As rejection letters go, it would have taken some beating. The publishers of Charles Darwin's seminal work, On the Origin of Species, considered turning down his manuscript and asking him to write about pigeons instead.
The near-miss was unearthed in 150-year-old correspondence between Darwin's publisher, John Murray, and a clergyman, the Rev Whitwell Elwin. Elwin was one of Murray's special advisers, part of a literary panel that was the Victorian equivalent of a modern focus group.
He was asked by the London publisher for his opinion of Darwin's new work, which challenged Old Testament ideas of Creation. Unsurprisingly for a man of the cloth, Elwin disapproved. Writing back from his rectory in Norwich on May 3, 1859, he urged Murray not to publish…
Fortunately, Murray chose to ignore the advice. He went on to publish On the Origin of Species. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nah! Don't see it myself.
I can't believe for one second that Murray seriously considered not publishing. Murray was the publisher of Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, which had been (and still is) phenomenally popular. Although he was wary about the likely demand for Origin of Species, Murray was keen to maintain a professional relationship with one of his star authors. Furthermore, after bad experiences with earlier publishers, Murray was clearly Darwin's preferred publisher, and was to remain so for the rest of Darwin's life.
But the fact that a clergyman reviewer took great exception to Darwin's masterpiece is a nice, little trivia snippet, and a precursor of things to come.