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Darwin & Wallace announce the theory of natural selection

DARWIN, CHARLES and ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE. “On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection”in Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society. Zoology.

London, 1858

Original printed wrappers. Small chip from upper corner of front wrapper, else a fine copy. Cloth case.

Freeman 347. Printing and the Mind of Man 344a. Horblit 23a.

First edition of the landmark paper in which Darwin first published the outline of his theories of natural selection and evolution, later detailed in On the Origin of Species. In the early 1840s Darwin recorded his ideas in manuscript, and although they remained unpublished for the next dozen years, they were well known to many leading scientists including Lyell, Hooker, and Gray.

In June 1858 Darwin received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace writing from the Malay Archipelago. Wallace outlined a theory remarkably similar to Darwin’s. Alarmed, Darwin sent the paper to Charles Lyell writing, “Your words have come true with a vengeance that I should be forestalled. You said this when I explained to you here very briefly my views of ‘Natural Selection’ depending on the Struggle for existence—I never saw a more striking coincidence. If Wallace had my M.S. sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as Heads of my Chapters …”

With the encouragement of Lyell and Hooker, Darwin agreed to publish jointly with Wallace in the Journal of the Linnean Society. The result was one of the epoch-making papers in the history of ideas. The joint article includes both papers, an introductory letter by Dalton and Hooker, and an abstract of an earlier letter by Asa Gray proving the priority of Darwin’s work.

The Linnean Society published this landmark paper in several forms, all from the same setting of type: in the Zoology part of the proceedings (the present form, in pink wrappers), with the Botany numbers for those who took both parts (blue wrappers), in the very rare author’s offprint, and finally later in the annual volumes of Zoology and Botany proceedings, using sheets reserved for the purpose.

This is a fine copy of a high spot in the history of science. The last example in original wrappers to be sold at auction brought £315,000 at Christie’s in 2022.

$325,000