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Saturday, 12 November 2016

On the Origin of Species

Charles Darwin was the first to formulate an argument for the scientific theory of evolution by means of natural selection, which he wrote about in his book On the Origin of Species.

An early draft languished for 20 years in a broom cupboard by the back door of Darwin's home, Downe House. Darwin was stung into publishing his work when he realized a younger naturalist then working in Malaysia, Alfred Russell, had come up with the same idea.

Darwin pictured shortly before publication

Darwin agonized over his prose, constantly rewriting passages and the result was one of the clearest written, most lucid scientific books ever.

The last word of the first edition of On The Origin Of Species is “evolved”. It is his only use of the word “evolve” or “evolution” in the book.

Darwin had initially decided to call his book An abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties Through natural selection, but his publisher John Murray persuaded him to change it to the snappier title: On the Origin of Species.

On the Origin of Species was first published on November 24, 1859, priced at fifteen shillings with a first printing of 1250 copies.

Origin of Species title page

On the publication of Origin of Species, Darwin fled to the Yorkshire moors and was covered in stress related boils. He was worried that the public would think him a French Republican blasphemist because of his evolutionary views.

Though some intellectuals latched onto Darwin's presentation of the concept of natural selection and evolution with great enthusiasm, it generally caused controversy and outrage amongst Victorian society and he was vehemently attacked and ridiculed by the church.

Darwin was upset that people believed his book claimed there is no God. Though a religious skeptic, Darwin believed that his theory revealed the way God created us all.

1870s iconic caricature of Darwin with an ape or monkey body 

All 1250 copies of The Origin of Species sold out on first day of publication in November 1859. In Darwin's lifetime there were 35 printings translated into 11 languages.

John Murray paid £180 to Darwin for the 1st edition and by Darwin's death in 1882 the book was in its 6th edition, earning the author nearly £3,000.

Today there have been over 400 printings of Origin of Species in around 30 languages. It has become the foundation on which modern zoology is based.

The animal most frequently mentioned in Origin Of Species is the pigeon.

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