Charles Darwin Publishes 'On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties'

This famous paper originally appeared in the Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology, but has been printed in books, in part or in whole, several times since.

The events and correspondence, between June 18th, when Darwin received Wallace's letter, and August 30th, when it appeared in print, are given in Life and letters, Vol. II, pp. 115-131. The paper was communicated to the Society by Sir Charles Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker, on the evening of Tuesday, July 1st, 1858. Darwin was not present because of serious illness amongst his children. The meeting was largely concerned with the death of Robert Brown and it aroused little interest.

Wallace's acute observations also led to his formulation, independently of Darwin, of a general theory of evolution that included a process closely resembling natural selection. In 1858, while suffering from malarial fever, Wallace connected the ideas of Malthus with his observations of the distribution of plants and animals and quickly drafted his celebrated paper "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type." He proceeded to send the completed paper to Darwin, with whom he had had some previous correspondence. Darwin received the letter and immediately recognized the parallel views that Wallace had independently formulated. To avoid an unseemly priority dispute, Darwin turned over Wallace's paper along with his own historical sketch, essay, and correspondence with Asa Gray documenting the independence of the two efforts to Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker and relied on them to negotiate the awkward situation. Both these men communicated these documents and a joint paper written by Darwin and Wallace to the Linnaean Society on 1 July 1858.

Darwin's book was half way when, on 18 June 1858, he received a paper from Wallace describing natural selection. Shocked that he had been "forestalled", Darwin sent it on to Lyell, as requested, and, though Wallace had not asked for publication, he suggested he would send it to any journal that Wallace chose. His family was in crisis with children in the village dying of scarlet fever, and he put matters in the hands of Lyell and Hooker. They decided on a joint presentation at the Linnean Society on 1 July of On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection; however, Darwin's baby son died of the scarlet fever and he was too distraught to attend.