On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, by Charles Darwin

Title page of first edition of Darwin's Origin of Species
First edition, 1859 (BV D10)

This first edition of Charles Darwin’s most important work comes from Butler’s own library. In September 1859, two months before the book’s publication, Butler set sail for New Zealand where he worked profitably as a sheep farmer for four years. Freed from his family’s overbearing religious influence, and with plenty of time for reading and reflection, he studied the Origin of Species and was immediately convinced of the truth of evolution. Once back in England Butler wrote to Darwin expressing his fascination with the many questions the Origin raised.

Butler went on to pen four of his own works on the subject, later claiming that ‘however we may differ from [Darwin] in detail, the present general acceptance of evolution must remain as his work, and a more valuable work can hardly be imagined’.

According to Darwin’s publisher John Murray, all 1250 copies of the first edition Origin of Species were sold on the day of publication (24th November 1859). In fact, quite a few had already been distributed either for review or as ‘presentation copies’. This volume is one of 23 known presentation copies, all of which are identified by this inscription on the flyleaf:

The inscription is not in Darwin’s hand but the hand of one of Murray’s clerks at the publishing house. Samuel Butler acquired the volume second-hand sometime in the 1870s, having lost the copy he originally read in New Zealand.

Next exhibit