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The Origin of Species
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"It is far more satisfactory to look at such [survival] instincts ... not as specially endowed or created instincts, but as small consequences of one general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die."
The Origin of Species

Charles Darwin, 1859

Details
The Origin of Species
Charles Darwin, 1859
DARWIN, Charles Robert (1809-1882). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London: John Murray, 1859.

The Silver copy of the first edition of "the most important single work in science" (Dibner), and "a turning point, not only in the history of science, but in the history of ideas in general" (DSB). Although some key observations and findings from the voyage of the Beagle acted as his initial inspiration, Darwin’s ideas about the beneficial mutation of species did not cohere into the theory of evolution until his reading of Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population in 1838. The gestation of the theory was slow, but in 1856, following a conversation with Sir Charles Lyell about his hypothesis, Darwin was determined to bring it to a conclusion. Two years later he had composed an extended treatise entitled "Natural Selection," two-thirds complete at 250,000 words. Then, in June 1858, Darwin received a letter about evolution from Alfred Russel Wallace, who had independently arrived at similar conclusions. The two scientists issued a joint paper on the subject at the Linnean Society on 1 July. Darwin was now forced to publish and, urged on by Hooker, he condensed his big book into an "abstract" of some 155,000 words, "stripped of references and academic paraphernalia” and “aimed not at the specialists, but directly at the reading public" (ODNB).

Finally published as On the Origin of Species on 24 November 1859 in a print run of 1250 copies, the work expounded a theory of evolution that was recognizably superior and of infinitely greater impact than all previous hypotheses explaining biological diversity. “No work of science has ever been so fully vindicated by subsequent investigation, or has so profoundly altered humanity's view of itself and how the living world works” (Wilson). Dibner Heralds (1980) 199; Eimas Heirs 1724; Freeman 373; Garrison-Morton (1991) 220; Grolier English 96; Grolier Science 23b; Norman 593; PMM 344b; Sparrow Milestones 49; Waller 10786; Wilson, E.O. ‘Foreword’, The Cambridge Companion to the 'Origin of Species'. Cambridge: 2009.

Octavo. Half-title, folding lithographic diagram; 32-page list of John Murray's books at end dated June 1859. (Couple of faint spots to title, a little fingersoiling to prelims.) Original green cloth, covers stamped in blind, spine lettered and decorated in gilt, brown coated endpapers, with the ticket of Edmonds & Remnants of London [Freeman binding variant a] (touch of rubbing to extremities and endpapers, lower hinge just cracked); custom clamshell case. Provenance: George Duncan (Shettleston bookplate) – Matthew Blane (ownership inscription dated 1960) – Irwin Silver (his sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 26 April 2005, lot 30).

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Heather Weintraub
Heather Weintraub Specialist, Books, Manuscripts, & Archives

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