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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Charles Darwin, drawn in profile with a frame.

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: publication, controversy and popularisation

On the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, books from the Whipple Library document the debate Darwin aroused as well as the ensuing popularisation of his ideas through the medium of print.

Published as part of an obituary notice in the leading paper for women, The Queen, 6 May, 1882. Probably written by his friend and regular correspondent, William Tegetmeier.

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1901 Click on an image to enlarge

Now rarely seen, this first paperback edition was published in 1901. Darwin's publisher, John Murray, termed it a 'corrected copyright edition' and issued it immediately after the first edition went out of copyright. This was in order to compete with other publishers now able to reissue popular impressions of the first edition.

C.R. Bree, An Exposition of Fallacies in the Hypothesis of Mr Darwin, 1872

Bree's table revealing 'omissions' in Darwin's evolutionary theory

One of Darwin's many detractors, Bree stated: 'We have no proof of [evolution] and we are, in fact, profoundly ignorant of the modus operandi of creation. We know that the organic and inorganic worlds have been formed by a thoughtful reasoning Being; but the "how" or the "why" are hidden among the mysteries of Omnipotence.'

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Richard Owen, Palaeontology, or, A Systematic Summary of Extinct Animals and Their Geological Relations, 1861

Whilst opposing Darwin's explanations, Owen did clearly support the idea of secondary laws to explain the introduction of new species as is shown in this response to Huxley (p. 444). Nevertheless, Huxley and other Darwinians often sought to portray Owen as an advocate of the miraculous creation of species.

Samuel Butler, Evolution, Old and New, or, The Theories of Dr Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck, As Compared with That of Mr Charles Darwin, 1879

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The novelist Samuel Butler became one of Darwin's most vigorous critics, claiming that Darwin had ignored debts to earlier theorists, including his grandfather Erasmus Darwin.

Thomas Huxley, On Our Knowledge Of the Causes of the Phenomena Of Organic Nature, 1863

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During the early 1860s Huxley used his position at the Royal Society to advocate Darwin's evolutionary ideas in a series of lectures to working men at the Museum of Practical Geology in central London.

Arabella Buckley, Life and Her Children: Glimpses of Animal Life from the Amoeba to the Insects, 1880 (below left) and Winners in Life’s Race, or, The Great Backboned Family, 1892 (below right)

Closely connected to Darwin and his inner circle, Buckley's popular illustrated children's books contain positive references to Darwin's ideas. In Life and Her Children Buckley aimed to acquaint young people with the structure and habits of other forms of life. Starting with the simplest forms of life (tiny slime animals), Buckley worked her way through six of the seven 'divisions of life'. The seventh and final division (backboned animals) would be dealt with in a later book, Winners in Life's Race.

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What Mr Darwin Saw in His Voyage Round the World in the Ship ‘Beagle’, 1879. Extracts paraphrased by W.P. Garrison from Darwin’s Beagle diaries.

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Son of a US abolitionist, W.P. Garrison published this work anonymously. His stated aim was to 'interest children in the study of natural history, and physical and political geography'. Garrison selected extracts from Darwin's original diaries, reorganising material thematically into four parts: 'Animals', 'Man' (strange peoples and customs, particularly of savage and barbarous life), 'Geography' (physical features of the countries visited by Mr Darwin) and 'Nature' (account of the grandeur of terrestrial processes).



Edward Clodd, The Story of Creation: A Plain Account of Evolution, 1904 clodd small

Clodd built on Darwin's ideas to account for everything from the origin of the nebulae to the future destiny of Man. Although the work was initially published in 1888 by Longmans, this cheap edition was later issued by Watts & Co. for the Rationalist Press Association. They sought to make Clodd's evolutionary epic available to the widest possible readership in order to further the aims of secular atheism.

Thomas Huxley, Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, 1863 huxley2 small

In this popular book Huxley used evidence from both anatomical and brain structure to demonstrate the similarity of humans to apes.