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Reactions to On the Origin of Species

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Title: Reactions to On the Origin of Species  
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Subject: Charles Darwin, Publication of Darwin's theory, Susannah Darwin, Tinamou egg, Charles Waring Darwin (infant)
Collection: Charles Darwin, History of Evolutionary Biology, Reactions
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Reactions to On the Origin of Species

This article covers the time period from November 1859 to April 1860.

The immediate reaction to On the Origin of Species, the book in which Charles Darwin described evolution by natural selection, included international debate, though the heat of controversy was less than that over earlier works such as Vestiges of Creation. Darwin monitored the debate closely, cheering on Thomas Henry Huxley's battles with Richard Owen to remove clerical domination of the scientific establishment. While Darwin's illness kept him away from the public debates, he read eagerly about them and mustered support through correspondence.

Religious views were mixed, with the Church of England's scientific establishment reacting against the book, while liberal Anglicans strongly supported Darwin's natural selection as an instrument of God's design. Religious controversy was soon diverted by the publication of Essays and Reviews and debate over the higher criticism.

The most famous confrontation took place at the public 1860 Oxford evolution debate during a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, when the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce argued against Darwin's explanation. In the ensuing debate Joseph Hooker argued strongly in favor of Darwinian evolution. Thomas Huxley's support of evolution was so intense that the media and public nicknamed him "Darwin's bulldog". Huxley became the fiercest defender of the evolutionary theory on the Victorian stage. Both sides came away feeling victorious, but Huxley went on to depict the debate as pivotal in a struggle between religion and science and used Darwinism to campaign against the authority of the clergy in education, as well as daringly advocating the "Ape Origin of Man".


  • Background 1
    • Publication of The Origin of Species 1.1
  • First reviews 2
    • First response 2.1
    • Friendly reviews 2.2
    • Clerical concern, atheist enthusiasm 2.3
  • Widespread interest 3
    • Asa Gray in the United States 3.1
    • Erasmus and Martineau 3.2
    • Clerical reaction 3.3
    • Huxley and Owen 3.4
    • Natural persecution 3.5
  • Debate 4
    • Essays and Reviews 4.1
    • The British Association debate 4.2
    • Wilberforce's Quarterly review 4.3
    • Natural History Review 4.4
  • Darwin at home 5
    • Arguments with Owen 5.1
  • Continued debate 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


Darwin's ideas developed rapidly after returning from the Voyage of the Beagle in 1836. By December 1838, he had developed the basic principles of his theory [ref]. At that time, similar ideas brought others disgrace and association with the revolutionary mob [what is the revolutionary mob?]. He was conscious of the need to answer all likely objections before publishing [ref]. While he continued with research, he had an immense amount of work in hand analyzing and publishing findings from the Beagle expedition, and was repeatedly delayed by illness.

Natural history at that time was dominated by clerical naturalists who saw their science as revealing God's plan, and whose income came from the Established Church of England [ref]. Darwin found three close allies. The eminent geologist Charles Lyell, whose books had influenced the young Darwin during the Voyage of the Beagle, befriended Darwin who he saw as a supporter of his ideas of gradual geological processes with continuing divine Creation of species. By the 1840s Darwin became friends with the young botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker who had followed his father into the science, and after going on a survey voyage used his contacts to eventually find a position.[1] In the 1850s Darwin met Thomas Huxley, an ambitious naturalist who had returned from a long survey trip but lacked the family wealth or contacts to find a career[2] and who joined the progressive group around Herbert Spencer looking to make science a profession, freed from the clerics.

This was also a time of intense conflict over religious morality in England, where The Constitution of Man and the anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation which converted vast popular audiences to the belief that natural laws controlled the development of nature and society. German higher criticism questioned the Bible as a historical document in contrast to the evangelical creed that every word was divinely inspired. Dissident clergymen even began questioning accepted premises of Christian morality, and Benjamin Jowett's 1855 commentary on St. Paul brought a storm of controversy.[3]

By September 1854 Darwin's other books reached a stage where he was able to turn his attention fully to Species, and from this point he was working to publish his theory. On 18 June 1858 he received a parcel from Alfred Russel Wallace enclosing about twenty pages describing an evolutionary mechanism that was similar to Darwin's own theory. Darwin put matters in the hands of his friends Lyell and Hooker, who agreed on a joint presentation to the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858. Their paper were entitled respectively On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection.

Darwin, as photographed in 1860

Publication of The Origin of Species

Darwin now worked on an "abstract" trimmed from his Natural Selection manuscript. The publisher John Murray agreed the title as On the Origin of Species through Natural Selection and the book went on sale to the trade on 22 November 1859. The stock of 1,250 copies was oversubscribed, and Darwin, still at Ilkley spa town, began corrections for a second edition. The novelist Charles Kingsley, a Christian socialist country rector, sent him a letter of praise: "It awes me...if you be right I must give up much that I have believed", it was "just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self development... as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made."[4] Darwin added these lines to the last chapter, with attribution to "a celebrated author and divine".

