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Charles Darwin
Publication of Darwin's theory
General Information
Charles Darwin's Education
Inception of Darwin's theory
Development of Darwin's theory
Publication of Darwin's theory
Reaction to Darwin's theory
Charles Darwin's views on religion
Journey on the Beagle


Darwin found an answer to the problem of how genera forked in an analogy with industrial ideas of division of labour, with specialised varieties each finding their niche so that species could diverge. He experimented with seeds, testing their ability to survive sea-water to transfer species to isolated islands, and bred pigeons to test his ideas of natural selection being comparable to the "artificial selection" used by pigeon breeders.

In the spring of 1856, Lyell read a paper on the Introduction of species by Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist working in Borneo. Lyell urged Darwin to publish his theory to establish precedence. Despite illness, Darwin began a 3-volume book titled Natural Selection, getting specimens and information from naturalists including Wallace and Asa Gray. In December 1857 as Darwin worked on the book he received a letter from Wallace asking if it would delve into human origins. Sensitive to Lyell's fears, Darwin responded that "I think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so surrounded with prejudices, though I fully admit that it is the highest & most interesting problem for the naturalist." He encouraged Wallace's theorising, saying "without speculation there is no good & original observation." Darwin added that "I go much further than you." His manuscript reached 250,000 words, then on 18 June 1858 he received a paper in which Wallace described the evolutionary mechanism and requested him to send it on to Lyell. Darwin did so, shocked that he had been "forestalled". Though Wallace had not asked for publication, Darwin offered to send it to any journal that Wallace chose. He put matters in the hands of Lyell and Hooker. They agreed on a joint presentation at the Linnean Society on 1 July of On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection. Darwin's infant son died and he was unable to attend.

The initial announcement of the theory gained little immediate attention. It was mentioned briefly in a few small reviews, but to most people it seemed much the same as other varieties of evolutionary thought. For the next thirteen months Darwin suffered from ill health and struggled to produce an abstract of his "big book on species". Receiving constant encouragement from his scientific friends, Darwin finally finished his abstract and Lyell arranged to have it published by John Murray. The title was agreed as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, and when the book went on sale to the trade on 22 November 1859, the stock of 1,250 copies was oversubscribed. At the time "Evolutionism" implied creation without divine intervention, and Darwin avoided using the words "evolution" or "evolve", though the book ends by stating that "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." The book only briefly alluded to the idea that human beings, too, would evolve in the same way as other organisms. Darwin wrote in deliberate understatement that "light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history."