Box icon Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Originator of the theory of natural selection

Portrait of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin argued that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through the process he called natural selection. He first put forward this theory in his book 'On the Origin of Species' (1859). The importance of this work and Darwin's theories mean that they are still studied and discussed.

Darwin agonised over the controversial publication of 'Origin'. Darwin's book implied that humans were not created by God, but had evolved from other animals. John Murray III played an important role in getting the first and all the subsequent revised editions of 'Origin' published.

Murray, as well as publishing 'Origin', published all of Darwin's other main books. These included 'Descent of Man' and 'Voyage of the Beagle'. Even his detailed work on earthworms was very popular.

Murray also published many other significant works connected with supporting or attacking evolutionary theories and evidence. These included the works of geologist Sir Charles Lyell and the Duke of Argyll. Also one of Darwin's strongest critics, Samuel Wilberforce, reviewed 'Origin' in the 'Quarterly Review' (1860).

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History of the book: 'On the Origin of Species'

Darwin image from interactive feature Explore the fascinating history of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species' through items in the John Murray Archive.

Was Darwin apprehensive about seeing the result of 20 years of research in print? How many copies did it sell? What sort of reaction did it receive? Find the answers and explore the world of 19th-century publishing.

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NRA Name: Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882), naturalist.

The National Register of Archives (NRA) contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history in archival holdings in the UK and overseas. You can find more information on the National Register of Archives name authority catalogue.


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'The book ought to be popular with a large body of scientific & semi-scientific readers, as it bears on agriculture & history of our domestic productions & on whole field of Zoology, Botany & Geology.' – Letter from Darwin to Murray, 31 March 1859.



Related links on the web:

The Darwin Correspondence Project

The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online

Map of Charles Darwin's house in Kent
Map of Britain showing notable locations
View other notable JMA locations in Google Maps