First reviews

The reviewers were less encouraging. Four days before publication, a review in the authoritative Athenaeum[5] [6] (by John Leifchild, published anonymously, as was the custom at that time) was quick to pick out the unstated implications of "men from monkeys" already controversial from Vestiges, saw snubs to theologians, summing up Darwin's "creed" as man "was born yesterday – he will perish tomorrow" and concluded that "The work deserves attention, and will, we have no doubt, meet with it. Scientific naturalists will take up the author upon his own peculiar ground; and there will we imagine be a severe struggle for at least theoretical existence. Theologians will say—and they have a right to be heard—Why construct another elaborate theory to exclude Deity from renewed acts of creation? Why not at once admit that new species were introduced by the Creative energy of the Omnipotent? Why not accept direct interference, rather than evolutions of law, and needlessly indirect or remote action? Having introduced the author and his work, we must leave them to the mercies of the Divinity Hall, the College, the Lecture Room, and the Museum."[7] At Ilkley, Darwin raged "But the manner in which he drags in immortality, & sets the Priests at me, & leaves me to their mercies, is base. He would on no account burn me; but he will get the wood ready and tell the black beasts how to catch me."[8] Darwin sprained an ankle and his health worsened, as he wrote to friends it was "odious".[6]

By 9 December when Darwin left

  • The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online – Darwin Online; Darwin's publications, private papers and bibliography, supplementary works including biographies, obituaries and reviews. For a comprehensive set of reviews of On the Origin of Species see Reviews & Responses to Darwin.
  • Works by Charles Darwin at Project Gutenberg
  • Darwin Correspondence Project Text and notes for most of his letters.

External links

  • Darwin, Charles (1837–1838), Notebook B: [Transmutation of species], Darwin Online, CUL-DAR121, retrieved 20 December 2008 
  • Darwin, Charles (1859), On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1st ed.), London: John Murray, retrieved 24 October 2008 
  • Darwin, Charles (1958),  
  • Darwin, Charles (2006), "Journal", in van Wyhe, John, [Darwin's personal 'Journal' (1809–1881)], Darwin Online, CUL-DAR158.1–76, retrieved 20 December 2008 
  • Freeman, R.B. (1977), The Works of Charles Darwin: An Annotated Bibliographical Handlist (2nd ed.), Folkestone, Kent, England: Wm Dawson & Sons, retrieved 15 December 2006 
  • Huxley, Thomas H. (1863), ) DarwinianaSix Lectures to Working Men "On Our Knowledge of the Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature" (Republished in Volume II of his Collected Essays,, retrieved 15 December 2006 

Further reading

  • Altholz, Josef L. (1976), "The warfare of conscience with theology", in Altholz, Josef L., The Mind and Art of Victorian England, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 58–77,  
  • . Published anonymously.  
  • Freeman, R.B. (2007), Charles Darwin: A companion (2d online edition, compiled by Sue Asscher and edited by John van Wyhe ed.),  
  •  . Letter dated January 1861.
  • . The first edition was published in 1900.  
  • . Published anonymously.  
  • Huxley, Thomas H. (1860), "Darwin on the Origin of Species", . Published anonymously.  
  • Leifchild, John R. (1859), "'"Review of 'Origin,  
  • Lucas, J. R. (1979), "Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter", The Historical Journal 22 (2): 313–330,  
  • . Published anonymously.  
  • . Published anonymously.  
  • Wilberforce, Samuel (1861), "(Review of) Essays and Reviews",  . Published anonymously.
  • Wollaston, A.F.R. (1921), Life of Alfred Newton: late Professor of Comparative Anatomy, Cambridge University 1866–1907, with a Preface by Sir Archibald Geikie, New York: Dutton .

Note: this article uses Desmond and Moore, Darwin, as a general reference. Other references used for specific points or quotations.


