CBC Digital Archives

Darwin's delay

The year 1809 was remarkable for producing figures of great historical importance, including Lincoln, Chopin, Poe, Braille, Tennyson and many others. But no other figure produced as dramatic an effect on society as the English naturalist Charles Darwin. His groundbreaking theory of evolution had a major impact on religion, education, history and our conception of humankind. Now, 200 years after his birth and 150 years since the publication of The Origin of Species, the CBC Digital Archives looks at the history of Darwin, his controversial theory and the ways in which his thoughts still affect the world.

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Charles Darwin's diaries and research show that he conceived his theory of evolution in 1837. But what they don't tell us is why he didn't publish On The Origin of Species until 1859. Was he scared? Busy? Just plain lazy? An English historian now believes he has the answer and in this 2007 report, CBC Radio's As it Happens looks into the reason behind Darwin's delay.
• In his diary, Charles Darwin recalls how memorable the moment was when he first conceived of evolution. "I can remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me," he wrote. "The solution, as I believe, is that the modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the economy of nature." • Darwin only published The Origin of Species as quickly as he did because he learned a fellow scientist planned to publish a similar theory. In 1858, English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to Darwin to explain his own evolutionary theory and ask for help in publishing it. To avoid a conflict, their theories were presented to the prestigious Linnaean Society on the same day, July 1st, 1858 and their work was later published as parts of a single piece in the society journal. Darwin published his book the next year.

• Darwin originally expected The Origin of Species to be four or five times as long as the eventual finished product, but his publishing schedule, accelerated by Wallace's revelation, forced him to cut down on the length.

The Origin of Species went on sale on Nov. 24, 1859 and sold out immediately. Its success was partly due to a rave review in the London daily The Times, written by the brilliant zoologist Thomas Huxley, who upon hearing of Darwin's theory, famously chided himself, saying "how extremely stupid not to have thought of that!"

• Darwin sent a copy of the book to Wallace, who read it several times. Soon after, Wallace wrote to a friend, saying "Mr. Darwin has given the world a new science and his name should in my opinion stand above that of every philosopher of ancient or modern times."

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: March 28, 2007
Guest(s): John van Wyhe
Announcer: Barbara Budd
Interviewer: Carol Off
Duration: 7:52

Last updated: February 27, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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