The origin of species

Charles Darwin (1809–1882)
On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life
London: John Murray, 1859

This copy of the first edition of On the origin of species, the most important biological work ever published, was given by Darwin to Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace had described an almost identical mechanism of species change as that proposed by Darwin, a theory which was made public alongside Darwin’s theory of ‘natural selection’ in a meeting at the Linnean Society in 1858. It was the risk of being beaten to it by Wallace that first forced Darwin into print. Origin, published a year later in 1859, was in Darwin’s mind merely an abstract of a much larger work-in-progress which was never published, but which underlies all of his later publications. Wallace went through his copy of Origin crossing out ‘natural selection’, which he thought misleading, and replacing it with Herbert Spencer’s term ‘survival of the fittest’.

Keynes.M.2.27, title page and pp. 84–85

This volume is included in Words that changed the world, an iPad app with analysis by Dr Alison Pearn, director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, which can be downloaded by following this link.

Another copy of the first edition, belonging to the Darwin family and, according to a letter inside by Leonard Darwin, 'the first copy of The Origin of Species to reach my father's hands,' can be viewed in full on Cambridge Digital Library by clicking the link below.

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