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Darwin's Diary

Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882


1856-1858 (Birth of a Theory)

After decades of fact-finding and experimenting -- and at the coaxing of his closest friends -- Darwin finally begins the manuscript of his life.

Charles Lyell is, at first, vehemently opposed to the idea of evolution, and only becomes a reluctant convert in old age. He and Darwin are close friends. Darwin writes of Lyell, "His mind was characterised ... by clearness, caution, sound judgement and a good deal of originality ... While absorbed in thought, he would throw himself into the strangest attitudes, often resting his head on the seat of a chair, while standing up. His delight in science was ardent."

"Early in 1856 [Charles] Lyell advised me to write out my views pretty fully, and I began at once to do so on a scale three or four times as extensive as that which afterwards followed in my Origin of Species ... I got through about half the work on this scale. But my plans were overthrown ..."

Early in the summer of 1858, a young naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace, then in the Malay archipelago, sends Darwin a 20-page letter. While only a brief sketch, Darwin is shocked to find "this essay contained exactly the same theory as mine." Ironically, "Mr. Wallace expressed the wish that if I thought well of his essay, I should send it to Lyell for perusal."

Alfred Russel Wallace's essay, On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type, is far from Darwin's massive accumulation of facts, and his ideas about evolution differ to some extent. Yet Wallace's work is the final push for Darwin to publish.

Thomas Huxley, another confidant, will become known as "Darwin's bulldog." Darwin writes of Huxley, "His mind is as quick as a flash of lightening and as sharp as a razor. He is the best talker whom I have known."

Darwin's friends console and council him. They arrange to read Wallace's paper, preceded by parts of Darwin's unpublished manuscript, at a meeting of the Linnean Society, Britain's leading body devoted to natural history. After the meeting, the president laments that the year has not "been marked by any of those striking discoveries which revolutionize" science.

Darwin muses in his old age:

"[O]ur joint productions excited very little attention, and the only published notice of them which I can remember ... [noted] that all that was new in them was false, and what was true was old. This shows how necessary it is that any new view should be explained at considerable length in order to arouse public attention."

-> Go to 1858


Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

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