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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anxiety to make his work perfect Mr. Darwin
would postpone indefinitely the putting
his material into shape, & that thus the world
might at last be deprived of his labours. He also
told me that another gentleman had put forward
a similar theory, & that it was necessary that Mr. D.
should promulgate his conclusions before he was
anticipated. Influenced by these considerations Sir
Charles urged the publication of Mr. D's observations
upon pigeons, which he informs me are curious, ingenious
& valuable in the highest degree, accompanied
with a brief statement of his general principles.
He might then remark that of these principles
the phenomena respecting the pigeons were one
illustration, & that a larger work would
shortly appear in which the same conclusions
would be demonstrated by examples drawn from
the wide world of nature.

This appears to me to be an admirable suggestion.
Even if the larger work were ready it would be
the best mode of preparing the way for it. Every
body is interested in pigeons. The book would be
received in every journal in the kingdom & would
soon be on every table. The public at large can better
understand a question when it is narrowed to a
single case of this kind than when the whole
varied kingdom of nature is brought under
discussion at the outset. Interest forin the
larger work would be roused, & good-will