The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. By Charles Darwin, M.A., F.R.S., &c. In Two Volumes . . . With Illustrations.

London, John Murray, 1868.

2 vols., 8vo (215 x 135 mm), pp. viii, 411, [1], 32 (publisher’s advertisements, dated April 1867); viii, 486, [2, publisher’s advertisements, dated February 1868]; illustrations in the text; original publisher’s green cloth (as described by Freeman), with the ticket of Edmonds & Remnants; front inner hinges slightly cracked, traces of bookplates on front paste-downs, but a very good, bright copy.


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First edition, first issue, of both volumes.

Presentation copy, with a paper slip on the flyleaf of volume 1 inscribed in Darwin’s hand, ‘From the author’. This was the usual method of denoting presentation copies of this book (for another example see Darwin’s Century: the Jeremy Norman Collection, item 135). Presentation copies are further characterised by being slightly smaller than regular copies, because they were specially prepared by having their edges trimmed properly by the binder. This was due to Darwin’s intense dislike of uncut edges, as Francis Darwin notes in the Life & Letters of Charles Darwin: ‘He wrote to the Athenæum on the subject, Feb. 5, 1867 . . . . He tried to introduce the reform in the case of his own books, but found the conservatism of booksellers too strong for him. The presentation copies, however, of all his later books were sent out with the edges cut’ (vol. 3, p. 36).

Darwin stressed in the Origin of Species (1859) that he was publishing there an ‘abstract’, which ‘must necessarily be imperfect’, and was offering his ‘general conclusions’ only, without ‘references and authorities for my several statements’. He accordingly wrote three more books – The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), The Descent of Man (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) – to elaborate various issues raised in the Origin. The Variation of Animals and Plants developed in detail a subject that had been confined to one chapter in the Origin. ‘It contained his hypothesis of pangenesis, by means of which Darwin tried to frame an explanation of hereditary resemblance, inheritance of acquired characteristics, atavism, and regeneration. It was a brave attempt to account for a number of phenomena which were beyond the bounds of scientific knowledge in his day, such as fertilization by the union of sperm with egg, the mechanism of chromosomal inheritance, and the development of the embryo by successive cell division. His hypothesis of pangenesis could not therefore give a permanently acceptable account of the multitude of phenomena it was designed to explain. It was, however, a point of departure for particulate theories of inheritance in the later nineteenth century’ (Gavin de Beer, in DSB; see also Browne, vol. 2, pp. 200–6, 286–293).

The first issue was published in January, the second in February 1868. The two issues have considerable textual differences, but the easiest way to distinguish them is by the errata listed on p. vi of vol. 1 and p. viii of vol. 2: in the first issue five errata are listed in six lines in vol. 1 and nine in seven lines in vol. 2, whereas in the second a single erratum is listed in vol. 1 only. The publisher’s binding also differs, the spines of the first issue having a one-line imprint, those of the second normally having a two-line imprint.

Freeman 877; Freeman, Companion, p. 282; Norman 597 (second issue).