  1. ^ Desmond & Moore 1991, pp. 313–320, 325–326
  2. ^ Desmond & Moore 1991, pp. 403–404
  3. ^ Altholz 1976
  4. ^ Letter 2534 – Kingsley, Charles to Darwin, C. R., 18 Nov 1859, Darwin Correspondence Project 
  5. ^ "LITERATURE". 19 November 1859. 
  6. ^ a b Browne 2002, p. 87
  7. ^ Leifchild 1859
  8. ^ Letter 2542 – Darwin, C. R. to Hooker, J. D., 22 Nov 1859, Darwin Correspondence Project 
  9. ^ Letter 2570 – Darwin, C. R. to Murray, John (b), 4 Dec (1859), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  10. ^ Letter 2544 – Huxley, T. H. to Darwin, C. R., 23 Nov (1859), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  11. ^ Darwin 1887, pp. 228–232
  12. ^ Letter 2526 – Owen, Richard to Darwin, C. R., 12 Nov (1859), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  13. ^ a b Letter 2575 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, (10 Dec 1859), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  14. ^ Letter 2507 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 20 Oct (1859), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  15. ^ Carpenter 1859
  16. ^ Huxley 1859
  17. ^ Letter 2611 – Darwin, C. R. to Huxley, T. H., 28 Dec (1859), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  18. ^ Hooker 1859
  19. ^ Letter 2540 – Watson, H. C. to Darwin, C. R., 21 Nov (1859), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  20. ^ Letter 3150 – Grant, R. E. to Darwin, C. R., 16 May 1861, Darwin Correspondence Project 
  21. ^ Letter 2650 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 14 Jan (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  22. ^ Letter 2592 – Darwin, C. R. to Gray, Asa, 21 Dec (1859), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 6 December 2008 
  23. ^ Letter 2665 – Darwin, C. R. to Gray, Asa, 28 Jan (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 6 December 2008 
  24. ^ Letter 2706 – Gray, Asa to Darwin, C. R., 20 Feb 1860, Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 6 December 2008 
  25. ^ Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 492
  26. ^ Darwin Online: On the Origin of Species, retrieved 6 December 2008 
  27. ^ Letter 2701 – Darwin, C. R. to Gray, Asa, (8–9 Feb 1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 5 December 2008 
  28. ^ Letter 2743 – Darwin, C. R. to Gray, Asa, 3 Apr (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 5 December 2008 
  29. ^ Letter 2814 – Darwin, C. R. to Gray, Asa, 22 May (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  30. ^ Spelling and abbreviations as Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 486.
  31. ^ Letter 2548 – Sedgwick, Adam to Darwin, C. R., 24 Nov 1859, Darwin Correspondence Project 
  32. ^ Henslow 1861
  33. ^ Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 488.
  34. ^ Harrison, Brian W., Early Vatican Responses to Evolutionist Theology, Living Tradition, Organ of the Roman Theological Forum, May 2001 – quotation from here. See also: Artigas, Mariano; Glick, Thomas F., Martínez, Rafael A.; Negotiating Darwin: the Vatican confronts evolution, 1877–1902, JHU Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8018-8389-X, 9780801883897, Google books
  35. ^ a b Letter 2696 – Darwin, C. R. to Hooker, J. D., 14 Feb (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 22 March 2009 
  36. ^ Charles Blinderman; David Joyce (1998), The Huxley File § 4 Darwin's Bulldog, Clark University, retrieved 22 March 2009 
  37. ^ Darwin 1887, p. 331
    Letter 2893 – Darwin, C. R. to Huxley, T. H., 8 Aug (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 14 August 2009 
  38. ^ a b Huxley 1860
  39. ^ a b Letter 2754 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 10 Apr (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 14 August 2009 
  40. ^ Owen 1860
  41. ^ Letter 2791 – Darwin, C. R. to Henslow, J. S., 8 May (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 14 August 2009 
  42. ^ "Letter 2782 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 4 May (1860)". Darwin Correspondence Project. Retrieved 17 February 2011. 
  43. ^ Anon (5 May 1860), "Professor Owen on the Origin of Species", The Saturday Review, London, p. 579.
  44. ^ Letter 2809 – Darwin, C. R. to Fox, W. D., 18 May (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 7 December 2008 
  45. ^ Letter 2794 – Henslow, J. S. to Hooker, J. D., 10 May 1860, Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 7 December 2008 
  46. ^ Letter from Karl Marx to Engels dated 18 June 1862 cited in Browne (2002, pp. 187–188).
  47. ^ Letter 2822 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 6 June (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 6 December 2008 
  48. ^ Letter 2935 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 3 Oct (1860), Darwin Correaspondence Project, retrieved 6 December 2008 
  49. ^ a b Wilberforce 1860
  50. ^ Jenson, J. Vernon 1991. Thomas Henry Huxley: communicating for science. U. of Delaware Press, Newark. [Chapter 3 is an excellent survey, and its notes gives references to all the eyewitness accounts except Newton]
  51. ^ Wollaston 1921, pp. 118–120
  52. ^ Lucas 1979
  53. ^ Letter 2852 – Hooker, J. D. to Darwin, C. R., 2 July (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  54. ^ Jenson, J. Vernon 1991. Thomas Henry Huxley: communicating for science. U. of Delaware Press, Newark.
  55. ^ See also: Alfred Newton#Reception of the Origin of Species and Thomas Henry Huxley#Debate with Wilberforce
  56. ^ Darwin 1887, pp. 324–325, Vol. 2
  57. ^ Wilberforce 1861
  58. ^ a b Desmond & Moore 1991, pp. 500–501
  59. ^ Charles Darwin's journal for 1860, Darwin Online 
  60. ^ Letter 2998 – Darwin, C. R. to Gray, Asa, 26 Nov (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  61. ^ Huxley 1903, p. 276, Vol. 1. Page 190 in the first edition.
  62. ^ Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 504
  63. ^ Letter 3107 – Darwin, C. R. to Huxley, T. H., 1 Apr (1861), Darwin Correspondence Project 
  64. ^ Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 505
  65. ^ Letter 2647 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 10 Jan (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 13 April 2009 
  66. ^ Letter 2771 – Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 27–8 Apr (1860), Darwin Correspondence Project, retrieved 13 April 2009 
  67. ^ Browne 2002, pp. 373–379
  68. ^ Freeman 2007, p. 76


