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

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This is the second part of blogs that we’re publishing in honor of the 158th “On the Origin of Species” Anniversary (Part 1 can be found here) 

Personal and family affairs will change the course of things…

Scholars and historians agree that when Annie Darwin passed away in 1851 at just 12 years of age (Darwin’s oldest daughter), he secluded himself into one of the most profound thinking sessions and, consequently, some of his most productive work came out of this painful period in his life. It is impossible to know exactly what went through Darwin’s mind and heart, but his passion for the living world never went astray. "on the origin of species" anniversaryIn a certain sense, it became his own version of Mount Everest – and he was ready to conquer its summit. Throughout the entirety of 1852, Darwin examined barnacles and then, in 1853, he was awarded the Royal Medal for his work on a three-volume geology book from Voyage of the Beagle. Charles Darwin’s works were now public and society was already somewhat aware of his written endeavours. He also met with Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer to discuss the idea of natural selection, but applied exclusively to humans. These discussions with said figures would eventually lead Darwin to creating his famous masterpiece “The Descent of Man.” At the time, something else was cooking inside his mind, however…

1856 – An interesting package arrives from Malaysia

"on the origin of species" anniversaryThe famous geologist and mentor for Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, received a unique piece of mail from Alfred Russel Wallace. What’s more is that this long manuscript of ideas that revolved around natural selection came from the Malay Archipelago. Lyell thought it was interesting content, because it reached the same conclusions on the transmutation of species that had already been mentioned by Charles Darwin for over twenty years. The thing was: these two gentlemen had never met, nor shared any form of correspondence. Interestingly enough, Darwin was not impressed with Wallace’s work. Still, Lyell urged Darwin to publish his work.

But there was no luck to be found in that proposition just yet. In the late spring of 1856, Charles Darwin decided to start working on a short essay on his theory of natural selection.

1857 – Asa Gray, Natural History Professor at Harvard University, opens a mysterious package from Charles Darwin

By September, what was a short essay had now become a proper book. Charles Darwin sent it off to Prof. Asa Gray in the United States and then quickly entered into correspondence with Alfred Wallace.asa gray on the origin of species anniversary By the summer of 1858, the natural selection manuscript was about 65% complete and included a total of ten chapters.  Wallace and Darwin’s ideas only disagreed on the morality of how to apply this to humankind – a topic Darwin didn’t want to discuss.  On July 1, 1858, Charles Darwin decided to go public with his ideas on natural selection. The reaction to this open dissertation was a mixture of shock, excitement, and stunned silence. Yet still: no book and no title.

1,250 copies at 15 shillings a pieces: the hot cakes are out from the oven!

on the origin of species anniversaryThe month of March in 1859 finds Botanist Joseph Hooker writing a great editorial piece on Charles Darwin’s manuscript that deals with natural selection. The title of this book, however, will be revealed much later. In spite of his illnesses and ailments at that point, Darwin was able to finish his proofs of the book and off it went to John Murray Publishers. A November date is announced for the publication of said book. Darwin was aware of the massive shock that his book would create, so he decided to ride out of the storm and head as far away from London as possible, travelling to Yorkshire. He receives an early copy of his book and firmly stands by its contents and message. He knows this is the very beginning of a huge storm. On November 24, 1859, a book by the name of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” is put on sale. It gets sold out by the end of the day, at 15 shillings a piece. By the end of 1859, John Murray Publishers prints out 3,000 copies of a 2nd edition. A translation in German was already in the works. Shockingly, the word evolution does not appear in this edition, nor does the famous phrase “survival of the fittest.” These ended up coming out later on in history.

on the origin of species anniversary book“On the Origin of Species” Anniversary: How Natural Selection Applies to Science

The eclipse of Darwinian Thinking (aka. Darwinism) lasted from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. With the development of modern evolutionary synthesis in the 30’s and 40’s, Darwin’s concept of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection became a central component of modern evolutionary theory (and it has since then become the unifying concept of life sciences). The beauty of all of this is that many of these original ideas were planted in Darwin’s mind during his visit to the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle, but only blossomed and were distilled later on across his many different works.  This is why exploring the Galapagos is often seen as a chance for our guests to experience a living laboratory of evolution. So make sure you explore the islands for at least four nights in order to possibly absorb some of Darwin’s ideas or better yet – his inspiration. The more time you spend here, the more time you will certainly have to notice things you never had before… who knows what kind of book you’ll publish? Book your journey to Galapagos today aboard Yacht Isabela II!

“On the Origin of Species” Anniversary

Text & Photography by Francisco “Pancho” Dousdebés – Galapagos Expert

Other Photo Credits: Wikipedia,, Cambridge Press, Harvard Botanical Department

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