'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.
Darwin recognised that explaining the evolution of the honey-bee’s comb-building abilities was essential if his theory of natural selection was to be taken seriously, and in the 1850s he carried out his own experiments at his home at Down House in Kent, and wrote many letters on the subject.
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.
For all his working life, Darwin used letters as a way both of discussing ideas and gathering the ‘great quantities of facts’ that he used in developing and supporting his theories. They form a fascinating collection from many hundreds of correspondents, containing diagrams and drawings, personal observations, photographs, and even specimens.
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.