'HURRAH THE MONKEY BOOK has come', Darwin cheered on 18 February 1863. He was driven to distraction by Lyell's Antiquity of Man and its strangulated efforts to come to terms with the Origin. Huxley promised better things. Lyell 'never rises to the magnificence of Huxley's language', Hooker had to agree. You can read Man's Place in Nature '1000 times with fresh delight'.
It was a bad time to publish. The American Civil War had closed Lancashire's cotton mills and the transatlantic book trade was depressed. And Gladstone's economic forecast only put the publishers 'more out of spirits'. With science books aimed at city dwellers and the industrial midlands, everybody prophesied an appalling season.
Not that Williams & Norgate was known for its hard sell. Man's Place in Nature sat on a specialist list, appealing to Oxbridge Latinity more than Yankee liturgies. The publisher's titles ranged from Arabic grammars and Sanskrit studies to catalogues of Silurian fossils and (after Huxley's arm-twisting) Spencer's System of Philosophy. But Huxley was happy to be wedged between the Old Testament exegetes. And being the Natural History Review's publisher, Williams & Norgate did have the trade contacts.
Huxley's name and the inflammatory subject sold the book. His clever frontispiece itself set teeth chattering. Here was 'skeletonized Man' tripping ahead of his 'grim relatives', the loping train of 'grovelling apes' 'as gleesome as if they were going in procession' to the Palace. This was to become a skeletal icon, caricatured to this day as an ad-man's dream. But that belies its shocking début. It put off the high-brow reviewers. Worse, the book was no