Darwin's autographed document up for auction, could fetch record price
A letter autographed by British naturalist-evolution theorist Charles Darwin has gone up for auction and is believed to fetch a record price. The note from 1865 went on sale on Friday at Sotheby's in New York; the online auction ends on December 9. Reportedly, Darwin wrote it to defend his theory of evolution, which was widely doubted by people and scientists at the time.
Why does this story matter?
- Darwin's observations of how life evolved and diversified on Earth are defended by him in the document. It is expected to surpass the previous auction record for any Darwin manuscript—£400,000.
- He believed his theory, which was seen as outlandish and doubted, would eventually be believed like 17th-century genius Isaac Newton's theory of gravity, which initially faced wrath but is now widely recognized and believed.
157-year-old masterpiece in mint condition
The document is rare as the scientist's name, "Charles Darwin," is signed in full and in his handwriting. Notably, he generally used the signatures "C Darwin" or "Ch Darwin." National University of Singapore's Professor John van Wyhe, who curates the scientific collection Darwin Online, told BBC, "He inserts a passage that will eventually appear in the third edition of On the Origin of Species."
From the archives of the 19th-century scientist
Darwin, a 19th-century scientist who was not fond of archiving his notes, had created the document for a celebrity magazine, The Autographic Mirror, in 1865. Published by Hermann Kindt, it carried biographies along with manuscripts or autographs of famous personalities. Intending to strike back at his doubters, Darwin jumped at the chance when he was asked if he would write for the magazine.
What necessitated the signed document
In 1859, the first edition of On the Origin of Species, a book on the scientific theory about the evolution of life on Earth, was published by Darwin. Before this book, however, there was a general criticism that he failed to explain the origin of life in the theory, which later necessitated the 1865 document as Darwin wanted to hit back at critics.
I am convinced that species have been modified: Darwin
Darwin's 1865 note said, "I have now recapitulated the chief facts and considerations which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified during a long line of descent by the conservation or natural selection of many successive minor favorable variations." "I cannot believe...a false theory would explain the several great classes of facts...it seems to me...the theory of natural selection explains them."
Why he mentioned Newton in the document
In the note, Darwin further wrote, "Who can explain what is the essence of attraction of gravity?" "No one now objects to following out the results consequent on this unknown element of attraction; notwithstanding that Leibnitz formerly accused Newton of introducing 'occult qualities & miracles into philosophy,'" he stated in a bid to justify his theory.
He discusses the room for higher forces: Sands
Dr. Kalika Sands, a 19th-century history of science expert at Sotheby's, says that in the document, Darwin also discusses "the room" for higher forces as he mentions Isaac Newton and natural selection but admits "nothing explains away these theories." "What is special about this sheet is that Darwin chose the spot that he wanted to associate with himself and his legacy," she said.
What is Darwin's theory of evolution?
Darwin's theory of biological evolution, also known as Darwinism or Darwinian theory, says that all species evolve and grow through "the natural selection" of minor, inherited variations that improve their ability to survive and reproduce. The theory also includes the concept of broader transmutation of evolution. After facing criticism initially, it garnered scientific acceptance in 1859 when he published On the Origin of Species.