Darwin Page - The Origin of Species - Chronology & Outline of the Origin of Species - Dr Robert A. Hatch

Chronology of the Origin of Species
Dr Robert A. Hatch - University of Florida

If the Origin of Species was 'one long argument' it was also work of extended gestation.  Darwin spent over 20 years collecting information, reading, and reflecting on the problem of species, from the time of his voyage on the Beagle (2 December 1831 - 29 October 1836) through the last difficult years just before its publication.  In a certain sense the writing of the Origin took on a life of its own.

1837 - (July) Began first notebook, 'Transmutation of Species' There stated: 'In July opened first notebook on transmutation of species. Had been greatly struck from about the previous March on character of South American fossils, and species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts (especially latter), origin of all my views.'

1838 - (July) Reading of Thomas Malthus' 'Essay on Population.'

1842 - (May) 'Sketch of 1842' - 35 page outline (in pencil).

1844 -- (May) 'Essay of 1844' - 231 page essay (in ink).

1856 -- (May 14) Began 5 vol. work on species.

1858 --(June 18) Received paper from Wallace.

1858 -- (July 1) Published paper with Wallace.

1858 -- (July 20) Began to write a larger work, An Abstract, 'On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.'

1859 -- (November 24) Origin is published; 1,250 copies all sold the first day.

1860 -- (January 7) 2nd ed. - 3,000 copies.

1861 -- (April) 3rd ed. - 2,000 copies.

1866 -- (December 15) 4th ed. - 1,250 copies.

1869 -- (August 7) 5th ed - 2,000 copies.

1872 -- (February 19) 6th ed. - 3,000 copies.


II.  Murray (London)  Darwin's Publisher

1. Was Darwin's publisher for the Origin of Species, all six editions.
2. Murray had earlier published Darwin's Journal of Researches, which not only sold well but was highly regarded.
3. The publisher Murray was so pleased with Darwin's earlier work that he agreed to publish the Origin 'sight-unseen.'
4. The Origin of Species was itself, by scholarly and by distribution standards, was a major success.
5. The principal reviewer of the Origin was T.H. Huxley in the prestigious London Times.  Huxley was 'filling in' for other vacationing regulars on the staff.  Darwin's Bulldog wrote a rave review.


The Structure of the Origin of Species

In the introduction of the Origin, Darwin claims his purpose is twofold:

1. To demonstrate that organisms have descended with modification; that is, Darwin aims to demonstrate the fact that evolution has occurred.

2. To suggest that the most plausible means to explain descent with modification is by a unifying mechanism, Natural Selection.

If this is Darwin's goal, how is it achieved in the Origin?  Does the structure of the Origin give clues about the nature of his argument?



Chapter 1:  Variation Under Domestication.  This Chapter performs a number of literary, as well as scientific, duties.  Here Darwin discusses the concept of Variation as a daily fact of ordinary experience.  England at this time was greatly concerned with horse, sheep, and, particularly among the upper classes, pigeon breeding.

1. Chapter 1 develops the concept of variation.

2. It educes numerous and common examples of variation under domestication -- both unconscious and methodical.

3. It emphasizes the frequency and utility of selection under domestication, and offers common examples.

4. Chapter 1 establishes a common basis for discussion across a wide readership.


Chapter 2:   Variation Under Nature

1. Carries the concept of variation into the natural process

2. Darwin argues convincingly that nature has no economic, moral or practical reasons for selecting poorly adopted individuals.  Nature works slowly and subtly. She works on things unseen, not quickly and selfishly on mere external features.

3. Darwin lays the ground work in Chapter 2 for his discussion of population pressures in Chapter 3, the Struggle for Life.

If Darwin is concerned to establish a conceptual ground work in Chapters 1 and 2, Chapters 3 -- 8 present an Elaboration of his theory of Descent with Modification via Natural Selection; the result, conceptually, is akin to a 'biological arms race' between variation and adaptation.


Chapter 3:   The Struggle for Life

1. Darwin asks question 'How does evolution take place?'

Answer: The Struggle for existence is due to population pressure (which in turn inevitably suggests Natural Selection).

2. Examples of struggle in the 'economy of nature.'

3. Elaboration of Malthus' principles.

4. Discussion of climate as a check on population: reduces food.

5. 'Polity' or 'economy of nature' in the example of bees, mice, cats, flowers.


Chapter 4:   Natural Selection

1. 'How will the struggle for existence act in regard to variation?'

