150 Years Since Natural Selection First Presented

Charles DarwinExcitement has been building of late in history of science circles over next year’s sesquicentennial of the publication of Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. That book, important as it was, did not constitute the first public presentation of the Darwin’s theory to the world, however. British scientists (beyond those in Darwin’s immediate circle) first heard of the theory at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858 — 150 years ago today.

The session had been prompted by Darwin’s having received from an obscure naturalist in (what is now) Malaysia — Alfred Russel Wallace — a paper that outlined essentially the same theory that Darwin had been working on for the previous 20 years. At a loss as to how to proceed honorably, Darwin asked his friends, botanist Joseph Hooker and geologist Charles Lyell, what he should do. They arranged for a special session at the upcoming Linnean Society meeting in which Wallace’s paper would be read, along with an abstract of the theory Darwin had written back in the 1840s (and some updating notes from a letter to Harvard botanist, Asa Gray).

The story is told in some detail in a recent article in the Guardian.

AHP also covered and earlier feature by the Guardian’s on Darwin’s legacy.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.