DARWIN, Charles (1809-1882). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London: John Murray, 1859.
The first edition in original cloth 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 the latter half of 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," some 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. "The book, stripped of references and academic paraphernalia, was aimed not at the specialists, but directly at the reading public" (DNB). Finally published as On the Origin of Species on 24 November 1859 in a print run of 1250 copies, it expounded a theory of evolution that was recognizably superior and of infinitely greater impact than all previous hypotheses explaining biological diversity. Dibner Heralds (1980) 199; Freeman 373 (binding variant "b," no priority); Garrison-Morton 220; Grolier Science 23b; Norman 593; PMM 344b; Waller 10786.
Octavo (198 x 127mm). Half-title. Folding lithographed diagram at p. 117; 32-page inserted publisher's advertisements dated June 1859 (tiny chips to fore-edge of last gathering and first couple of pages.) Original green blind-stamped cloth, spine lettered and decorated in gilt, brown coated endpapers, binding ticket of Edmonds & Remnants of London (some restoration at spine, joints and hinges, faint shadow of previous label on upper cover, text block tender, small chips to endpapers); quarter morocco case.