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: D. Appleton and company, 1860. Gift of Dr. & Mrs. William L. Paltz, 1971.

     
 

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Darwin drafted an essay in 1844 in which he laid out the arguments for evolution based upon natural selection, but he only showed it to a few friends, principally Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker. For the next decade and more, he went about gathering additional evidence for his theory in order to ensure that when the time for publication came, it would not be dismissed as speculative nonsense, in the way that Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation had been. By 1858 he had only partially completed his planned encyclopedic work on the subject when he received an essay from Alfred Russel Wallace, a young naturalist working in the Malay Archipelago, which presented an argument for evolution by natural selection that paralleled Darwin’s own thinking on the subject. Darwin forwarded the essay to Charles Lyell, as Wallace had requested. Lyell, not wanting to see his friend’s long efforts trumped by the newcomer, pressured Darwin to quickly clean up his original essay, and arranged to have Darwin’s and Wallace’s pieces presented together at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London in the summer of 1858. With his ideas on evolution now out in public, but in a very brief form with little supporting evidence, Darwin laid aside work on his comprehensive book, and focused all of his energies on completing what he referred to as an “Abstract” of his ideas, the two-volume On the Origin of Species.


Darwin published Origin through John Murray, one of London’s leading publishing houses. While not a big seller on the scale of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (also published in 1859), it nonetheless sold out its first run of 1250 copies as soon as it was printed. Almost half of the copies were bought by Mudie’s Circulating Library, the leading private subscription library in England, which guaranteed that the book would have a wide popular readership, not just a specialist one. The interest in the book prompted Murray to issue a second edition in early 1860, and a third in 1861. The American publisher Appleton, always on the lookout for popular new books from England and unencumbered by international copyright laws, issued three American editions early in 1860 without Darwin’s knowledge. Bryn Mawr’s copy is the first of these pirated American editions. By the spring of 1861, Origin had sold about 7000 copies in England, had been widely reviewed in the press, and had achieved sufficient notoriety to be lampooned in the humor magazine Punch


It is interesting to contemplate am entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other is so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.   . . . Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.  There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
            From the final paragraph of On the Origin of Species.  In the 2nd edition of the book, he inserted the words “by the Creator” into the phrase “breathed into a few forms.”

 

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