The Life and Letters of Darwin, Volume 2 HTML version
Publication Of The 'Descent Of Man'
WORK ON 'EXPRESSION.'
[The last revise of the 'Descent of Man' was corrected on January 15th, 1871, so that the
book occupied him for about three years. He wrote to Sir J. Hooker: "I finished the last
proofs of my book a few days ago, the work half-killed me, and I have not the most
remote idea whether the book is worth publishing."
He also wrote to Dr. Gray:--
"I have finished my book on the 'Descent of Man,' etc., and its publication is delayed only
by the Index: when published, I will send you a copy, but I do not know that you will
care about it. Parts, as on the moral sense, will, I dare say, aggravate you, and if I hear
from you, I shall probably receive a few stabs from your polished stiletto of a pen."
The book was published on February 24, 1871. 2500 copies were printed at first, and
5000 more before the end of the year. My father notes that he received for this edition
1470 pounds. The letters given in the present chapter deal with its reception, and also
with the progress of the work on Expression. The letters are given, approximately, in
chronological order, an arrangement which necessarily separates letters of kindred
subject- matter, but gives perhaps a truer picture of the mingled interests and labours of
my father's life.
Nothing can give a better idea (in small compass) of the growth of Evolutionism and its
position at this time, than a quotation from Mr. Huxley ('Contemporary Review,' 1871.):-
"The gradual lapse of time has now separated us by more than a decade from the date of
the publication of the 'Origin of Species;' and whatever may be thought or said about Mr.
Darwin's doctrines, or the manner in which he has propounded them, this much is certain,
that in a dozen years the 'Origin of Species' has worked as complete a revolution in
Biological Science as the 'Principia' did in Astronomy;" and it has done so, "because, in
the words of Helmholtz, it contains 'an essentially new creative thought.' And, as time has
slipped by, a happy change has come over Mr. Darwin's critics. The mixture of ignorance
and insolence which at first characterised a large proportion of the attacks with which he
was assailed, is no longer the sad distinction of anti-Darwinian criticism."
A passage in the Introduction to the 'Descent of Man' shows that the author recognised
clearly this improvement in the position of Evolution. "When a naturalist like Carl Vogt
ventures to say in his address, as President of the National Institution of Geneva (1869),
'personne en Europe au moins, n'ose plus soutenir la creation independante et de toutes
pieces, des especes,' it is manifest that at least a large number of naturalists must admit