charles darwin, origin of species, 1859
[charles darwin, origin of species, 1859]
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Charles Darwin - On the Origin of Species 1859
Index or table of contents / summary

The Introduction to the first, 1859, edition of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species' begins with a brief background statement along these lines:-
When on board H.M.S. ‘Beagle,’ as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years’ work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.

My work is now nearly finished; but as it will take me two or three more years to complete it, and as my health is far from strong, I have been urged to publish this Abstract. I have more especially been induced to do this, as Mr. Wallace, who is now studying the natural history of the Malay archipelago, has arrived at almost exactly the same general conclusions that I have on the origin of species. Last year he sent to me a memoir on this subject, with a request that I would forward it to Sir Charles Lyell, who sent it to the Linnean Society, and it is published in the third volume of the journal of that Society. Sir C. Lyell and Dr Hooker, who both knew of my work — the latter having read my sketch of 1844 — honoured me by thinking it advisable to publish, with Mr Wallace's excellent memoir, some brief extracts from my manuscripts.

Shortly after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species an eminent scientific contemporary, Thomas Henry Huxley, recorded his own, and other persons', reaction to the emergence of the then newly posited Theory of Evolution:-
And I may, therefore, further suppose that the publication of the Darwin and Wallace papers in 1858, and still more that of the 'Origin' in 1859, had the effect upon them of the flash of light, which to a man who has lost himself in a dark night, suddenly reveals a road which, whether it takes him straight home or not, certainly goes his way. That which we were looking for, and could not find, was a hypothesis respecting the origin of known organic forms, which assumed the operation of no causes but such as could be proved to be actually at work. We wanted, not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation, but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions which could be brought face to face with facts and have their validity tested. The 'Origin' provided us with the working hypothesis we sought. Moreover, it did the immense service of freeing us for ever from the dilemma--refuse to accept the creation hypothesis, and what have you to propose that can be accepted by any cautious reasoner? In 1857, I had no answer ready, and I do not think that any one else had. A year later, we reproached ourselves with dullness for being perplexed by such an inquiry. My reflection, when I first made myself master of the central idea of the 'Origin,' was, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!" I suppose that Columbus' companions said much the same when he made the egg stand on end. The facts of variability, of the struggle for existence, of adaptation to conditions, were notorious enough; but none of us had suspected that the road to the heart of the species problem lay through them, until Darwin and Wallace dispelled the darkness, and the beacon-fire of the 'Origin' guided the benighted.

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, as published in 1859, featured an extensive table of contents which is almost sufficient to function as an index or a very brief summary:-



Variation under Domestication.

Causes of Variability — Effects of Habit — Correlation of Growth — Inheritance — Character of Domestic Varieties — Difficulty of distinguishing between Varieties and Species — Origin of Domestic Varieties from one or more Species — Domestic Pigeons, their Differences and Origin — Principle of Selection anciently followed, its Effects — Methodical and Unconscious Selection — Unknown Origin of our Domestic Productions — Circumstances favourable to Man's power of Selection 7–43

Variation under Nature.

Variability — Individual Differences — Doubtful species — Wide ranging, much diffused, and common species vary most — Species of the larger genera in any country vary more than the species of the smaller genera — Many of the species of the larger genera resemble varieties in being very closely, but unequally, related to each other, and in having restricted ranges 44–59

Struggle for Existence.

Bears on natural selection — The term used in a wide sense — Geometrical powers of increase — Rapid increase of naturalised animals and plants — Nature of the checks to increase — Competition universal — Effects of climate — Protection from the number of individuals — Complex relations of all animals and plants throughout nature — Struggle for life most severe between individuals and varieties of the same species; often severe between species of the same genus — The relation of organism to organism the most important of all relations Page 60–79

Natural Selection.

Natural Selection — its power compared with man's selection — its power on characters of trifling importance — its power at all ages and on both sexes — Sexual Selection — On the generality of intercrosses between individuals of the same species — Circumstances favourable and unfavourable to Natural Selection, namely, intercrossing, isolation, number of individuals — Slow action — Extinction caused by Natural Selection — Divergence of Character, related to the diversity of inhabitants of any small area, and to naturalisation — Action of Natural Selection, through Divergence of Character and Extinction, on the descendants from a common parent — Explains the Grouping of all organic beings 80–130

Laws of Variation.

Effects of external conditions — Use and disuse, combined with natural selection; organs of flight and of vision — Acclimatisation — Correlation of growth — Compensation and economy of growth — False correlations — Multiple, rudimentary, and lowly organised structures variable — Parts developed in an unusual manner are highly variable: specific characters more variable than generic: secondary sexual characters variable — Species of the same genus vary in an analogous manner — Reversions to long-lost characters — Summary 131–170

Difficulties on Theory.

