Described by Freeman as "certainly the most important biological book ever written", the text was completed by Darwin just 13 months and 10 days after he began the abstract on 20 July 1858.
FROM THE LIBRARY OF SIR GEORGE MURRAY HUMPHRY (1820-1896)
Sir George Murray Humphry was a renowned surgeon, anatomist and honorary fellow of Downing College, Cambridge. One of the early achievements of his illustrious career was his appointment, at the age of 22, as a surgeon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, making him the youngest hospital surgeon in England. At once, he began teaching. In 1847, he became a lecturer in Human Anatomy at Cambridge and was then appointed as Professor of Human Anatomy in 1866. At Cambridge, Humphry was acquainted with Darwin’s son George, who had entered the university in 1863.
Despite the numerous offices he undertook, which included serving as the representative of the university on the GMC, Humphry remained “primarily, a scientist and a collector” (ODNB). The first edition copy of The Origin of Species offered here is evidence of Humphry’s participation in the most important scientific debates of his time: when invited in 1880 to deliver the Rede Lecture, he chose as his subject “Man, past, present and future”.
As the founder and editor of the Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, it is natural that Humphry should possess Darwin’s works in their earliest editions. In 1871, Darwin insisted that Humphry receive a copy of Chauncey Wright’s Darwinism, a review of Mivart’s Genesis of Species which had first appeared in the North American Review in 1871 and was subsequently published as a pamphlet at Darwin’s own expense. Earlier in the same year, Humphry reviewed Darwin’s own Descent of Man, attracting the author’s attention: “I have been interested by the Review of me in Humphry’s Journal, & pleased with it, though I think he is too hard about my speaking dogmatically on the origin of man, independently of means of transition. I certainly do feel dogmatic or at least positive on the point” (letter to Francis Darwin, 21 May 1871).
In 1883, Humphry gave up his seat as Professor of Anatomy in order to take up the newly created but unpaid position as Professor of Surgery. In 1891, he was knighted. Having begun his career as “as a general practitioner without a practice, poor and without connections”, Humphry ended his life as “one of the most influential people in the University of Cambridge” (ODNB).
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