2. Definition and elaboration of Natural Selection.

3. Inefficiency and clumsiness of man's selections which are motivated by narrow, selfish, and largely external features.

4. Nature, in contrast, is subtle, efficient, enduring, indifferent, and self consistent.

5. Excellent illustrations of Natural Selection.

6. Divergence of Character and Extinction.  Where is competition greatest?

7. The 'Tree of Life' and the 'Polity of Nature.'


Chapter 5:   'Laws of Variation'

1. Use and disuse.

2. Climate and adaptation.

3. Correlation of growth (slight variation in a species causes changes in it's general structure).

4. Darwin repeatedly emphasizes our ignorance of the laws of variation.


Chapter 6:   'Difficulties of Theory'

1. Absence or rarity of transitional varieties.

2. Peculiar annuals, habits, structures; for example, flying squirrels

3. Anatomical and physiological organs of extreme perfection and complication; for example,. the eye.

4. Organs of little apparent importance, tails; nipples?


Chapter 7:   'Instinct'

1. Extension of problems in Chapter 6.

2. Ants/Hive - Bee - infertility of some members an advantage of the social group, especially social insects.

3. Darwin suggests that 'Mental qualities', that is, habits, instincts, are inherited.

4. Not a great supporting factor to his theory, but in context the objections are met.


Chapter 8:   'Hybridism'

1. Sterility in 'first crosses' and in hybrids.

2. Examples of fertility in plant experiments.

3. Causes of sterility in first crosses and hybrids.

4. Mongrel offspring.





Finally, if Chapters 3-8 are an elaboration of his theory, then Chapters 9 -- 13 explore the Consequences of his theory.  Here Darwin compares the Hypothetical structure with the geological, geographical, biological and paleographic facts. In a word, Darwin compares fact with theory in Chapters 9 -- 13.

Chapter 9:   'On the Imperfection of the Geological Record'

1. The absence of 'intermediate varieties' -- poor fossil record.

2. The lapse of time: problems in geology: 75,000 of sediment, 300 million years (just one example).

3. Poorness of fossil collections 'absolutely as nothing.'

4. Sudden appearance of various species.

5. 'I look at the natural geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume above, relating to only two or three countries. Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines.' (pages 310--311)


Chapter 10:   'On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings' [Read: Time]

1. Geological succession and mutability of species.

2. Geological succession and extinction.

3. Change of life forms simultaneously throughout the world.

4. Affinities of extinct species to each other and to living forms.

5. The state of development of ancient forms.

6. Succession of Types.



Darwin then summarizes the book to this point.

Chapter 11:   'Geographical Distribution'  [Rear:  Space]

1. Present distribution cannot be accounted for by differences in physical conditions.

2. Migration; barriers.

3. Dispersal during the Glacial period.


Chapter 12:   'Geographical Distribution, continued' [Why two chapters?]

1. Fresh water organisms; mollusks, etc.

2. Inhabitants of Oceanic islands.

3. Migration.


Chapter 13:  'Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs'

1. Classification and a 'Natural System', easier with natural selection.

2. Affinities due to descent with Modification.

3. Morphology in a class and in individuals.

4. Laws of embryology.

5. Origin and explanation of Rudimentary organs - mainly disuse plus natural selection.


Chapter 14:  'Recapitulation and Conclusion'

1. At the conclusion of the Origin, Darwin claims that Parts II and III are in close agreement.

2. That is, Darwin underscores that his claim is supported here that there is evidence of descent with modification, in nature, and that these he takes to be facts.  Second,  Darwin argues, these facts are most completely, precisely and elegantly explained by his hypothesis, natural selection.

As Darwin himself claims, the Origin of Species is 'one long argument'.  We may question if it is a hypothetical deductive argument.  We may compare it, in concept and creation, to the world system Newton developed.  But there is little question that Darwin's argument is scientific thinking of the first order. He is not arguing from first principles, with logical syllogisms, or from mere observation.  Darwin's argument is one of probability.


The probability of Darwin's theory is supported by the following:

1. The immense amount of data in his possession.

2. The elegance of his theory of descent with modification by natural selection.

3. The demonstrated links between the observed facts and the theory of natural selection.  The most plausible account, Darwin leads us to believe, the most simple and elegant theory that explains such diverse facts in biology, geology, botany, paleontology and taxonomy, is descent with modification through natural selection.


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