Indiana University Bloomington

Darwin and Wallace. “On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties,” 1858.

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. “On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; and On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection. [Read 1 July].” Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. Zoology vol. 3 (20 Aug. 1858): 45-62.

Characteristically, the first prominent appearance in print of Darwin’s ideas on evolution came in the form of a collaborative publication. Worried that the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace might have pre-empted him and urged by his friends the botanist Joseph Hooker and the geologist Charles Lyell, Darwin finally went public with his theory. Darwin’s account of his work, along with a letter written to his American correspondent, Asa Gray, and the essay Wallace had sent him were presented at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on July 1, 1858. Neither Darwin, whose infant son Charles Waring Darwin had died of scarlet fever on June 28, nor Wallace attended the meeting; their papers were read, to the indifferent fellows of the society (less than 10% of the members had shown up), by the undersecretary of the Linnean Society, George Busk. Wallace, a self-effacing man who remained unfailingly generous as his own share in Darwin’s discoveries was being steamrolled into oblivion by the vast publicity machine Darwin’s book unleashed, was in Ternate on the Malay Archipelago and didn’t even know about the event. Barely more than twenty pages long, Darwin’s essay has all the marks of his mature style, combining a self-deprecatory, yet somewhat ironical anticipation of skeptical audience response with the forceful assertion of what he now knows to be true: “De Candolle, in an eloquent passage, has declared that all nature is at war.... Seeing the contented face of nature, this may at first well be doubted, but reflection will inevitably prove it to be true.” The second text communicated that day was “Abstract of a Letter from C. DARWIN, Esq., to Prof. ASA GRAY, Boston, U.S., dated Down, September 5th, 1857” (for more on Asa Gray, see CASE 2). The excerpt begins with one of the central components of Darwin’s argument in Origin, namely the “wonderful” effects of man’s breeding efforts on the development of nature: “Even breeders have been astounded at their own results.” Darwin then elegantly transitions from human selection to natural selection: “Now suppose there were a being who did not judge by mere external appearances, but who could study the whole internal organization, who was never capricious, and should go on selecting for one object during millions of generations; who will say what he might not effect?” This “being” is, Darwin reveals, “natural selection,” evoking the indifference with which nature determines “which shall survive, and which perish!” Thomas Bell, the president of the Linnean Society, looking back on the year 1858, later remarked that no “striking discoveries” had been presented.

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    Illustration no. 3.

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    Illustration no. 4.

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    Illustration no. 5.

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