Academic journal article Science Progress

Darwin and His Publisher

Academic journal article Science Progress

Darwin and His Publisher

Article excerpt


Charles Darwin's publisher John Murray played an important, if often underrated, role in bringing his theories to the public. As their letters and publishing archives show they had a friendly, business like and successful relationship. This was despite fundamental scientific and religious differences between the men. In addition to publishing Darwin, Murray also published many of the critical and supportive works and reviews which Darwin's own works excited.

Keywords: Charles Darwin, John Murray, publishing archives


100 years ago an article 'Darwin and his publisher' (1) appeared in Science Progress (2). Written by the publisher Sir John Murray IV he detailed his father's relationship with the scientist and author Charles Robert Darwin. The article appeared in 1909 to mark the 100th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 50th anniversary of Murray's publication of Darwin's most famous work On the Origin of Species (3).

Darwin's publisher, John Murray III, was a distinguished and successful publisher. Building on the successes of his father and grandfather he had gained a considerable reputation largely through publishing travel literature. He had been responsible for establishing the first successful modern travel guides Murray's Handbook for Travellers. He had also published many famous travel accounts including those of missionary and explorer David Livingstone, the American Herman Melville and intrepid lady travellers like Isabella Bird.

H.M.S. Beagle

Murray's first Darwin publication incorporated both travel and science. Darwin as a young man travelled around the world on H.M.S. Beagle, where he enthusiastically investigated geology and the natural world. These Beagle voyages produced an official four volume account published by Henry Colbum of London. The third volume, by Darwin, was published as Journal and Remarks, 18321836 (1839) (4).

Darwin wrote a wonderfully descriptive travel narrative which also incorporated detailed and wide ranging naturalist observations, which helped established his scientific credentials. This book went through many editions and under different titles. The best known edition was Murray's second edition published in 1845 as Journal of Researches (5). It was also variously known in different editions as Naturalist's Voyage Around the Worm and The Voyage of the Beagle. The work appeared as part of Murray's Colonial and Home Library series which provided relatively cheap books for a large readership, thus helping Darwin establish a reputation as a populist writer (6).


During his Beagle journey Darwin had read the first two volumes of Sir Charles Lyell's influential and popular Principles of Geology (1830-1833) (7). In this Murray publication, Lyell argued that the world had not been shaped by unique catastrophes and supernatural events, but by countless and continuing small changes, like erosion, volcanoes and earthquakes, over vast periods of time. Lyell's argument that the past was the key to understanding the present influenced Darwin. Also Lyell's geological descriptions of time was essential in providing the necessary timeframe for variation to act as uniformly and gradually on living forms as Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection demanded.


Darwin wrote in 1844 that "I always feel as if my books came half out of Lyell's brains and that I never acknowledge this sufficiently, nor do I know how I can, without saying so in so many words-for I have always thought that the great merit of the Principles, was that it altered the whole tone of one's mind and therefore that when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes." (8)

Following his Beagle voyage, Lyell and Darwin met and became close and enduring friends. Darwin acknowledged Lyell's scientific influence and friendship in dedicating the Murray edition of Journal of Researches to Lyell. …

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