RECORD: Darwin, C. R. [1842]. [Outline of the 1842 sketch of species theory]. CUL-DAR6.14 Transcribed by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by John van Wyhe, checked against the manuscript by Kees Rookmaaker 3.2009. RN1

NOTE: This loose sheet is possibly Darwin's earliest outline or draft of his species theory. It is written in pencil on a single sheet of nonwatermarked paper (31.9 x 20 cm). It was discovered together with the species sketch of 1842 at Down House in 1896. Presumably it was written around the time of the 1842 sketch. As Darwin recorded in his pocket 'Journal' or diary 'During my stay at Maer & Shrewsbury 5 years after commencement wrote pencil sketch of my species theory.', 21v. It is annotated in Darwin's hand at some unknown date: 'This page was thought of as introduction'. The sheet is described and partly transcribed by Francis Darwin in Foundations, p. xviii and carefully detailed in Kohn, Stauffer & Smith. 1982. New light on The foundations of the Origin of species: A reconstruction of the archival record. Journal of the history of biology 15, no. 3 (1982): 419-442.

The note, of which the verso side is the most readable, is a stirring short introduction to Darwin's theory as it then stood.

See the manuscript facsimiles of the 1842 sketch and 1844 essay.

Editorial symbols used in the transcription:
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[some text] 'some text' is the conjectured reading of an ambiguous word or passage
[some text] 'some text' is a description of a word or passage that cannot be transcribed
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Text in small red font is a hyperlink or notes added by the editors.

Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.


[scroll up to see an introductory note]

Chapter — Number each paragraph

I. The Principles of Var.[iation] in domestic organisms —

II. The possible & probable application of these same principles to wild animals & the consequently the possible & probable production of wild races, analogous to the domestic ones of plants & animals —

III. The proofs reasons for & against believing that such races have really been produced, forming what are called species


Memorandum In II introduces trifling characters pervading group of species, like bars in pidgeons — species not to be distinguished from races

vis medicatrix is a form of heredatriness, acting on individual as when nails have grown in stumps of pigeons.

No progression from old ages to present, but taking existing series as imperfect index of what probably have existed, there is a tendency to complication; natural effect of my theory

{Extent of my theory, have nothing to do with first origin of life, grow multiplication — mind, the & (or with any attempt to find out whether descended from one form & what that form was.—}


Maer May 1842        useless

Geology shows us that vast succession of organisms have inhabited this earth. They appear to have come & disappeared suddenly in groups — But in later periods we have reason to believe they have come on & disappeared from the scene one by one; & we must believe that some have disappeared within late periods. We are thus led to ask whether their appearance be not rather due to some regular cause or law of nature & not to infinitely numerous separate miracles.— Looking further we see that fossils of any one country are more particularly related to the living organisms of that country than to any other; we ask can they be descended from these fossils? — We see in near continent & different parts of the continent, whether separated by space, change of temp, great rivers or mountains inhabited by different species wh. have evident relationships — affinity — unity of type — fœtal state abortive organs — hybrids like mongrels — difficulty of testing species from varieties — if species given up, genera must. — We know that variation within certain limits is possible, we ask for limits of this variation who can answer? —

[boxed] This page was thought of as introduction

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 2 July, 2012