Herschel's marginalia in his copy of Darwin's Origin of Species
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Sir John F.W. Herschel’s Marginalia on Darwin’s Origin of Species

Originally copied from volume by: Prof. Stephen R. Case, Olivet Nazarene University
Edited and published by: Prof. Charles H. Pence, Université catholique de Louvain

This book may be found in the Herschel Family Archive at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Steve Case was kind enough to copy them out and provide them to me, and I have checked all quotations against the Origin and recompiled them here for the aid of other scholars. Assistance with the editorial material has been provided by Andre Ariew.

Editorial notes: Passages of Darwin which Herschel has scored in the margins are copied out verbatim. Italic text indicates Herschel’s underlining, bold italics indicates double underlining. In several places, Herschel marked the margin with a ‘C’ (or a curl looking like a C), apparently to indicate contradictions.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1859 [1st. ed])

Front Matter

  • first page: inscribed, “From the Author”

    [Editor: This inscription was written by someone at the publisher’s office, as Darwin instructed the publisher to send a copy directly to Herschel. See a letter from Darwin to Herschel, November 11, 1859.]

  • seventh page: [Herschel Library Collingwood stamp]

Chapter 1

  • p. 30: [some marginal scoring of text related to breeding]

  • p. 30: The key is man’s power of accumulative selection: nature gives successive variations; man adds them up in certain directions useful to him. In this sense he may be said to make for himself useful breeds.

  • pp. 38-9: He can never act by selection, excepting on variations [39] which are first given to him in some slight degree by nature.

  • p. 39: But to use such an expression as trying to make a fantail, is, I have no doubt, in most cases, utterly incorrect.

  • p. 43: I do not believe that variability is an inherent and necessary contingency, under all circumstances, with all organic beings, as some authors have thought. [marked with C]

  • p. 43: Over all these causes of Change I am convinced that the accumulative action of Selection, whether applied methodically and more quickly, or unconsciously and more slowly, but more efficiently, is by far the predominant power. [marked with C]

Chapter 2

  • p. 57: incipient species greater than the average are now manufacturing, many of the species already manufactured still to a certain extent resemble varieties

  • p. 59: The larger genera thus tend to become larger

  • p. 59: the larger genera also tend to break up into smaller genera

    [Editor: Herschel has connected these two phrases on page 59 with ‘!!', obviously not pleased at the apparent contradiction.]

Chapter 3

  • p. 60: all those exquisite adaptations

  • p. 60: We see these beautiful co-adaptations

  • p. 61: in short, we see beautiful adaptations everywhere

  • p. 61: All these results, as we shall more fully see in the next chapter, follow inevitably from the struggle for life

  • p. 61: But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action

Chapter 4

  • p. 82: as man can certainly produce great results by adding up in any given direction mere individual differences, so could Nature, but far more easily, from having incomparably longer time at her disposal. [marked with C]

  • p. 83: nature cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being. [marked with C]

  • p. 83: She can act on every internal organ [marked with C]

  • p. 83: Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends. [marked with C]

  • p. 84: should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship? [marked with C]

  • p. 87: Now, if nature had to make the beak of a full-grown pigeon very short for the bird’s own advantage, [marked with C]

  • pp. 93-4: No naturalist doubts the advantage of what has been called the “physiological division of labour;” hence we may believe that it would be advantageous to a plant to produce stamens alone in one flower or on one whole plant, and pistils alone in [94] another flower or on another plant. In plants under culture and placed under new conditions of life, sometimes the male organs and sometimes the female organs become more or less impotent; now if we suppose this to occur in ever so slight a degree under nature, then as pollen is already carried regularly from flower to flower, and as a more complete separation of the sexes of our plant would be advantageous on the principle of the division of labour, individuals with this tendency more and more increased, would be continually favoured or selected, until at last a complete separation of the sexes would be effected. [entire paragraph marked with large !]