For a description of Darwin's life, work and influences in the following period see the article: Darwin from Orchids to Variation.

See also

The reception of Darwin's ideas continued to arouse scientific and religious debates, and wide public interest. Satirical cartoonists seized on animal ancestry in relation to other topical issues, drawing on a long tradition of identifying animal traits in humans. In Britain mass circulation magazines were droll rather than cruel, and thus presented Darwin's theory in an unthreatening way. Due to illness, Darwin began growing a beard in 1862, and when he reappeared in public in 1866 with a bushy beard, caricatures centred on Darwin and his new look contributed to a trend in which all forms of evolutionism were identified with Darwinism.[67][68]

Continued debate

Lyell was troubled both by Huxley's belligerence and by the question of ape ancestry, but got little sympathy from Darwin who teased him that "Our ancestor was an animal which breathed water, had a swim bladder, a great swimming tail, an imperfect skull, and undoubtedly was a hermaphrodite! Here is a pleasant genealogy for mankind."[64][65] and "... mankind will progress to such a pitch [that 19th century gentlemen will be looked back on] as mere barbarians".[66] Lyell began work on a book examining human origins.

A French caricature around 1878 shows a bearded Darwin breaking through hoops of "gullibility, superstitions, errors, and ignorance" held up by Émile Littré.

Their campaign ran over two years and was devastatingly successful, with each "slaying" being followed by a recruiting drive for the Darwinian cause. The spite lingered. When Huxley joined the Zoological Society Council in 1861, Owen left, and in the following year Huxley moved to stop Owen from being elected to the Royal Society Council as "no body of gentlemen" should admit a member "guilty of wilful & deliberate falsehood."

Huxley's arguments with Owen continued in the Athenaeum so that each Saturday Darwin could read the latest ripostes. Owen tried to smear Huxley by portraying him as an "advocate of man's origins from a transmuted ape", and one of his contributions was titled "Ape-Origin of Man as Tested by the Brain". This backfired, as Huxley had already delighted Darwin by speculating on "pithecoid man" – ape-like man, and was glad of the invitation to publicly turn the anatomy of brain structure into a question of human ancestry. He was determined to indict Owen for perjury, promising "before I have done with that mendacious humbug I will nail him out, like a kite to a barn door, an example to all evil doers."[62] Darwin egged him on from Down, writing "Oh Lord what a thorn you must be in the poor dear man's side".[63]

Arguments with Owen

The Huxleys became close family friends, frequently visiting Down House. When their 3-year-old son died of scarlet fever they were badly affected. Henrietta Huxley brought their three infants to Down in March 1861 where Emma helped to console her, while Huxley continued with his working-men's lectures at the Royal School of Mines, writing that "My working men stick with me wonderfully, the house fuller than ever, By next Friday evening they will all be convinced that they are monkeys."[61]

Over the winter he organised a third edition of the Origin, adding an introductory historical sketch. Asa Gray had published three supportive articles in the Atlantic Monthly. Darwin persuaded Gray to publish them as a pamphlet, and was delighted when Gray came up with the title of Natural Selection Not Inconsistent with Natural Theology. Darwin paid half the cost, imported 250 copies into Britain and as well as advertising it in periodicals and sending 100 copies out to scientists, reviewers, and theologians (including Wilberforce), he included in the Origin a recommendation for it, available to be purchased for 1s. 6d. from Trübner's in Paternoster Row.

As the battles raged, Darwin returned home from the spa to proceed with experiments on chloroforming carnivorous sundew plants, looking over his Natural Selection manuscript and drafting two chapters on pigeon breeding that would eventually form part of The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.[59] He wrote to Asa Gray and used the example of fantail pigeons to argue against Gray's belief "that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines", with the implication of Creationism rather than Natural Selection.[60]

Darwin at home

The Natural History Review was bought and refurbished by Huxley, Lubbock, Busk and other "plastically minded young men" – supporters of Darwin. The first issue in January 1861 carried Huxley's paper on man's relationship to apes, "showing up" Owen. Huxley cheekily sent a copy to Wilberforce.

