Charles Darwin. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: J. Murray, 1871. Gift of Katharine E. McBride ’25.






Darwin had consciously avoided any discussion of how humans fit into the evolutionary process in the Origin of Species, but as the 1861 Punch cartoon demonstrated, the topic was on everyone’s mind and he knew that he would have to address it eventually. During the 1860s, a number of other prominent scientists published works on the early history of man, including his friends and supporters Charles Lyell and Thomas Huxley, so by 1870 the subject was no longer new and shocking. In The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin expanded his arguments beyond the purely biological to address issues of social structure and culture, and the ways in which they have also played a role in the evolution of humanity. The most important new argument is Darwin’s emphasis on the role of sexual selection in evolution. Where the Origin of Species emphasized the struggle for survival as the primary determinant of which traits would be passed on to future generations, Descent of Man focused on ornamental traits that make an individual attractive to a member of the opposite sex, such as colorful plumage in birds or hair and facial coloration in primates.

Darwin’s case for human connections to primates extended not only over the two volumes of Descent of Man, but also through his subsequent two-volume The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (London: J. Murray, 1872). In all, Darwin published ten books between the Origin of Species and his death in 1882. Except for the two works on man, the books came out of the careful studies that he had once intended to be part of a comprehensive work on evolution. Included in Bryn Mawr’s collection are: The Expression of the Emotions, The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (London: J. Murray, 1868), Insectivorous Plants (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1875); The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom (London: J. Murray, 1876); The Power of Movement in Plants (London: J. Murray, 1880), and The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms; with Observations on their Habits (London, J. Murray, 1881). Darwin’s last book inspired the cartoon that appeared in the Punch Almanck for 1882, published at the end of 1881, shortly before he died. 


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