Evolution in History: Darwin Publishes the Origin of Species Part 2

About Charles Darwin and how he published the Origin of Species, his biography including his theory about natural selection and the process of evolution.


WHEN: 1859

In 1837, he started his 1st notebook, and by the end of 1838, he had formulated his theory of natural selection, and only had to prove it. In brief, his theory said:

1. Animals reproduce in much greater numbers than can be supported by the environment.

2. Great numbers, those that are least fit, die in the struggle for existence. The fittest are naturally selected to survive. (Later, Herbert Spencer named the process "survival of the fittest.")

3. Variations in structure are inherited.

He believed that the environment could modify the individual organism and that the modification would reach the germ plasm and be passed on to the next generation.

Other scientists before him had come close to his theory, especially Lamarck, who missed the concept of natural selection since he was inclined to jump to conclusions. (He wrongly believed that the horns of bulls developed from their habit of butting their heads.)

A meticulous researcher, Darwin talked to breeders of domestic animals to find out how they produced animals with desired characteristics. He also collected piles of other data to support his theory.

In 1842, Darwin wrote a short paper on the theory of natural selection--35 penciled sheets. Two years later, he expanded this to 230 pages, which he put in an envelope and gave to his wife to keep for publication in the event that he should die. He said, "At last gleams of light have come and I am almost convinced (contrary to the opinion I started with) that the Species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable."

He then narrowed his research down to one species--the barnacle.

In 1858, he received a disturbing letter from a friend, Alfred Russel Wallace, who lived in the Malay archipelago. With the letter was a manuscript, "On the Tendencies of Varieties to Part Indefinitely from the Original Type." It was an explanation of the theory of natural selection, partly derived from material in Darwin's Journal, and Wallace wanted Darwin to look it over and present it to other scientists. Darwin didn't know what to do. He said, "I would far rather burn my whole book than that Wallace or any other man should think that I behaved in a paltry spirit."

An admirable compromise was reached. A short abstract of Darwin's theory was read along with Wallace's manuscript at a meeting of the Linnaean Society. Wallace later said, "The one great result which I claim for my paper of 1858 is that it compelled Darwin to write and publish his Origin of Species without further delay."

By November, 1859, Darwin's book--On the Origin of Species, by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life--was published. The publisher had been wary of the manuscript and had suggested that Darwin rewrite it, confining it to pigeons, because "everybody is interested in pigeons." (Naturally, Darwin had said No.)

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