Natural History Review

Wilberforce also attacked Essays and Reviews in the Quarterly Review,[57] and in a letter to The Times, signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and 25 bishops, which threatened the theologians with the ecclesiastical courts.[58] Darwin quoted a proverb: "A bench of bishops is the devil's flower garden", and joined others including Lyell, though not Hooker and Huxley, in signing a counter-letter supporting Essays and Reviews for trying to "establish religious teachings on a firmer and broader foundation". Despite this alignment of pro-evolution scientists and Unitarians with liberal churchmen, two of the authors were indicted for heresy and lost their jobs by 1862.[58]

In late July Darwin read Wilberforce's review in the Quarterly.[49] It used a 60-year-old parody from the Anti-Jacobin of the prose of Darwin's grandfather Erasmus, implying old revolutionary sympathies. It argued that if "transmutations were actually occurring" this would be seen in rapidly reproducing invertebrates, and since it isn't, why think that "the favourite varieties of turnips are tending to become men". Darwin pencilled "rubbish" in the margin. To the statement about classification that "all creation is the transcript in matter of ideas eternally existing in the mind of the Most High!!", Darwin scribbled "mere words". At the same time, Darwin was willing to grant that Wilberforce's review was clever: he wrote to Hooker that "it picks out with skill all the most conjectural parts, and brings forward well all the difficulties. It quizzes me quite splendidly by quoting the 'Anti-Jacobin' against my Grandfather."[56]

Wilberforce's Quarterly review

1869 Caricature of Wilberforce. His hand washing gesture helped earn the Bishop of Oxford his nickname

Both sides came away claiming victory, with Hooker and Huxley each sending Darwin rather contradictory triumphant accounts. Supporters of Darwinism seized on this meeting as a sign that the idea of evolution could not be suppressed by authority, and would be defended vigorously by its advocates. Liberal clerics were also satisfied that literal belief in all aspects of the Bible was now questioned by science; they were sympathetic to some of the ideas in Essays and Reviews.[54][55]

Hooker's "blood boiled, I felt myself a dastard; now I saw my advantage–I swore to myself I would smite that Amalekite Sam hip and thigh", (he was invited up to the platform and) "there and then I smacked him amid rounds of applause... proceeded to demonstrate... that he could never have read your book... wound up with a very few observations on the...old and new hypotheses... Sam was shut up... and the meeting was dissolved forthwith leaving you [Darwin] master of the field after 4 hours battle."[53]

Robert FitzRoy, who had been the captain of HMS Beagle during Darwin's voyage, was there to present a paper on storms. During the debate FitzRoy, seen by Hooker as "a grey haired Roman nosed elderly gentleman", stood in the centre of the audience and "lifting an immense Bible first with both and afterwards with one hand over his head, solemnly implored the audience to believe God rather than man". As he admitted that the Origin of Species had given him "acutest pain" the crowd shouted him down.

From Hooker's account, Draper "droned on for an hour", then for half an hour "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce replied with the eloquence that had earned him his nickname. This time the climate of opinion had changed and the ensuing debate was more evenly matched, with Hooker being particularly successful in defence of Darwin's ideas. In response to what Huxley took as a jibe from Wilberforce as to whether it was on Huxley's grandfather's or grandmother's side that he was descended from an ape, Huxley made a reply which he later recalled as being that "[if asked] would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape". No verbatim record was taken: eyewitness accounts exist, and vary somewhat.[50][51][52]

The debate was held in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The most famous confrontation took place at a meeting of the John William Draper of New York University was to talk on Darwin and social progress at a routine "Botany and Zoology" meeting. The new museum hall was crowded with clergy, undergraduates, Oxford dons and gentlewomen anticipating that Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, would speak to repeat the savage trouncing he had given in 1847 to the Vestiges published anonymously by Robert Chambers. Owen lodged with Wilberforce the night before, but Wilberforce would have been well prepared as he had just reviewed the Origin for the Tory Quarterly for a fee of £60.[49] Huxley was not going to wait for the meeting, but met Chambers who accused him of "deserting them" and changed his mind. Darwin was taking treatment at Dr. Lane's new hydropathic establishment at Sudbrooke Park, Petersham, near Richmond in Surrey.

The British Association debate

The most scientific of the seven was the Reverend Baden Powell, who held the Savilian chair of geometry at the University of Oxford. Referring to "Mr Darwin's masterly volume" and restating his argument that God is a lawgiver, miracles break the lawful edicts issued at Creation, therefore belief in miracles is atheistic, he wrote that the book "must soon bring about an entire revolution in opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature." He drew attacks, with Sedgwick accusing him of "greedily" adopting nonsense and Tory reviews saying he was joining "the infidel party". He would have been on the platform at the British Association debate, facing the bishop, but died of a heart attack on 11 June.

