Darwin’s handwritten pages from On the Origin of Species go online for the first time

National University of Singapore 23 Nov 2020

Darwin’s handwritten letter to his former geology professor at Cambridge where he first mentioned his radical new book, On the Origin of Species (Reproduced with the kind permission of a private collection, USA, and William Huxley Darwin)

An extraordinary collection of priceless manuscripts of naturalist Charles Darwin goes online today, including two rare pages from the original draft of On the Origin of Species.

These documents will be added to DarwinOnline, a website which contains not only the complete works ofDarwin, but is possibly the most comprehensive scholarly portal on any historical individual in the world. The website is helmed byDr John van Wyhe, an eminent historian of science. He is a Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences, and Tembusu College.

“Darwin wrote the first draft of On the Origin of Species by hand. But the historical significance of this work was not yet known and almost all the manuscript was lost – with his children even using the pages as drawing paper! As such, these two pages are extremely rare survivors, and give unprecedented insight into the making of the book that changed the world,” explained Dr van Wyhe. Access to these rare artefacts comes exactly 161 years after the initial publication of On the Origin of Species on 24 November 1859, and coincides with Evolution Day, which commemorates the anniversary of this revolutionary book.

An unbelievably rare collection

Despite being one of the most important scientific works of all time, only a few portions of the original handwritten On the Origin of Species manuscript survive. Those which are being added to the Darwin Online project are two of only nine pages in private hands.

Other important manuscripts going online today include a draft page fromDarwin’s other most revolutionary workThe Descent of Man, and even the receipt for the book fromDarwin’s publisher, “for the Sum of Six Hundred and thirty pounds for the first edition, consisting of 2,500 copies, of my work on the ‘Descent of Man’.”There are also two draft pages fromDarwin’s seminalThe Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Unprecedented insights into Darwin’s work

A page that has never been made public before is some reading notes on ants thatDarwinmade during his research forOn the Origin of Species. The notes informed his examination of slave-making ants which became one of the most widely talked about parts of his famous book.

In addition, there are three very important letters byDarwin. One 1859 letter was written to his former geology professor at Cambridge, Adam Sedgwick, asDarwinnervously sends his radical newOn the Origin of Species. Two other important letters are to his colleagues, the biologist T. H. Huxley and the botanist Asa Gray.Darwin’s handwriting is notoriously difficult to read. As such, the documents have been transcribed, and can be viewed side-by-side with the original manuscript.The newly released documents can be viewed here at Darwin Online.

“Instead of being locked away out of public view, by adding these documents to Darwin Online they became freely available to anyone in the world”, shared Dr van Wyhe.



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telematica quotidiana 229/2006 del 08/06/2006
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Scienceonline, Autorizzazione del Tribunale di Roma 228/2006 del 29/05/06
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