On the Origin of Species

By Delinda Buie

“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…” (On Origin of Species, 1860, p. 9)


Seven uncharacteristically obliging marine iguanas pose on a bed of lava, Fernandina Island, 7 February 2014

Nearly two centuries years later, travelers to the Galapagos recall Darwin and are much struck with certain facts regarding the distribution of marine iguanas. They are everywhere – on land and in the water surrounding every island – and only occasionally interested in the humans attempting to find a foothold amid them and jagged shards of volcanic rock. The spikey creatures did not inspire affection in Darwin, who considered them “hideous,” and gave them the sobriquet “Imps of Darkness,” but this curator briefly turned outdoor adventurer found them pretty darn cute – especially when they blocked the path as our small group reluctantly left the Galapagos on the final day.

Darwin’s appreciation for the Galapagos at first was muted. Prone to sea-sickness during H.M.S. Beagle’s four year voyage around South America, he was glad to be on any land, however unhospitable. On his brief – only five weeks – treks on four of the islands, he delighted in the accessibility of wildlife, even birds, because isolation had made them unafraid of humans. It was only after return home to England that Darwin reviewed his notes about variations within species, particularly flora, distributed between the islands of the Galapagos archipelago, and still three decades more before he published On the Origin of Species. Even then, Darwin made scant mention of the Galapagos.

The Origin of Species

First American edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which appeared 154 years ago: 28 March 1860.

The University of Louisville is one of about a hundred libraries worldwide to hold the first American edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The London edition had appeared on November 24 the year before, with the entire printing of 1250 copies selling out in one day. Publisher D. Appleton and Company immediately offered 5% royalty to Darwin for rights to an authorized American edition, and on March 28, 1860 issued the first of what eventually would be 2500 copies produced in four press runs. That same year Darwin also authorized an inexpensive British edition, with small type and cheaper binding, when he learned that factory workers in Lancashire were pooling their wages to share copies. On the Origin of Species long remained a best seller, capturing imaginations and provoking controversy over decades just as the Galapagos Islands had, much more quietly, claimed Charles Darwin’s: “… the several islands of the Galapagos Archipelago are tenanted…in a quite marvelous manner by very closely related species. (On the Origin of Species, 1860, p. 348).

Bound in three-quarter green morocco over marbled boards by Haddon, the University of Louisville copy of On the Origin of Species originally was part of the extensive collection of Oswego, N.Y. book collector Theodore Irwin, Sr. Irwin’s great granddaughter Nanine Irwin Hilliard Greene donated the book to the University of Louisville rare book collection in 1982, as part of the Irwin-Hilliard family library and archive.

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