Around February 1860 liberal theologians entered the fray, when seven produced a manifesto titled Essays and Reviews. These Anglicans included Oxford professors, country clergymen, the headmaster of Rugby school and a layman. Their declaration that miracles were irrational stirred up unprecedented anger, drawing much of the fire away from Darwin. Essays sold 22,000 copies in two years, more than the Origin sold in twenty years, and sparked five years of increasingly polarised debate with books and pamphlets furiously contesting the issues.

Essays and Reviews


Darwin remarked to Lyell, "I must be a very bad explainer... Several Reviews, & several letters have shown me too clearly how little I am understood. I suppose natural selection was bad term; but to change it now, I think, would make confusion worse confounded. Nor can I think of better; Natural preservation would not imply a preservation of particular varieties & would seem a truism; & would not bring man's & nature's selection under one point of view. I can only hope by reiterated explanations finally to make matter clearer."[47] It was too illegible for Lyell, and Darwin later apologised "I am utterly ashamed & groan over my hand-writing. It was Natural Preservation. Natural persecution is what the author ought to suffer."[48]

In June, Karl Marx saw the book as a "bitter satire" that showed "a basis in natural science for class struggle in history", in which "Darwin recognizes among beasts and plants his English society".[46]

The older generation of Darwin's tutors were rather negative, and later in May he told his cousin Fox that "the attacks have been falling thick & heavy on my now case-hardened hide.— Sedgwick & Clarke opened regular battery on me lately at Cambridge Phil. Socy. & dear old Henslow defended me in grand style, saying that my investigations were perfectly legitimate."[44] While defending Darwin's honest motives and belief that "he was exalting & not debasing our views of a Creator, in attributing to him a power of imposing laws on the Organic World by which to do his work, as effectually as his laws imposed upon the inorganic had done it in the Mineral Kingdom", Henslow had not disguised his own opinion that "Darwin has pressed his hypothesis too far".[45]

Most reviewers wrote with great respect, deferring to Darwin's eminent position in science though finding it hard to understand how natural selection could work without a divine selector. There were hostile comments, at the start of May he commented to Lyell that he had "received in a Manchester Newspaper a rather a good squib, showing that I have proved 'might is right', & therefore that Napoleon is right & every cheating Tradesman is also right".[42] The Saturday Review reported that "The controversy excited by the appearance of Darwin's remarkable work on the Origin of Species has passed beyond the bounds of the study and lecture-room into the drawing-room and the public street."[43]

Natural persecution

When Owen's own anonymous review of the Origin appeared in the April Edinburgh Review he praised himself and his own axiom of the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things, and showed his anger at what he saw as Darwin's caricature of the creationist position and ignoring Owen's pre-eminence. To him, new species appeared at birth, not through natural selection. As well as attacking Darwin's "disciples" Hooker and Huxley, he thought that the book symbolised the sort of "abuse of science to which a neighbouring nation, some seventy years since, owed its temporary degradation."[40] Darwin had Huxley and Hooker staying with him when he read it, and he wrote telling Lyell that it was "extremely malignant, clever & I fear will be very damaging. He is atrociously severe on Huxley's lecture, & very bitter against Hooker. So we three enjoyed it together: not that I really enjoyed it, for it made me uncomfortable for one night; but I have got quite over it today. It requires much study to appreciate all the bitter spite of many of the remarks against me; indeed I did not discover all myself.– It scandalously misrepresents many parts. .... It is painful to be hated in the intense degree with which Owen hates me."[39] He commented to Henslow that "Owen is indeed very spiteful. He misrepresents & alters what I say very unfairly. .... The Londoners says he is mad with envy because my book has been talked about: what a strange man to be envious of a naturalist like myself, immeasurably his inferior!"[41]

Overflowing the narrow bounds of purely scientific circles, the "species question" divides with Italy and the Volunteers the attention of general society. Everybody has read Mr. Darwin's book, or, at least, has given an opinion upon its merits or demerits; pietists, whether lay or ecclesiastic, decry it with the mild railing which sounds so charitable; bigots denounce it with ignorant invective; old ladies of both sexes consider it a decidedly dangerous book, and even savants, who have no better mud to throw, quote antiquated writers to show that its author is no better than an ape himself; while every philosophical thinker hails it as a veritable Whitworth gun in the armoury of liberalism; and all competent naturalists and physiologists, whatever their opinions as to the ultimate fate of the doctrines put forth, acknowledge that the work in which they are embodied is a solid contribution to knowledge and inaugurates a new epoch in natural history. – Thomas Huxley, 1860[38]

Huxley's April review in the Westminster Review included the first mention of the term "Darwinism" in the question, "What if the orbit of Darwinism should be a little too circular?"[38] Darwin thought it a "brilliant review."[39]

Thomas Henry Huxley applied Darwins ideas to humans. This showed humans and apes had a common ancestor.

