'I hear that Ladies think it delightful reading, but that it does not do to talk about it, which no doubt promotes the sale.' For the first time online you can now read the full texts of nearly 800 letters Darwin wrote and received during 1871, the year in which his controversial first public statement on human evolution was published. The extraordinary number of letters reflects the excitement the book – Descent of man and selection in relation to sex – caused. All 2500 copies of the first printing sold immediately, and 5000 more copies were published during the year.
From a quiet rural existence at Down in Kent, filled with steady work on his ‘big book’ on the transmutation of species, Darwin was jolted into action in 1858 by the arrival of an unexpected letter (no longer extant) from Alfred Russel Wallace outlining a remarkably similar mechanism for species change. This letter led to the first announcement of Darwin’s and Wallace’s respective theories of organic change at the Linnean Society of London in July 1858 and prompted the composition and publication, in November 1859, of Darwin’s major treatise On the origin of species by means of natural selection.
Several letters refer to events at the British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Oxford, 26 June – 3 July 1860. Darwin had planned to attend the meeting but in the end was unable to. The most famous incident of the meeting was the verbal encounter between Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford, and Thomas Henry Huxley in a discussion of Darwin's theories. This account of the meeting has been drawn from the Athenæum, which provided the most complete contemporary report and which Darwin himself read.
Darwin experienced his first earthquake in 1834, but it was a few months later that he was really confronted with their power. Travelling north along the coast of Chile, Darwin and Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, were confronted with a series of violent natural events that they were perfectly placed to study.
Read and search the full texts of more than 8,500 of Charles Darwin’s letters, and ﬁnd information on 6,500 more. Discover complete transcripts of all known letters Darwin wrote and received up to the year 1871.