  • p. 94: Let us now turn to the nectar-feeding insects in our imaginary case: we may suppose the plant of which we have been slowly increasing the nectar by continued selection, to be a common plant; and that certain insects depended in main part on its nectar for food. I could give many facts, showing how anxious bees are to save time; for instance, their habit of cutting holes and sucking the nectar at the bases of certain flowers, which they can, with a very little more trouble, enter by the mouth. Bearing such facts in mind, I can see no reason to doubt that an accidental deviation in the size and form of the body, or in the curvature and length of the proboscis, &c., far too slight to be appreciated by us, might profit a bee or other insect, so that an individual so characterised would be able to obtain its food more quickly, and so have a better chance of living and leaving descendants. Its descendants would probably inherit a tendency to a similar slight deviation of structure. The tubes of the corollas of the common red and incarnate clovers (Trifolium pratense and incarnatum) do not on a hasty glance appear to differ in length; yet the hive-bee can easily suck the nectar out of the incarnate clover, but not out of the common red... [marked in margin: “? ! Working bees have no descendants”]

  • p. 95: ...clover, which is visited by humble-bees alone; so that whole fields of the red clover offer in vain an abundant supply of precious nectar to the hive-bee. Thus it might be a great advantage to the hive-bee to have a slightly longer or differently constructed proboscis. On the other hand, I have found by experiment that the fertility of clover greatly depends on bees visiting and moving parts of the corolla, so as to push the pollen on to the stigmatic surface. Hence, again, if humble-bees were to become rare in any country, it might be a great advantage to the red clover to have a shorter or more deeply divided tube to its corolla, so that the hive-bee could visit its flowers. Thus I can understand how a flower and a bee might slowly become, either simultaneously or one after the other, modified and adapted in the most perfect manner to each other, by the continued preservation of individuals presenting mutual and slightly favourable deviations of structure. [marked in margin: “Why does he not cut a hole?", referring to previous passage on p. 94]

  • p. 95: Natural selection can act only by the preservation and accumulation of infinitesimally small inherited modifications, each profitable to the preserved being

  • p. 99: If several varieties of the cabbage, radish, onion, and of some other plants, be allowed to seed near each other, a large majority, as I have found, of the seedlings thus raised will turn out mongrels: for instance, I raised 233 seedling cabbages from some plants of different varieties growing near each other, and of these only 78 were true to their kind, and some even of these were not perfectly true. Yet the pistil of each cabbage-flower is surrounded not only by its own six stamens, but by those of the many other flowers on the same plant. How, then, comes it that such a vast number of the seedlings are mongrelized? I suspect that it must arise from the pollen of a distinct variety having a prepotent effect over a flower’s own pollen; and that this is part of the general law of good being derived from the intercrossing of distinct individuals of the same species. When distinct species are crossed the case is directly the reverse, for a plant’s own pollen is always prepotent over foreign pollen; but to this subject we shall return in a future chapter.

  • p. 100: flowers on the same tree can be considered as distinct individuals only in a limited sense. I believe this objection to be valid, but that nature has largely provided against it by giving to trees a strong tendency to bear flowers with separated sexes.

  • p. 108: Nothing can be effected unless favourable variations occur [marked with C]

  • p. 109: Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the coadaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may be effected in the long course of time by nature’s power of selection. [marked with C]

Chapter 5

  • p. 131: I HAVE hitherto sometimes spoken as if the variations—so common and multiform in organic beings under domestication, and in a lesser degree in those in a state of nature—had been due to chance. [marked with X]

  • p. 135: [regarding the ostrich] its legs were used more, and its wings less, until they became incapable of flight. [marked in margin: “Why not vice versa like the albatross Shore feet are defective for surviving, whereas the [illeg.] headed duck has exact opposite characteristics tho’ descended, on this theory from the same stock as the albatross”, also marked with C]

  • p. 146: Hence we see that modifications of structure, viewed by systematists as of high value, may be wholly due to unknown laws of correlated growth, and without being, as far as we can see, of the slightest service to the species.

  • p. 149: beings low in the scale of nature are more variable than those which are higher. [marked in margin: “X X See page 313”]

  • p. 161: in each successive generation there has been a tendency to reproduce the character in question, which at last, under unknown favourable conditions, gains an ascendancy. [marked in margin: “Wherein lies the distinction?"]

