If you haven’t seen any of the many volumes of Darwin correspondence published so far, you won’t appreciate what magnificent achievements they are. Quite simply, the research that has gone into annotating each volume is awesome.
Volume 7 of the correspondence covers the years 1858—1859. It takes us from when Darwin was happily working away at research for his never-to-be-completed big species book, through to the hurried writing and publication of what Darwin saw as a short abstract of his magnum opus; an abstract which he entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Darwin had put off publishing anything about his theory of evolution for 20 years. It seems clear reading this and earlier volumes that he did genuinely intend to publish at some point—it always seemed to be in a few years’ time—but Darwin’s hand was finally forced by the arrival of a bombshell in the form of a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, who was travelling in the Malay Archipelago. Wallace had come up with exactly the same mechanistic explanation for evolution as Darwin. It looked as of Darwin was about to be scooped.
This volume describes how Darwin’s friends, Charles Lyell and William Dalton Hooker, arranged for a joint Darwin—Wallace paper to be read out at the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858. Nobody batted an eye-lid; the worthy members of one of the world’s foremost scientific societies totally failed to appreciate that the most important idea in biology had just been announced.
If you have more than a passing interest in Charles Darwin, you need to own this book.