Difficulties on the theory of descent with modification — Transitions — Absence or rarity of transitional varieties — Transitions in habits of life — Diversified habits in the same species — Species with habits widely different from those of their allies — Organs of extreme perfection — Means of transition — Cases of difficulty — Natura non facit saltum — Organs of small importance — Organs not in all cases absolutely perfect — The law of Unity of Type and of the Conditions of Existence embraced by the theory of Natural Selection Page 171–206


Instincts comparable with habits, but different in their origin — Instincts graduated — Aphides and ants — Instincts variable — Domestic instincts, their origin — Natural instincts of the cuckoo, ostrich, and parasitic bees — Slave-making ants — Hive-bee, its cell-making instinct — Difficulties on the theory of the Natural Selection of instincts — Neuter or sterile insects — Summary 207–244


Distinction between the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids — Sterility various in degree, not universal, affected by close interbreeding, removed by domestication — Laws governing the sterility of hybrids — Sterility not a special endowment, but incidental on other differences — Causes of the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids — Parallelism between the effects of changed conditions of life and crossing — Fertility of varieties when crossed and of their mongrel offspring not universal — Hybrids and mongrels compared independently of their fertility — Summary 245–278

On the Imperfection of the Geological Record.

On the absence of intermediate varieties at the present day — On the nature of extinct intermediate varieties; on their number — On the vast lapse of time, as inferred from the rate of deposition and of denudation — On the poorness of our palζontological collections — On the intermittence of geological formations — On the absence of intermediate varieties in any one formation — On the sudden appearance of groups of species — On their sudden appearance in the lowest known fossiliferous strata Page 279–311

On the Geological Succession of Biological Beings.

On the slow and successive appearance of new species — On their different rates of change — Species once lost do not reappear — Groups of species follow the same general rules in their appearance and disappearance as do single species — On Extinction — On simultaneous changes in the forms of life throughout the world — On the affinities of extinct species to each other and to living species — On the state of development of ancient forms — On the succession of the same types within the same areas — Summary of preceding and present chapters 312–345

Geographical Distribution.

Present distribution cannot be accounted for by differences in physical conditions — Importance of barriers — Affinity of the productions of the same continent — Centres of creation — Means of dispersal, by changes of climate and of the level of the land, and by occasional means — Dispersal during the Glacial period co-extensive with the world 346–382

Geographical Distribution—continued

Distribution of fresh-water productions — On the inhabitants of oceanic islands — Absence of Batrachians and of terrestrial Mammals — On the relation of the inhabitants of islands to those of the nearest mainland — On colonisation from the nearest source with subsequent modification — Summary of the last and present chapters Page 383–410

Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology:
Embryology: Rudimentary Organs.

Classification, groups subordinate to groups — Natural system — Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification — Classification of varieties — Descent always used in classification — Analogical or adaptive characters — Affinities, general, complex and radiating — Extinction separates and defines groups — Morphology, between members of the same class, between parts of the same individual — Embryology, laws of, explained by variations not supervening at an early age, and being inherited at a corresponding age — Rudimentary Organs; their origin explained — Summary 411–458

Recapitulation and Conclusion.

Recapitulation of the difficulties on the theory of Natural Selection — Recapitulation of the general and special circumstances in its favour — Causes of the general belief in the immutability of species — How far the theory of natural selection may be extended — Effects of its adoption on the study of Natural history — Concluding remarks 459–490


The Faith versus Reason Debate

Interestingly, Aldous Huxley, a grandson to Thomas Henry Huxley, today enjoys a certain celebrity as an exponent of the view that the major World Religions, importantly, share common ground in terms of their inner-most spiritual teachings.

Aldous Huxley was not the first person to detect such a 'Perennial Philosophy' of shared common ground. Some idea of what this term means can perhaps be gained from reading the excerpt from an introduction, written in 1944 by Aldous Huxley, to an English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, a principal Hindu holy book, that had been co-authored by one of his friends.
More than twenty-five centuries have passed since that which has been called the Perennial Philosophy was first committed to writing; and in the course of those centuries it has found expression, now partial, now complete, now in this form, now in that, again and again...
...the Perennial Philosophy has spoken almost all the languages of Asia and Europe and has made use of the terminology and traditions of every one of the higher religions. But under all this confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories and particularist doctrines, there remains a Highest Common Factor, which is the Perennial Philosophy in what may be called its chemically pure state...

The Wisdoms and Insights available on our
site include some about Human Existence itself:-

If Charles Darwin were alive today we at Age-of-the-Sage would be urgently seeking to interest him in our discovery of the fact that there is close agreement between several major World Faiths, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and Shakespeare ~ and Pschological Science ~ in suggesting that Human Wisdom / Spirituality is relative to Human Desire / Materialism and to Human Wrath / Ethnicity.

Explore Human Nature thru our radical
Human Nature - Tripartite Soul page

The Faith vs Reason Debate
Charles Darwin biography
Alfred Russel Wallace biography
Thomas Malthus
Essay on Population
Theory of Evolution
Darwin Wallace
Malthus - Essay
with key quotes
Darwin quotes
his beliefs about God
Thomas Henry Huxley
Darwin's Bulldog



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Charles Darwin - On the Origin of Species 1859
Index or table of contents / summary