'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life', by Charles Darwin (1859)

First edition title page

(BV D10)

In September 1859, two months before the publication of Charles Darwin’s book, Samuel Butler had set off for New Zealand. There, freed from his father’s religious influence, and with lots of time for reading and reflection, Butler studied Darwin’s Origin of Species and was immediately convinced of the truth of evolution. Being an occasional contributor to the Christchurch Press, Butler published two ‘philosophical dialogues’ defending Darwin’s idea against its general objectors.

In 1865 Butler wrote to Darwin, enclosing a copy of his recently published pamphlet, The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as given by the Four Evangelists, critically examined, and praising Darwin’s work: ‘I always delighted in your origin of species as soon as I saw it out in N.Z—not as knowing anything whatsoever of natural history, but it enters into so many deeply interesting questions, or rather it suggests so many that it thoroughly fascinated me.’

When Butler began his own theorizing on evolution, he came to disagree profoundly with the argument put forward in the Origin of Species, yet he still asserted Darwin’s importance in advancing scientific and intellectual understanding: ‘However we may differ from him in detail, the present general acceptance of evolution must remain as his work, and a more valuable work can hardly be imagined.’

This first edition of 1859, now in the Butler Collection, came from Butler’s own library. He acquired it sometime in the 1870s, having lost the volume he originally read in New Zealand.

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