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158th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”: How a Book Got Published Against All Odds (Part I)

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November 24, 2017 marks the 158th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”

For the past couple of months, we have successfully covered Charles Darwin’s adventures and outings that he had while in the Galapagos Islands back in September and October of 1835.

Nobody, not even Darwin himself, could’ve imagined that some 25 years after his experience of the islands he would go out and publish a simple idea that amalgamated so many explanations and views about the natural world that we live in. 158th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”Ironically, the whole story behind howOn the Origin of Species” got published isn’t so simple at all, and it’s actually quite amazing. Compared to Darwin, most scientific writers today would never encounter a tug-of-war of hurdles and motivators in order to publish their book. Indeed, most people today would simply drop it if confronted by such challenged, yet Darwin’s intense conviction was more powerful than anything they threw at him. That’s what we’ll explore in this blog that we’ve written expecially for the Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species.”

So, what happened after Charles Darwin got back from the voyage of the HMS Beagle?

158th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”After the long and strenuous voyage, Charles Darwin disembarked from the HMS Beagle on October 2, 1836 at Falmouth at around 9:00 p.m. as light rain drizzled down from overhead. He immediately headed to Shrewsbury, his hometown, and surprised all his family members upon walking into his house. His parents, brothers and sisters effusively celebrated his return until the very late hours of the same evening. Charles Darwin wasted no time upon returning and, the next day, immediately began writing letters and making sure that the precious cargo on the ship would get to him as quickly as possible. The voyage around the world had turned him into the most seasoned Naturalists ever and he now had a lot on his mind to think about. What’s more is that the idea of writing a book with this single, revolutionary idea was never part of his own personal agenda. About two weeks later, he headed to Cambridge and talked for hours with Rev. John Henslow and Adam Sedgwick about the whole trip, particularly focusing on the stunning geology of South America. This conversation eventually encouraged Darwin to move from Shrewsbury and live in Cambridge for a while, right on 22 Fitzwilliam Street.

Ideas slowly come together for a more compelling revolutionary theory

By the end of 1836, Charles Darwin’s stories about the voyage inspired his uncle, Josiah Wedgewood, to suggest that he write some kind of formal account of all these great adventures. This later became a reality with Darwin’s publication of “The Voyage of the Beagle.”bird sketches darwin galapagos Then, as the winter of 1836 set in, time was readily available for analyzing the specimens he collected throughout the voyage. Darwin was invited several times to give lectures on the different places that he visited and special interest was devoted to his views on geology. January 4, 1837 was a big day for him: his first lecture at the Royal Geological Society consisted of his views on the geological uplifting of South America and the animals thereon. The animal component of the lecture focused on how those that lived in one area gradually became isolated from other lands, using the fossil record he had collected as clear proof of this. species tree darwin sketchThe clarity and skill he employed in explaining Earth’s physical processes was so convincing that he received a proposal to become a fellow member of the Royal Geological Society. The summer of 1837 saw a young Darwin completely obsessed with the idea that species can, in fact, change – that species are mutable and that such change happens over long periods of time. It was a rather simple concept, but now proof was needed for his gradually developing a theory. He had no idea of what big things remained ahead for him…

The famous “B Notebook” plays a huge role in Darwin’s ideas, but a health warning came with it…

b notebook darwinThere were four questions Charles Darwin had on his mind, and the answers were still hidden amongst the different specimens he had collected, awaiting to be analyzed and carefully curated. Henceforth: What was the evidence for species transmutation? How did species adapt to changing environments? How were new species formed? How could one account for the similarities between different species? His B Notebook is where he drew and concluded that these answers were to be found in the analogy of a branching tree, used to represent the common descendants of all species. His detailed work – after long hours of analyzing specimens, reviewing notes, and putting ideas together – gave him a bit of heart fatigue, however, and stress began taking a toll on him. Nevertheless, in February of 1838, he managed to finish and publish “Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, Part I.” A sign of a truly determined young man!

As is the case with evolution: time was all he needed…

June of 1842 is the first record of a 35-page manuscript that showcases Darwin’s ideas on natural selection, all put into one single argument. It’s always quite interesting to see that he still refers to these as “laws of nature,” stating that they were established by God during the creation of life. He carefully withdrew the idea of publishing anything based on these reasons: fearing that fellow naturalists would never accept his ideas, that animal breeders would find it too long to read, that it would cause trouble and allow atheists to use them for their evil agendas, that the church would scorn him, or that he would be labeled an atheist and that he would betray his friends and family (to whom he owed so much)…

What a clever way of temporarily steering away from the idea, only to postpone it until more evidence became available, and more people openly spoke about it.

Timing was everything and the right catalyst was yet to be found…

anniversary of “on the origin of species”158th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”

TO BE CONTINUED…  Stay tuned for our 158th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”: How a Book Got Published Against All Odds (Part II)!

Text by Francisco “Pancho” Dousdebés – Galapagos Expert

Other Photo Credits: Wikipedia,

Sullivan Bay, San Salvador (James) Island – GALAPAGOS, November 20th, 2017 :: Lat: ‎0°28′59″ S / Long: 90°56′54″ W