisher John Murray III, of the publishing house John Murray,[56] who responded immediately to Darwin's letter of 31 March 1859[57] with an agreement to publish the book without even seeing the manuscript, and an offer to Darwin of 2⁄3 of the profits.[58] (eventually Murray paid £180 to Darwin for the 1st edition and by Darwin's death in 1882 the book was in its 6th edition, earning Darwin nearly £3000.[59]) Darwin had initially decided to call it An abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties Through natural selection, but with Murray's persuasion it was eventually changed to the snappier title: On the Origin of Species, with the title page adding by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.[2] Here the term "races" is used as an alternative for "varieties" and does not carry the modern connotation of human races—the first use in the book refers to "the several races, for instance, of the cabbage" and proceeds to a discussion of "the hereditary varieties or races of our domestic animals and plants".[60]

Time taken to publish

Darwin had his basic theory of natural selection "by which to work" by December 1838, yet almost twenty years later, when Wallace's letter arrived on 18 June 1858, Darwin was still not ready to publish his theory. It was long thought that Darwin avoided or delayed making his ideas public for personal reasons. Reasons suggested have included fear of religious persecution or social disgrace if his views were revealed, and concern about upsetting his clergymen naturalist friends or his pious wife Emma. Charles Darwin's illness caused repeated delays. His paper on Glen Roy had proved embarrassingly wrong, and he may have wanted to be sure he was correct. David Quammen has suggested all these factors may have contributed, and notes Darwin's large output of books and busy family life during that time.[61]

A more recent study by science historian John van Wyhe has determined that the idea that Darwin delayed publication only dates back to the 1940s, and Darwin's contemporaries thought the time he took was reasonable. Darwin always finished one book before starting another. While he was researching, he told many people about his interest in transmutation without causing outrage. He firmly intended to publish, but it was not until September 1854 that he could work on it full-time. His estimate that writing his "big book" would take five years was optimistic.[62]

Publication and subsequent editions

On the Origin of Species was first published on Thursday 24 November 1859, priced at fifteen shillings with a first printing of 1250 copies.[63] The book had been offered to booksellers at Murray's autumn sale on Tuesday 22 November, and all available copies had been taken up immediately. In total, 1,250 copies were printed but after deducting presentation and review copies, and five for Stationers' Hall copyright, around 1,170 copies were available for sale.[2] Significantly, 500 were taken by Mudie's Library, ensuring that the book promptly reached a large number of subscribers to the library.[64] The second edition of 3,000 copies was quickly brought out on 7 January 1860,[65] and incorporated numerous corrections as well as a response to religious objections by the addition of a new epigraph on page ii, a quotation from Charles Kingsley, and the phrase "by the Creator" added to the closing sentence.[66] During Darwin's lifetime the book went through six editions, with cumulative changes and revisions to deal with counter-arguments raised. The third edition came out in 1861, with a number of sentences rewritten or added and an introductory appendix, An Historical Sketch of the Recent Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species,[67] while the fourth in 1866 had further revisions. The fifth edition, published on 10 February 1869, incorporated more changes and for the first time included the phrase "survival of the fittest", which had been coined by the philosopher Herbert Spencer in his Principles of Biology (1864).[68]

In January 1871, George Jackson Mivart's On the Genesis of Species listed detailed arguments against natural selection, and claimed it included false metaphysics.[69] Darwin made extensive revisions to the sixth edition of the Origin (this was the first edition in which he used the word "evolution" which had commonly been associated with embryological development, though all editions concluded with the word "evolved"[70][71]), and added a new chapter VII, Miscellaneous objections, to address Mivart's arguments.[2][72] The sixth edition was published by Murray on 19 February 1872 with "On" dropped from the title. Darwin had told Murray of working men in Lancashire clubbing together to buy the 5th edition at fifteen shillings and wanted it made more widely available; the price was halved to 7s 6d by printing in a smaller font. It includes a glossary compiled by W.S. Dallas. Book sales increased from 60 to 250 per month.[72]

Publication outside Great Britain

In the United States, Asa Gray negotiated with a Boston publisher for publication of an authorised American version, but learnt that two New York publishing firms were already planning to exploit the absence of international copyright to print Origin.[73] Darwin was delighted by the popularity of the book, and asked Gray to keep any profits.[74] Gray managed to negotiate a 5% royalty with Appleton's of New York,[75] who got their edition out in mid January 1860, and the other two withdrew. In a May letter, Darwin mentioned a print run of 2,500 copies, but it is not clear if this referred to the first printing only as there were four that year.[2][76]

The book was widely translated in Darwin's lifetime, but problems arose with translating concepts and metaphors, and some translations were biased by the translator's own agenda.[77] Darwin distributed presentation copies in France and Germany, hoping that suitable applicants would come forward, as translators were expected to make their own arrangements with a local publisher. He welcomed the distinguished elderly naturalist and geologist Heinrich Georg Bronn, but the German translation published in 1860 imposed Bronn's own ideas, adding controversial themes that Darwin had deliberately omitted. Bronn translated "favoured races" as "perfected races", and added essays on issues including the origin of life, as well as a final chapter on religious implications partly inspired by Bronn's adherence to Naturphilosophie.[78] In 1862, Bronn produced a second edition based on the third English edition and Darwin's suggested additions, but then died of a heart attack.[79] Darwin corresponded closely with Julius Victor Carus, who published an improved translation in 1867.[80] Darwin's attempts to find a translator in France fell through, and the translation by Clémence Royer published in 1862 added an introduction praising Darwin's ideas as an alternative to religious revelation and promoting ideas anticipating social Darwinism and eugenics, as well as numerous explanatory notes giving her own answers to doubts that Darwin expressed. Darwin corresponded with Royer about a second edition published in 1866 and a third in 1870, but he had difficulty getting her to remove her notes and was troubled by these editions.[79][81] He remained unsatisfied until a translation by Edmond Barbier was published in 1876.[2] A Dutch translation by Tiberius Cornelis Winkler was published in 1860.[82] By 1864, additional translations had appeared in Italian and Russian.[77] In Darwin's lifetime, Origin was published in Swedish in 1871,[83] Danish in 1872, Polish in 1873, Hungarian in 1873–1874, Spanish in 1877 and Serbian in 1878. By 1977, it had appeared in an additional 18 languages.[84]

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