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.
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