The position of Richard Owen was unknown: when emphasising to a Parliamentary committee the need for a new Natural History museum, he pointed out that "The whole intellectual world this year has been excited by a book on the origin of species; and what is the consequence? Visitors come to the British Museum, and they say, 'Let us see all these varieties of pigeons: where is the tumbler, where is the pouter?' and I am obliged with shame to say, I can show you none of them..." As to showing you the varieties of those species, or of any of those phenomena that would aid one in getting at that mystery of mysteries, the origin of species, our space does not permit; but surely there ought to be a space somewhere, and, if not in the British Museum, where is it to be obtained?"

On 10 February 1860 Huxley gave a lecture titled On Species and Races, and their Origin at the Royal Institution,[35] reviewing Darwin's theory with fancy pigeons on hand to demonstrate artificial selection, as well as using the occasion to confront the clergy with his aim of wresting science from ecclesiastical control. He referred to Galileo's persecution by the church, "the little Canutes of the hour enthroned in solemn state, bidding that great wave to stay, and threatening to check its beneficent progress." He hailed the Origin as heralding a "new Reformation" in a battle against "those who would silence and crush" science, and called on the public to cherish Science and "follow her methods faithfully and implicitly in their application to all branches of human thought," for the future of England.[36] To Darwin such rhetoric was "time wasted" and on reflection he thought the lecture "an entire failure which gave no just idea of natural selection,"[35] but by March he was listing those on "our side" as against the "outsiders." His close allies were Hooker and Huxley, and in August he called Huxley his "good and kind agent for the propagation of the Gospel – i.e. the devil's gospel."[37]

The combatative Thomas Huxley demanded a fair hearing for Darwin's ideas.

Huxley and Owen

There was no official comment from the Vatican for several decades, but in 1860 a council of the German Catholic bishops pronounced that the belief that "man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith." This defined the range of official Catholic discussion of evolution, which has remained almost exclusively concerned with human evolution.[34]

The Anglican establishment predominantly opposed Darwin. Palmerston, who became Prime Minister in June 1859, mooted Darwin's name to Queen Victoria as a candidate for the Honours List with the prospect of a knighthood. While Prince Albert supported the idea, after the publication of the Origin Queen Victoria's ecclesiastical advisers, including the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce, dissented and the request was denied.[33] Some Anglicans were more in favour, and Huxley reported of Kingsley that "He is an excellent Darwinian to begin with, and told me a capital story of his reply to Lady Aylesbury who expressed astonishment at his favouring such a heresy – 'What can be more delightful to me Lady Aylesbury, than to know that your Ladyship & myself sprang from the same toad stool.' Whereby the frivolous old woman shut up, in doubt whether she was being chaffed or adored for her remark."

The Revd. Adam Sedgwick had received his copy "with more pain than pleasure."[31] Without Creation showing divine love, "humanity, to my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalise it, and sink the human race..." He indicated that unless Darwin accepted God's revelation in nature and scripture, Sedgwick would not meet Darwin in heaven, a sentiment that upset Emma. The Revd. John Stevens Henslow, the botany professor whose natural history course Charles had joined thirty years earlier, gave faint praise to the Origin as "a stumble in the right direction" but distanced himself from its conclusions, "a question past our finding out..."[32]

Clerical reaction

Writing to her fellow

Darwin's brother Erasmus thought it "the most interesting book I have ever read" and sent a copy to his old flame Miss Harriet Martineau who, at 58, was still reviewing from her home in the Lake District. Martineau sent her thanks, adding that she had previously praised "the quality & conduct of your brother's mind, but it is an unspeakable satisfaction to see here the full manifestation of its earnestness & simplicity, its sagacity, its industry, & the patient power by wh. it has collected such a mass of facts, to transmute them by such sagacious treatment into such portentious knowledge. I shd. much like to know how large a proportion of our scientific men believe he has found a sound road."[30]

Erasmus and Martineau

When sending his Historical preface and corrections for the American edition in February, Darwin thanked Asa Gray for his comments, as "a Review from a man, who is not an entire convert, if fair & moderately favourable, is in all respects the best kind of Review. About weak points I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder."[27] In April he continued, "It is curious that I remember well time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, & now small trifling particulars of structure often make me very uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!"[28] A month later Darwin emphasised that he was bewildered by the theological aspects and "had no intention to write atheistically, but could not see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars" – expressing his particular revulsion at the Ichneumonidae family of parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in the larvae and pupae of other insects so that their parasitoid young have a ready source of food. He therefore could not believe in the necessity of design, but rather than attributing the wonders of the universe to brute force was "inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton" – referring to Isaac Newton.[29]