  • p. 170: Whatever the cause may be of each slight difference in the offspring from their parents -- and a cause for each must exist -- it is the steady accumulation, through natural selection, of such differences, when beneficial to the individual, that gives rise to all the more important modifications of structure, by which the innumerable beings on the face of this earth are enabled to struggle with each other, and the best adapted to survive. [marked with C]

  • p. 170: [Herschel’s annotation below this paragraph:] D. recognizes an unknown cause of slight individual differences -- but claims for “natural selection” the character of a “sufficient theory” in regard to the results of those differences.

Chapter 6

  • p. 178: polity of the country can be better filled by some modification of some one or more of its inhabitants.

  • pp. 185-6: He who believes in separate and innumerable acts of creation will say, that in these cases it has pleased the [186] Creator to cause a being of one type to take the place of one of another type; but this seems to me only restating the fact in dignified language. He who believes in the struggle for existence and in the principle of natural selection, will acknowledge that every organic being is constantly endeavouring to increase in numbers; and that if any one being vary ever so little, either in habits or structure, and thus gain an advantage over some other inhabitant of the country, it will seize on the place of that inhabitant, however different it may be from its own place. [marked with backward C]

  • p. 194: Why, on the theory of Creation, should this be so? Why should all the parts and organs of many independent beings, each supposed to have been separately created for its proper place in nature, be so invariably linked together by graduated steps? Why should not Nature have taken a leap from structure to structure? On the theory of natural selection, we can clearly understand why she should not; for natural selection can act only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a leap, but must advance by the shortest and slowest steps. [marked with C]

Chapter 7

  • p. 207: I must premise, that I have nothing to do with the origin of the primary mental powers, any more than I have with that of life itself. [marked with C]

  • p. 219: [regarding slave-making ants] carry their masters in their jaws. [marked with NB]

  • p. 221: as Huber has described, their slaves in their jaws. [marked in margin: “NB F. Sanguinea”]

  • p. 243-4: Finally, it may not be a logical deduction, but to my imagination it is far more satisfactory to look at such instincts as the young [244] cuckoo ejecting its foster-brothers, -- ants making slaves, -- the larvae of ichneumonidae feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars, -- not as specially endowed or created instincts, but as small consequences of one general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die. [marked with C]

Chapter 8

[no notes]

Chapter 9

[no notes]

Chapter 10

  • p. 313: There is some reason to believe that organisms, considered high in the scale of nature, change more quickly than those that are low [marked in margin: “see page 149."]

Chapter 11

  • p. 352: He who rejects it, rejects the vera causa of ordinary generation with subsequent migration, and calls in the agency of a miracle. [marked with X]

Chapter 12

  • p. 388: Nature, like a careful gardener, thus takes her seeds from a bed of a particular nature, and drops them in another equally well fitted for them. [marked with large X]

Chapter 13

[no notes]

Chapter 14

[no notes]

Back Matter

[Editor: The back blank page contains the following notes:]

p. 131 Re chance
p. 182 The eye
p. 351 Law of ... development
57 manufactions[?]
90, L division of ....
99. 100

43. Variability not necessary condition of organized matter
100. favorable variations must “occur”, if anything is to be “effected”
3. admination[?] ?of what on whome?
388. Nature as a .... agent 82-83, 84- 87
30. Man using Nature’s blind agency, he being intelligent but subject to remark at p. 38 & 43 last lines
109. Nature using her “power”
126 et aute “the Polity of Nature”
186 “The Creation” a “dignified” work for “natural selection”
194 “Why” old diffc[?] creatures resemble each other is theory[?]?

[Editor: An inserted loose page contains the following notes:]

Mere change (we may call it) might
131. Variations are due to “chance” explained to be “an unknown cause in each particular case”
207; Has nothing to do with the origin of “life” or “mental powers” eg instinct
244 not even “instincts” he thinks are “accumulated” & not “endowed” at least not “specially” If not “logical” it is “more satisfactory to his imagination” to think it so