Launch of an Idea

150 years ago today, Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution to a group of his peers for the first time. It was read at the Linnean Society, and the reading didn’t really rock the world. That came later when Darwin published the Origin of Species. Either way, it is quite an anniversary today, since evolution is without question one of the single most important scientific discoveries ever made about how our world works. (Have a look at my earlier post on the Darwin Online Project, by the way. Lots to see there.)

Actually, Wallace had the idea some 20 years before Darwin, it is said, but few remember him. A recent NPR piece quotes the author David Quammen (“The Reluctant Mr Darwin”):

Wallace delayed publishing anything about his theory because in addition to wanting to amass all the evidence he could in defense of it, Quammen says, “he was a little bit wary of how this drastic radical idea would be received.”

According to the account:

When the young Wallace sent Darwin a copy of a paper outlining the theory, Darwin at first went into despair, thinking that Wallace would be the first to claim credit for the idea.

This is what led to the reading that took place 150 years ago today.

…friends of Darwin’s organized a presentation of papers by both men at London’s Linnean Society. “It was about 30 people in a hot room,” says Quammen. “The people who attended the meeting don’t seem to have realized what had just been read to them. It just slipped by how important these papers were.”

Have a read of the NPR transcript here, or listen to the audio.


(NPR link found via a post over on Knight Science Journalism Tracker.)

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One Response to Launch of an Idea

  1. stevem says:

    The lives and work of Darwin and Wallace (with more emphasis on Wallace) are covered very well in J. Bronowski’s epic Ascent of Man series in the following episode, which opens in Darwin’s house:

    (The other parts can be found at side and at the poster’s page of course)