'Extremely rare' signed Charles Darwin manuscript could fetch hundreds of thousands at auction

An 'extremely rare' manuscript in which famous Salopian Charles Darwin defends his theory of evolution could fetch hundreds of thousands at auction.

The manuscript. Photo: Sotheby's
The manuscript. Photo: Sotheby's

It features a summation of one of the most influential texts ever written – 'On the Origin of Species' – which provided the foundation for humanity's modern understanding of life on earth.

The note was carefully prepared by Darwin, who was born in Shrewsbury in 1809, in response to a request from Hermann Kindt - the editor of the Autographic Mirror – for the purpose of it being re-printed in his magazine.

While some of Darwin's notes and manuscript have survived over time, the biologist was known to discard pages and working drafts instead of archiving them.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

To have a manuscript survive in such good condition – and with his signature written out in full – is rare, especially from a man who often abbreviated his signature to Ch, Ch. Darwin or just C. Darwin.

Prof John van Wyhe, who curates the scholarly collection known as Darwin Online, told the BBC: "He includes a passage that appears in the third edition of On the Origin of Species.

"It's a really favourite passage, because he's trying to make the point that people might find his theory unbelievable and outlandish, but they said the same about Newton and gravity, and nobody doubted the existence of gravity anymore.

"The same, he says, would be true eventually with evolution and natural selection."

Charles Darwin

The correspondence between Darwin and Kindt dates back to autumn 1865, four years after the publication of the third edition of 'On the Origin of Species'.

This makes the document all the more significant as it encapsulates Darwin’s complete thinking on the subject.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Charles Darwin's manuscript reads: “I have now recapitulated the chief facts and considerations which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified, during a long course of descent, by the preservation or the natural selection of many successive slight favourable variations.

“I cannot believe that a false theory would explain, as it seems to me that the theory of natural selection does explain, the several large classes of facts above specified. It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

The online sale of the manuscript is now open for bidding up until December 9 at Sotheby's auctioneers. The auction house expect it to sell for upwards of £600,000.

It will be sold at the Age of Wonder, an auction dedicated to exploring the intersections of 19th century science and culture. Learn more at sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2022/age-of-wonder.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books & manuscripts said: “Charles Darwin’s revolutionary text On the Origin of Species succeeded in creating a Book of Genesis for the modern age and it would be difficult to overstate the seismic impact it had not only on 19th century science and culture but also on subsequent thinkers and generations.

"We are proud to offer the most significant autograph manuscript by Darwin to come to auction, continuing Sotheby’s long-standing track record of offering the most important documents and artifacts in the history of thought.”

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