Darwin’s Origin of species, second edition (1860)

An introduction by Gordon Chancellor

The immediate sale of the first edition of the Origin prompted Darwin's publisher John Murray to print a further 3,000 copies. Murray wrote straight away to Darwin, who was then in Ilkley, asking him to take the opportunity to make corrections. The new edition appeared within weeks of the first, probably on Boxing Day 1859, the day when T.H. Huxley’s famous review of the first edition appeared in The Times. At a glance the two editions look identical, but in fact Darwin had dropped nine sentences, added 30 and altered 483, in total amounting to seven per cent of the changes made to all the editions.

The most obvious change (apart from the date on the title page) was the addition of a third epigraph on the page facing the title page. A quotation by Joseph Butler had been inserted between those by William Whewell and Francis Bacon. More careful readers would also have spotted the addition of the phrase ‘by the Creator’ in the last paragraph (p. 490; he also added one on page 484 but this was dropped in the third edition). On page 481 Darwin inserted two sentences in response to a letter from ‘the celebrated author and divine’ Charles Kingsley which supported Darwin’s implied view that there was nothing atheistic about limiting God’s role in evolution to the first origin of life.

An important change made by Darwin was in chapter six in the discussion of transitional instincts and rates of evolution. He refers to black bears in America which had been seen catching insects by holding their mouths open while swimming. In the first edition he says he can see no problem in such a carnivore eventually becoming ‘like a whale’ but in the second this is nuanced to ‘almost like a whale’. Ironically, the changes got him into trouble in a review by Richard Owen who mocked him for making a vague claim ‘still more vague’ and by suggesting that Lamarck was a truer source of Darwin’s views than the Beagle voyage discoveries he had cited on the first page of the Origin. 

Darwin’s two uses in the first edition of ‘Natura non facit saltum’ (nature does not make jumps) were toned down in response to a letter from his friend Thomas Henry Huxley in which he told Darwin that by using the ‘old canon’ he was loading himself with an unnecessary difficulty. In chapter nine Darwin starts to backtrack on his huge estimate of 300 million years for the time taken to denude the Weald of Sussex and Kent. He increases his estimate of the rate of erosion up from about one inch to two to three inches per century, giving a new estimate of 100 to 150 million years. It is not clear why he made this change so quickly; it cannot have been in response to the review that appeared in the Saturday Review because the second edition had already been printed when that appeared on Christmas Eve 1859. He also inserts some references to new fossil discoveries and in chapter thirteen he alters some sentences about rudimentary organs. He also deletes an entire half page paragraph about what would happen to mammal classification if a bear ever gave birth to a kangaroo.

1860. On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: Murray. [2d ed.] Text Image PDF F376




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