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Darwin Correspondence Project

Descent of man

Darwin on human evolution

'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. 

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Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Darwin, engraving from a photograph by O. G. Rejlander, Nature, 4 June 1871
CUL DAR 140.1: 26
Cambridge University Library

Darwin in letters, 1874: A turbulent year

The year 1874 was one of consolidation, reflection, and turmoil for Darwin. He spent the early months working on second editions of Coral reefs and Descent of man; the rest of the year was mostly devoted to further research on insectivorous plants. A vicious dispute over an anonymous review that attacked the work of Darwin’s son George dominated the second half of the year. His children were growing up: Horace began an engineering apprenticeship, Leonard joined the transit of Venus expedition to New Zealand, and Francis married Amy Ruck and became his father's secretary.

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