Evolution, Old and New (1879)

First edition title page (BII EVO 1879.2)

In his second book on evolution, Butler surveyed the contributions of the major early theorists – Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck – alongside the more recent theories of Herbert Spencer, St George Mivart and Charles Darwin, attempting to present his own ideas as a continuation of the scientific history. The book dramatically concluded that Charles Darwin’s work was little more than a rehashing of Erasmus Darwin’s and Lamarck’s, combined with a denial of ‘the purposiveness or teleology inherent in evolution as first propounded’.

Cover of first edition   Cover of 1911 edition

Front covers of the first edition (BII EVO 1879.3) and 1911 edition (BII EVO 1911.2)

It wasn’t until after Charles Darwin’s death, in April 1882, that Butler came to regret the rather one-sided feud he had propagated through his relentless challenging of Darwin and his work. In his preface to the second edition of Evolution Old and New, Butler conceded: ‘I have always admitted myself to be under the deepest obligations to Mr. Darwin’s works; and it was with the greatest reluctance, not to say repugnance, that I became one of his opponents. … I cannot be blind to the fact that no man can be judge in his own case, and that after all Mr. Darwin may have been right, and I wrong.’

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