Letter of Rev. Whitwell Elwin to John Murray, 3 May 1859

Before publishing Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species', Murray sought the opinion of his trusted literary adviser Elwin. He advised against publishing the work and suggested that Darwin write a book about pigeons instead.


Copyright National Library of Scotland

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A second objection to the publication of the
treatise in its present form, though of less weight
than the first, is yet of some moment. The Journal
of Mr. Darwin is, as you have often heard me say
one of the most charming books in the language. No person
could detail observations in natural history in a
more attractive manner. The dissertation in species
is, on the contrary, in a much harder & drier
style. I impute this to the absence of the facts
details. It is these which give relief & interest
to the scientific outline — so that the very omission
which takes from the philosophical value of the
work destroys in a great degree its popular value
also. Whatever class of the public he wishes to
win he weakens the effect by an imperfect,
comparatively meagre exposition of his theory.

I am aware that many facts are given in
the work as it stands, but they are too often wanting
to do more them qualify my criticisms. I state
my views broadly & rightly. Mr. Darwin will
understand my meaning as well as if I had
spoken with nice precision.

Upon the supposition that my description
of the work is correct Sir C. Lyell agrees in
my conclusions & bid me say this when I
wrote you letter for Mr. Darwin to read. Sir
Charles tells me that he feared that in his