Researchers: Darwin omitted preface from first edition

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Charles Darwin could have saved himself from some of his first critics if he had remembered to include his preface in the first edition of his influential book on evolution and natural selection, "The Origin of Species."

A new study shows that Darwin was composing the introductory chapter to his book as early as 1856, even though that preface remained unpublished for six years until Origin's second edition. The findings suggest Darwin also wrote the chapter on his own accord and not in reaction to people who had read the book.

The original edition of the landmark book was published in 1859, without any introductory material. Still a public flash point today, "Origin" drew initial outcries, in part for the missing preface in which an author of the time typically would have credited and thanked his intellectual predecessors. One scientist accused Darwin of plagiarism for failing to acknowledge the giants whose work allowed him to see farther.

A year later, a new edition of the classic was published with a preface describing and crediting the intellectual work upon which natural selection rests.

Darwin historians have assumed the chapter "Historical Sketch" was penned as an afterthought, in response to his critics and accusations that his ideas were not original. However, Darwin's personal correspondence shows that the sketch was actually written prior to the first printing of the book, said political historian Curtis Johnson of Lewis and Clark College, whose detailed study of the preface is published in the January issue of the Journal of the History of Biology.

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