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Darwin Correspondence Project

On the Origin of Species


6 editions of 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin
6 editions of 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin
Wellcome Library, London

When I was in spirits I sometimes fancied that my book wd be successful; but I never even built a castle-in-the air of such success as it has met with; I do not mean the sale, but the impression it has made on you…& Hooker & Huxley. The whole has infinitely exceeded my wildest hopes.—

(letter to Charles Lyell, 25 [November 1859]).

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.



Selected letters:

The writing of the Darwin and Wallace papers:

To Charles Lyell, 18 [June 1858]

To Charles Lyell, [25 June 1858]

To Charles Lyell, 26 [June 1858]

To J. D.  Hooker, [29 June 1858]

From J. D.  Hooker & Charles Lyell to the Linnean Society, [30 June 1858]

To Asa Gray, 4 July 1858

To J. D. Hooker, 5 July [1858]

To J. D. Hooker, 13 [July 1858]

To Charles Lyell, 18 July [1858]

To J. D. Hooker, 21 July [1858]

From A. R. Wallace to J. D. Hooker, 6 October 1858

The writing of Origin:

To A. R. Wallace, 25 January [1859]

To Charles Lyell, 28 March [1859]

To Charles Lyell, 30 March [1859]

To John Murray, 31 March [1859]

From John Murray, 1 April 1859

To A. R. Wallace, 6 April 1859

To J. D. Hooker, 12 [April 1859] – part of the manuscript had been inadvertently left for Hooker’s children to use as drawing paper

From Whitwell Elwin to John Murray, 3 May 1859

To W. D. Fox, 23 September [1859]

From Charles Lyell, 3 October 1859

To Charles Lyell, 11 October [1859]

To John Murray, [3 November 1859]