[CHAMBERS, Robert]. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.

Regular price
Sold out
Sale price
Tax included. Shipping calculated at checkout.

[CHAMBERS, Robert]. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. John Churchill, 1845.

8vo. Original red cloth, blind stamped to boards, gilt lettering to spine; pp. vi, 384; a little wear to spine ends with horizontal split without loss to spine, very good. Provenance: from the library of Darwin's bibliographer R~B. Freeman with loose presentation note to him from his wife Mary Whitear, a zoologist at University College London. Also with earlier ownership inscription to title page of "H.K", with further rather erudite and anti-evolutionary manuscript note in pencil by H.K. to rear fly-leaf. H.K. is possibly Henry Kingsley (1830-1876), novelist brother of the naturalist Charles Kingsley, though the handwriting is inconclusive. The tone of the notes chimes with Henry's intellectual interests and Muscular Christianity.
Third edition, one year after the first, heavily revised by Edwin Lankester. The 1500 copies sold out on publication day. This book was a stunning proposal of a new evolutionary theory that challenged the view of creation as static and fixed. In its application of recent geological discoveries to the question of the origin of species, the book was hugely successful and influential. It built upon and rejected Lamarck's theories. In furthering the idea of transmutation beyond the Frenchman's work, the book earned Darwin's admiration and inspired Wallace. Most importantly, it prepared the ground for their theories. The concept of evolution was presented to mainstream culture for the first time and began to receive serious attention. Of course, it was highly controversial, and Vestiges was reviled by the Christian establishment, not only the clergy but also other naturalists and geologists such as Gosse and Sedgwick. The scandal made the book a commercial success - all 750 copies of the first edition sold out in days and found enthusiastic readers in Lord Tennyson and Benjamin Disraeli.. Rumour was rife as to the identity of the author, with Ada, countess of Lovelace (and Byron's only legitimate daughter) heading the list of likely perpetrators. As Sedgwick wrote to Lyell on 9th April 1845: "If the book be true, the labours of sober induction are in vain; religion is a lie; human law is a mass of folly, and a base injustice; morality is moonshine; our labours for the black people of Africa were works of madmen; and man and woman are only better beasts! .... I cannot but think the work is from a woman's pen, it is so well dressed and so graceful in its externals. I do not think the 'beast man' could have done this part so well." At least Sedgwick agreed with most reviewers that the work was eloquently written. An early review in the liberal weekly Examiner said: "In this small and unpretending volume, we have found so many great results of knowledge and reflection, that we cannot too earnestly recommend it to the attention of thoughtful men. It is the first attempt that has been made to connect the natural sciences into a history of creation. An attempt which presupposed learning, extensive and various; but not the large and liberal wisdom, the profound philosophical suggestion, the lofty spirit of beneficence, and the exquisite grace of manner which make up the charm of this extraordinary book."
Rightly foreseeing the storm that the book would cause and fearing the damage it would do to his reputation, Robert Chambers (1802-1871), a noted writer, publisher and member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, had carefully decided to issue the book anonymously. He did not publish it himself, working instead through a chain of intermediaries to protect his identity; his wife transcribed his manuscript, and then passed it to to his friend Alexander Ireland in Manchester, who then delivered it to the publisher in London. Even the publisher and the printer did not know the identity of the author. Chambers' name was not added until the twelfth edition in 1884, after the publication of The Origin of Species had both drawn fire from and added public validation to his work in Vestiges.
Cf. Waller 10778 (4th ed.)