Following John's advice, I tracked down this description of the census on Darwin Online. The census reminds me of a similar effort to track down all extant copies of Copernicus's masterwork De Revolutionibus, which I read about a copies of years ago in The Book Nobody Read, by Owen Gingerich.
This new census of The Origin falls into a line of thinking that has been rattling around for quite a while. Just as Darwin placed variation between organisms within a species centre stage in biology as the very seed corn of evolution by natural selection, it is also important to recognise that documents also evolve by descent with modification—and The Origin of Species is no exception!
In Darwin's lifetime, there were six different editions authored by him, with numerous small and large differences from one edition to the next. These differences were collated in a printed variorum by Morse Peckham around fifty years ago (now available online via Google books). My colleagues at the University of Birmingham Barbara Bordalejo and Peter Robinson are working on a digital variorum.
But another key facet of The Origin's evolution that intrigues me is just how much of it was written over fifteen years before 1859 in two short documents, Darwin's 1842 Pencil Sketch and 1844 Essay. It is interesting to take favourite passages from the Origin and see their ancestors in those earlier drafts. Here are is the most obvious example, the closing words:
"There is a simple grandeur in the view of life with its powers of growth, assimilation and reproduction, being originally breathed into matter under one or a few forms, and that whilst this our planet has gone circling on according to fixed laws, and land and water, in a cycle of change, have gone on replacing each other, that from so simple an origin, through the process of gradual selection of infinitesimal changes, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been evolved." 1842 Pencil Sketch.
"There is a [simple] grandeur in this view of life with its several powers of growth, reproduction and of sensation, having been originally breathed into matter under a few forms, perhaps into only one, and that whilst this planet has gone cycling onwards according to the fixed laws of gravity and whilst land and water have gone on replacing each other—that from so simple an origin, through the selection of infinitesimal varieties, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been evolved." 1844 Essay
"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." The Origin of Species, First Edition. NB: in the 2nd edition "by the Creator" is introduced after "originally breathed."But the new census of the first edition hammers home the differences not just between editions, but also between copies of the very same edition. Start off by taking a look at the census guide for a panoply of features that can be used to classify a copy of The Origin as a First Edition. A key hallmark is the misspelling of species on p. 20:
And there are differences even within the first edition!
There can be no doubt that a race may be modified by occasional crosses, if aided by the careful selection of those individual mongrels, which present any desired character; but that a race could be obtained nearly intermediate between two extremely different races or speceies, I can hardly believe. The Origin, First Edition, Page 20.But look at all the other minute differences, for example in the binding:
- If there is a full stop after MURRAY at the bottom of the spine, it is a 2nd or 3rd edition binding.
- If the letters at the bottom of the spine are short and square (as opposed to tall and thin), it is a 2nd edition binding.
- If the second N in LONDON is slightly lower than the other letters, it is a 3rd edition binding.
For original bindings there are two variants, the difference being the width of LONDON. In the first variant, LONDON at the bottom of the spine is 16mm wide; in the second variant, it is 18mm.I will leave it to the train-spotters among you to look at the guide for all the minutiae;-)
But those who prefer more human stories behind the history of the copies of the first edition take a look at this article from the New York Times: Digging for Darwin.
And perhaps I should close with a new variant of the ending of the Origin:
"There is grandeur in this view of The Origin of Species, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by Darwin into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless editions and variants most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved!"