In December 1859 the botanist Asa Gray negotiated with a Boston publisher for publication of an authorised American version, however, he learnt that two New York publishing firms were already planning to exploit the absence of international copyright to print Origin.[22] Darwin wrote in January, "I never dreamed of my Book being so successful with general readers: I believe I should have laughed at the idea of sending the sheets to America." and asked Gray to keep any profits.[23] Gray managed to negotiate a 5 per cent royalty with Appleton's of New York,[24] who got their edition out in mid January, and the other two withdrew. In a May letter Darwin mentioned a print run of 2,500 copies, but it is not clear if this was the first printing alone as there were four that year.[25][26]

Asa Gray in the United States

In January 1860, Darwin told Lyell of a reported incident at Waterloo Bridge Station: "I never till to day realised that it was getting widely distributed; for in a letter from a lady today to Emma, she says she heard a man enquiring for it at Railway Station!!! at Waterloo Bridge; & the Bookseller said that he had none till new Edit. was out.— The Bookseller said he had not read it but had heard it was a very remarkable book!!!"[21]

Widespread interest

The most enthusiastic response came from atheists, with Hewett Watson hailing Darwin as the "greatest revolutionist in natural history of this century".[19] The 68-year-old Robert Edmund Grant, who had shown him the study of invertebrates when Darwin was a student at the University of Edinburgh and who was still teaching Lamarckian evolution weekly at University College London, brought out a small book on classification dedicated to Darwin: "With one fell-sweep of the wand of truth, you have now scattered to the winds the pestilential vapours accumulated by 'species-mongers'."[20]

In his lofty position at the head of Science, Owen received numerous complaints about the book. The Revd. Adam Sedgwick, geologist at the University of Cambridge who had taken Darwin on his first geology field trip, could not see the point in a world without providence. The missionary David Livingstone could see no struggle for existence on the African plains. Jeffries Wyman at Harvard saw no truth in chance variations.

Clerical concern, atheist enthusiasm

Hooker also wrote a favourable review, which appeared at the end of December in the Gardener's Chronicle and treated the theory as an extension of horticultural lore.[18]

On Boxing Day (26 December) The Times carried an anonymous review.[16] The staff reviewer, "as innocent of any knowledge of science as a babe", gave the task to Huxley, leading Darwin to ask his friend how "did you influence Jupiter Olympus and make him give three and a half columns to pure science? The old fogies will think the world will come to an end." Darwin treasured the piece more than "a dozen reviews in common periodicals", but noted "Upon my life I am sorry for Owen... he will be so d—d savage, for credit given to any other man, I strongly suspect, is in his eyes so much credit robbed from him. Science is so narrow a field, it is clear there ought to be only one cock of the walk!".[17]

The review in the British Unitarian National Review was written by Darwin's old friend William Carpenter, who was clear that only a world of "order, continuity, and progress" befitted an Omnipotent Deity and that "any theological objection" to a species of slug or a breed of dog deriving from a previous one was "simply absurd" dogma.[15] He touched on human evolution, satisfied that the struggle for existence tended "inevitably... towards the progressive exaltation of the races engaged in it".

Friendly reviews

Darwin had already made his views clearer to others, telling Lyell that if each step in evolution was providentially planned, the whole procedure would be a miracle and natural selection superfluous.[14] He had also sent a copy to John Herschel, and on 10 December he told Lyell of having "heard by round about channel that Herschel says my Book "is the law of higgledy-piggledy".– What this exactly means I do not know, but it is evidently very contemptuous.– If true this is great blow & discouragement."[13]

Richard Owen had been the first to respond to the complimentary copies, courteously claiming that he had long believed that "existing influences" were responsible for the "ordained" birth of species.[12] Darwin now had long talks with him, and told Lyell that "Under garb of great civility, he was inclined to be most bitter & sneering against me. Yet I infer from several expressions, that at bottom he goes immense way with us." Owen was furious at being included among those defending immutability of species, and in effect said that the book offered the best explanation "ever published of the manner of formation of species", though he did not agree with it in all respects.[13] He still had the gravest doubts that transmutation would bestialise man. It appears that Darwin had assured Owen that he was looking at everything as resulting from designed laws, which Owen interpreted as showing a shared belief in "Creative Power".

First response

[11][10] Hooker had been "converted", Lyell was "absolutely gloating" and Huxley wrote "with such tremendous praise", advising that he was sharpening his "beak and claws" to disembowel "the curs who will bark and yelp".[9]

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