Highlights from Creating the Origin

Cover of Transmutation Notebook D, which is the manuscript where, in Autumn 1838, Darwin first began to formulate the theory that became natural selection. 

Notebook D Cover


The key page in Transmutation Notebook D is 135e. Look at the bottom of the page D 135e where Darwin wrote 'One may say there is a force like a hundred thousand wedges trying force ‹into› every kind of adapted structure into the gaps ‹of› in the œconomy of Nature, or rather forming gaps by thrusting out weaker ones.'



Birth of 'Natural Selection' as a scientific term, in the 1842 Pencil Sketch. The term first appeared in Darwin's writing right at top of Ms p. 5 is the first use. Its coining was occasioned by Darwin’s beginning a new section of the Pencil Sketch.



But we can spot the 'moment' just before 'natural selection' was coined in the 1st line of the deleted passage that he wrote on the back of page 5, where he wrote : 'Before considering whether be any «Natural» Means of selection'.

Matural Means

Many have looked in the past for the first occurrence of natural selection & have not found it. Our brand new transcription of the Sketch, which was first published in 1909, was produced with sufficient attention to pick up this significant detail.


Who wrote the last line of the Origin of Species? The final sentence of the 1844 Essay fair copy includes a phrase that adds to powerful conclusion of the Essay. The phrase is in the handwriting of someone who Darwin trusted to read & comment on the unpublished 1844 Essay. The mystery writer’s identity is so far unknown. But Darwin retained the writer's contribution—'& are being'— in every edition of the Origin.

Last line of 1844 Essay, fair copy

DAR 113: 231 & are being

Last line of Origin, 1859

Origin 490


Hand coloured children's drawings are found on the backs of several of the 41 surviving manuscript pages of the Origin of Species. The heavily revised pages of the Origin manuscript only survived because the family kept these Darwin children's drawings. Darwin himself showed little interest in preserving the epochal draft, which was more than 500 pages long. Once he received the proofs of the 1st edition (1859) from his publisher (John Murray), right through to the final (6th) edition (1872), Darwin made all his many revisions on the proofs or on spare copies of the six editions.

Drawing: 'Aubergine and Carrot Cavalry' by one of Darwin’s children on the back of Origin draft Ms p. 40.

Cambridge University Library

Cambridge University Library

Drawing: 'Birds and Butterfly' on back of p. 23, which happens to be the only surviving Fair Copy sheet.


Page 23 showing heavily revised Fair Copy. It happens to be the only surviving Fair Copy page of the Origin.