Darwin, Charles | The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex

  • First edition, second issue, of the book in which the word evolution appears for the first time in any of Darwin’s works. Presentation copy from the printer, inscribed by the recipient on the half title in volume I, “Given to me by William Clowes, Marden 1871”. This set is in exceptional condition, the cloth and contents unusually fresh.

    Darwin had not explored the subject of human origins in either The Origin of Species or The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, and the belief among other scientists that he was “concealing” his views put pressure on him to make a public statement. “Still reluctant to speak out, he had hoped that either Lyell, Huxley, Lubbock, or Wallace would publish a full-blooded account of human evolution, but none came up to expectation. Accordingly, in February 1868, he started sorting his huge collection of notes and began a two-volume treatise, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871).. By 1871, when the Descent of Man was published, Darwinism had become a byword among intellectuals and the preceding decade had seen the public habituated to writings on ape ancestry by Huxley, Wallace, Karl Vogt, and Haeckel, and on the evolution of civilization by Galton, Lubbock, Edward Tylor, W. R. Greg, and Walter Bagehot. Much of their work—which reinforced conventional racial, national, and sexual prejudices—was incorporated into the Descent of Man. Darwin also extended his notebook themes of the natural origin of morality, religious belief, and society from animal instincts and savage superstitions... While perhaps causing less of an outcry than the Origin, the Descent of Man brought the full force of evolutionary proposals directly into the heart of ordinary Victorian life. It sold more than 5000 copies within a year and provoked numerous press caricatures, cartoons, articles, and commentaries. A second edition appeared in 1874 and eight translations were published during Darwin's lifetime.” (ODNB).

    The first issue of Descent of Man comprised 2,500 copies published on February 24th, 1871, and the second appeared in 2,000 copies in March. The title pages are the same, and both contain the January 1871 publisher’s ads. The differences are textual: in volume I the first word on page 297 is “when” instead of “transmitted”; the errata list in volume II is replaced with a list of nine other works by Darwin; there is no printer’s note on the verso of the half title in volume II; and pages 297-299 of volume II have been reset to correct a “serious and unfortunate error” noted in the first issue (Freeman, p. 129).

    The presenter of this copy, William Clowes the younger (1807–1883), was head of the printing firm William Clowes Ltd., which was founded by his father in 1803 and by the middle of the century had become one of the largest in the world.

    References: Freeman 937; Norman 599; Garrison and Morton 170.

  • ...In Two Volumes. With Illustrations. London: John Murray, 1871.

    2 volumes, octavo. Original green cloth, titles to spines gilt, black coated endpapers. Publisher’s ads dated January 1871 at the rear of each volume. Wood engravings within the text. Armorial bookplate of Hurrell to each volume. Spines slightly rolled, minor bumps to lower corners, a few lightly rubbed spots mainly at the extremities of the binding, light spotting to the publisher’s ads. An excellent, fresh set.