Francis Darwin's annotated copy of the Origin of Species (1859)

Francis Darwin's annotated copy of the Origin of species (1859)This rare presentation copy of the first edition of the Origin of species belonged to Charles Darwin and later to his third son Francis Darwin (1848-1925). It is part of a private collection in Virginia, USA. We are very grateful to the owner for allowing it to be published online.

Francis DarwinThe Origin of species, one of the most influential books ever written, was published on 24 November 1859. 1,250 copies of the first edition were printed. (See Freeman 1977, pp. 73ff.) The number that survive today is not yet known, but the Darwin Census is conducting a detailed survey. At least twenty-three presentation copies of the first edition are known, none signed by Darwin himself. The verso of the front free endpaper of this presentation copy is inscribed 'From the Author' by a clerk at the publisher John Murray. The recto is inscribed 'F Darwin Cambridge'. The upper right corner of the title page is marked with Darwin family shelf-marks in pencil. The number '92' corresponds to the number given in the 'Catalogue of the Library of Charles Darwin' DAR240, which demonstrates that this copy originally belonged to Charles Darwin.

Francis Darwin was eleven years old when the Origin of species was published. As it is signed 'Cambridge' this may date from his time as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge (1866-1870). Between 1874-1882 Francis assisted his father's researches at Down. From 1888 to 1904 Francis was Reader in Botany at Cambridge.

After his father's death in 1882, Francis published revised editions of some of his father's works. Francis is best known for his pioneering three volume biography of his father: The life and letters of Charles Darwin (1887) and later works. The writing and publication of the Origin of species is described in Life and letters, vol. 2, pp. 126-178. See Robert Brown's introduction to Francis's draft of 'Reminiscences of My Father's Everyday Life'. Hundreds of documents pertaining to Francis are preserved in the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University Library and many can be viewed on Darwin Online here.

Francis made over 250 pencil annotations in this copy on more than 215 of its pages. Most are marginal lines, underlinings and other marks. There are also editorial comments. On page 8 Francis wrote 'Weismann' next to a passage on variations and monstrosities. This was apparently a reference to August Weismann's theory of the germ plasm, a later theory that denied that acquired characteristics of body cells, as opposed to reproductive cells (eggs and sperm), could be inherited.

On page 440 the line: 'No one will suppose that the stripes on the whelp of a lion, or the spots on the young blackbird, are of any use to these animals, or are related to the conditions to which they are exposed.' is marked as 'deleted in the vi edition', (i.e. the 6th edition of the Origin of species) which was published in 1872. On one of the back endpapers Francis made a note 'cumulative action of N S 43', N S = natural selection.

Images of this entire copy of the Origin of species can be viewed here, or downloadable PDF (170MB).

To view only the pages annotated by Francis, a second copy, omitting all unannotated pages, is provided here and PDF (67MB).

Hopefully in the future images of further Darwin books from Francis Darwin's personal library, courtesy of a Private Collection, Virginia, including books containing corrections and manuscripts by Charles Darwin, will be published on Darwin Online.

John van Wyhe

November 2009



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