The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 126 of 188

When we turn to the Sketch of his theory, written in 1844 (still therefore before the second edition of the ‘Journal’ was completed), we find an enormous advance made on the note-book of 1837. The Sketch is an fact a surprisingly complete presentation of the argument afterwards familiar to us in the ‘Origin of Species.’ There is some obscurity as to the date of the short Sketch which formed the basis of the 1844 Essay. We know from his own words (volume i., page 68), that it was in June 1842 that he first wrote out a short sketch of his views. (This version I cannot find, and it was probably destroyed, like so much of his MS., after it had been enlarged and re-copied in 1844.) This statement is given with so much circumstance that it is almost impossible to suppose that it contains an error of date. It agrees also with the following extract from his Diary.

1842. May 18th. Went to Maer.

“June 15th to Shrewsbury, and on 18th to Capel Curig. During my stay at Maer and Shrewsbury (five years after commencement) wrote pencil-sketch of species theory.”

Again in the introduction to the ‘Origin,’ page 1, he writes, “after an interval of five years’ work” [from 1837, i.e. in 1842], “I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes.”

Nevertheless in the letter signed by Sir C. Lyell and Sir J.D. Hooker, which serves as an introduction to the joint paper of Messrs. C. Darwin and A. Wallace on the ‘Tendency of Species to form Varieties,’ (‘Linn. Soc. Journal,’ 1858, page 45.) the essay of 1844 (extracts from which form part of the paper) is said to have been “sketched in 1839, and copied in 1844.” This statement is obviously made on the authority of a note written in my father’s hand across the Table of Contents of the 1844 Essay. It is to the following effect: “This was sketched in 1839, and copied out in full, as here written and read by you in 1844.” I conclude that this note was added in 1858, when the MS. was sent to Sir J.D. Hooker (see Letter of June 29, 1858, page 476). There is also some further evidence on this side of the question. Writing to Mr. Wallace (January 25, 1859) my father says:– “Every one whom I have seen has thought your paper very well written and interesting. It puts my extracts (written in 1839, now just twenty years ago!), which I must say in apology were never for an instant intended for publication; into the shade.” The statement that the earliest sketch was written in 1839 has been frequently made in biographical notices of my father, no doubt on the authority of the ‘Linnean Journal,’ but it must, I think, be considered as erroneous. The error may possibly have arisen in this way. In writing on the Table of Contents of the 1844 MS. that it was sketched in 1839, I think my father may have intended to imply that the framework of the theory was clearly thought out by him at that date. In the Autobiography he speaks of the time, “about 1839, when the theory was clearly conceived,” meaning, no doubt, the end of 1838 and beginning of 1839, when the reading of Malthus had given him the key to the idea of natural selection. But this explanation does not apply to the letter to Mr. Wallace; and with regard to the passage (My father certainly saw the proofs of the paper, for he added a foot-note apologising for the style of the extracts, on the ground that the “work was never intended for publication.”) in the ‘Linnean Journal’ it is difficult to understand how it should have been allowed to remain as it now stands, conveying, as it clearly does, the impression that 1839 was the date of his earliest written sketch.

The sketch of 1844 is written in a clerk’s hand, in two hundred and thirty-one pages folio, blank leaves being alternated with the MS. with a view to amplification. The text has been revised and corrected, criticisms being pencilled by himself on the margin. It is divided into two parts: I. “On the variation of Organic Beings under Domestication and in their Natural State.” II. “On the Evidence favourable and opposed to the view that Species are naturally formed races descended from common Stocks.” The first part contains the main argument of the ‘Origin of Species.’ It is founded, as is the argument of that work, on the study of domestic animals, and both the Sketch and the ‘Origin’ open with a chapter on variation under domestication and on artificial selection. This is followed, in both essays, by discussions on variation under nature, on natural selection, and on the struggle for life. Here, any close resemblance between the two essays with regard to arrangement ceases. Chapter III. of the Sketch, which concludes the first part, treats of the variations which occur in the instincts and habits of animals, and thus corresponds to some extent with Chapter VII. of the ‘Origin’ (1st edition). It thus forms a complement to the chapters which deal with variation in structure. It seems to have been placed thus early in the Essay to prevent the hasty rejection of the whole theory by a reader to whom the idea of natural selection acting on instincts might seem impossible. This is the more probable, as the Chapter on Instinct in the ‘Origin’ is specially mentioned (Introduction, page 5) as one of the “most apparent and gravest difficulties on the theory.” Moreover the chapter in the Sketch ends with a discussion, “whether any particular corporeal structures…are so wonderful as to justify the rejection prima facie of our theory.” Under this heading comes the discussion of the eye, which in the ‘Origin’ finds its place in Chapter VI. under “Difficulties of the Theory.” The second part seems to have been planned in accordance with his favourite point of view with regard to his theory. This is briefly given in a letter to Dr. Asa Gray, November 11th, 1859: “I cannot possibly believe that a false theory would explain so many classes of facts, as I think it certainly does explain. On these grounds I drop my anchor, and believe that the difficulties will slowly disappear.” On this principle, having stated the theory in the first part, he proceeds to show to what extent various wide series of facts can be explained by its means.

Thus the second part of the Sketch corresponds roughly to the nine concluding Chapters of the First Edition of the ‘Origin.’ But we must exclude Chapter VII. (‘Origin’) on Instinct, which forms a chapter in the first part of the Sketch, and Chapter VIII. (‘Origin’) on Hybridism, a subject treated in the Sketch with ‘Variation under Nature’ in the first part.

The following list of the chapters of the second part of the Sketch will illustrate their correspondence with the final chapters of the ‘Origin.’

Chapter I. “On the kind of intermediateness necessary, and the number of such intermediate forms.” This includes a geological discussion, and corresponds to parts of Chapters VI. and IX. of the ‘Origin.’

Chapter II. “The gradual appearance and disappearance of organic beings.” Corresponds to Chapter X. of the ‘Origin.’

Chapter III. “Geographical Distribution.” Corresponds to Chapters XI. and XII. of the ‘Origin.’

Chapter IV. “Affinities and Classification of Organic beings.”

Chapter V. “Unity of Type,” Morphology, Embryology.

Chapter VI. Rudimentary Organs.

These three chapters correspond to Chapter XII. of the ‘Origin.’

Chapter VII. Recapitulation and Conclusion. The final sentence of the Sketch, which we saw in its first rough form in the Note Book of 1837, closely resembles the final sentence of the ‘Origin,’ much of it being identical. The ‘Origin’ is not divided into two “Parts,” but we see traces of such a division having been present in the writer’s mind, in this resemblance between the second part of the Sketch and the final chapters of the ‘Origin.’ That he should speak (‘Origin,’ Introduction, page 5.) of the chapters on transition, on instinct, on hybridism, and on the geological record, as forming a group, may be due to the division of his early MS. into two parts.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)