An autonomous document could fetch a record price

The 1865 document is in poor condition

A piece of paper signed by Charles Darwin, defending his theory of evolution, goes up for sale on Friday at Sotheby’s in New York.

The item is likely to fetch over a million pounds – a world record price for a Darwin manuscript.

He provided the document so that it could be copied in a famous magazine in 1865.

Darwin was not in the habit of archiving his paperwork and there is very little original material.

If it does, and it is signed, it is almost always just with the abbreviation “C Darwin” or “Ch Darwin”.

It is very rare that his name, “Charles Darwin”, was written out completely and in his own hand.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

But Professor John van Wyhe, who curates the scholarly collection known as Darwin Online, says it is particularly special because of what the great man chose to put on the page with his signature.

“It includes a passage that eventually appears in the third edition of On the Origin of Species,” explained the senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore.

“It’s his favorite quote, because he’s trying to point out that people might believe his theory incredible and unbelievable, but they said the same thing about Newton and gravity, and nobody doubted about gravity no longer existing.

“The same thing, he says, would eventually be true of evolution and natural selection,” the professor told BBC News.

The document was produced for The Autographic Mirror.

The Automatic Mirror

The Autographic Mirror was a famous type of magazine in its day

Her publisher, Hermann Kindt, printed facsimiles of famous people’s handwriting or autographs along with their biographies.

When he asked Darwin if he would make a contribution, the scientist jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity to turn back on his doubts.

At the time, six years after the release of the first edition of Origin of Species, it was a common criticism that it could not explain the origin of life itself.

Darwin admitted that this was the case but that it had nothing to do with his views on how life on Earth changed and diversified. As with gravity, its “origin” may not be understood but Newton’s equations certainly worked.

He does not mention Newton by name, but Professor John van Wyhe said that he knew when he wrote the passage that he had recently read a biography of Newton. The 17th Century genius also had to get down when he dropped his law of universal gravitation.

The Darwin leaf is for sale at Sotheby’s in poor condition.

The previous world record for a Darwin manuscript was set by the auction house at £400,000 and is expected to be easily achieved.

“What is different about this leaf is that Darwin was choosing the passage he wanted to associate with himself and his legacy,” said Dr Kalika Sands, an expert at Sotheby’s on the history of science in the 19th Century.

“He wrote it out on an oversized sheet of paper. It’s made very clear, and he’s signed his name in bold. In this passage he mentions natural selection, he mentions Newton, and he discusses the room for higher powers , but at the same time he says nothing that explains away the theory.

“It is really his final or authoritative statement on his work.”

Sotheby’s online Age of Wonder sale opens on Friday and ends in two weeks on December 9.

Here is Darwin’s quote:

I have now restated the principal facts and considerations, which have fully convinced me that species have been modified, during a long period of descent, by the preservation or natural selection of many small successive favorable variations. I cannot believe that a false theory would explain, as it seems to me that the theory of natural selection explains the various large classes of facts above. It is not a valid objection that science does not yet throw any light on the much higher problem of the origin or origin of life. Who can explain what the essence of gravitational attraction is? No one is disputing the results that follow from pursuing this unknown aspect of attraction; despite the fact that Leibnitz had previously accused Newton of bringing “occult qualities & miracles into philosophy”. – Charles Darwin.


Darwin would usually abbreviate Charles to “C” or “Ch”

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