Lot 358
  • 358


70,000 - 100,000 GBP
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  • Darwin, Charles--Wilcox, Michael
  • Autograph manuscript leaf from the Origin of Species,
  • ink on paper
on residual gills in vertebrates ("...disappeared; the slits on the sides of the neck in the embryo the loop-like Course of the arteries, still marking their former position. But it is conceivable that the now utterly lost branchiæ might have been gradually worked in by natural selection for some quite distinct purpose. In the same manner as some entomologists..."), working manuscript with three textual insertions, labelled "a" in top-left corner by Darwin, 56 words on 7 lines, text on recto only, 1 page, blue wove paper, oblong slip (114 x 209mm), 1858-59, pin-holes where previously affixed to a larger leaf of manuscript


Charles Darwin; his daughter Henrietta ("Etty") Litchfield (1843-1927); her niece Margaret Keynes, née Darwin (1890-1974); thence by descent


Condition is described in the main body of the catalogue, where appropriate.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A RARE PIECE OF DARWIN'S ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT OF ONE OF THE GREATEST WORKS IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE, INCLUDING THE PHRASE "NATURAL SELECTION". This slip was an insert originally attached to page 209 of Darwin's manuscript. It comprises part of Darwin's discussion about how the very function of organs themselves could be adapted through the extraordinary pressure of natural selection.  The text is found (in slightly revised form) on p.191 of the first edition. It forms part of Chapter VI, the first of three chapters in which Darwin counters possible objections to his theory. He is here answering the question of how "organs of extreme perfection and complication" could have evolved by natural selection. He begins with the marvel of the eye, and discusses - with bursts of astonishingly lyrical prose - how it could have evolved over millions of years from a single light-sensitive nerve. Darwin then considers the evolutionally process more generally: huge gaps in the fossil record make it difficult to identify transitory forms of organs found in modern species; there are many instances of organs fulfilling different functions in different species, and two distinct organs sometimes develop to perform the same function. The example of fish that breath simultaneously through their gills or branchiae and through swim-bladders not only show the adaptability of organs - swim-bladders originally evolved as a means of floatation - but suggests that the lungs of vertebrates evolved from an ancestral species with a similar floating apparatus. He then goes on to speculate on the residual gills found in the embryos of vertebrates. The current manuscript leaf forms part of this argument, where he points out that it cannot be assumed that the residual gills were necessarily a means of respiration. The adaptability of organs means that they could have served a completely different purpose, and as the "branchiae and dorsal scales of Annalids are homologous with the wings and wing-covers of insects, it is probable that organs which at a very ancient period served for respiration have been actually converted into organs of flight".   Although Darwin had been gradually developing his ideas on evolution for decades and had shared them with confidantes such as Sir Charles Lyell in 1856, and was gradually assembling his "big book" on natural selection, it took a crisis for him to bring forth the Origin. In June 1858 he received Alfred Russel Wallace's letter outlining a strikingly similar theory and it seemed his work would be pre-empted. Hooker and Lyell hurriedly arranged a joint presentation at the Linnean Society on 1 July, and on 20 July Darwin began what he initially described as an "abstract" of his planned great work whilst recuperating from illness with his family in Sandown on the Isle of Wight. The planned pamphlet-length work soon ballooned into a book, but the manuscript was completed in just eight months. Lyell persuaded John Murray to agree to publication sight unseen, and by early summer Darwin was correcting proofs, a laborious process which took until 1 October.

This manuscript leaf is a good example of Darwin's typical working practice, which was to revise continually and refine his prose. This leaf was originally pinned to leaf 209 in Darwin's manuscript (now Cambridge University Library, MS DAR 185: 108, fol. 3). An earlier version of this section of text is found on that leaf, but it has been heavily revised and then cancelled to be replaced by the current text (the letter "a" marking the point of insertion). Further amendments were made in proof stage and the printed text differs somewhat from the manuscript.

THIS IS ONE OF ONLY 11 LEAVES OF THE WORKING MANUSCRIPT OF THE ORIGIN IN PRIVATE HANDS. Darwin carefully preserved his notebooks and other earlier work on evolution, but once the Origin had been printed he placed no particular value on the manuscript. As a result, only fragments of the manuscript survive and many of those were used as scrap paper by family members (see previous lot). 53 leaves of the manuscript are known: 45 numbered manuscript (see previous lot), 7 slips with lettered inserts (as here), and 1 page of the fair copy. Darwin also made a small number of transcripts of well-known passages for presentation to collectors, and some further manuscript fragments may be for Darwin's later revisions to the book. About half of the surviving leaves of the manuscript fragments were given away by Darwin's children Leonard and Henrietta to friends and fellow scientists, or were sold by family members. The bulk of Charles Darwin's scientific archive, including most of the Origin leaves that still remained with the family, were presented to Cambridge University Library in 1942. The leaves that had previously been distributed have naturally been more widely dispersed but many passed through public auction over the last century, often thereby finding their way into institutional collections.