1880. London: John Murray, 1880.
8vo, x, 592, 32 (ads dated May 1878) pp. Illustrated with 196 in-text woodcuts. Original green blind-stamped cloth, backstrip titled in gilt, brown coated endpapers, hinges cracked, a little wear to crown and foot of backstrip, text block edges (but not pages) stained, an unsophisticated copy.
§ § First edition, first issue, inscribed in Charles Darwin’s hand, “Elizabeth Darwin, From her Father.” Presentation copies from Darwin, in his own hand, are exceptionally rare (most presentation copies were inscribed “from the author” by the publisher); a copy inscribed to a family member by Darwin himself is extraordinarily so.
Elizabeth Darwin, known as Bessy, was Charles and Emma Darwin’s youngest daughter and perhaps the most enigmatic of all their ten children. She is remembered as a quiet soul who lived in the family home until the death of her mother, and then in a cottage on her own near her three brothers until her death in 1926. The book which Darwin has inscribed to her was written with the assistance of her brother, Francis, who had himself become an accomplished botanist. It is an extension of Darwin's earlier work on movement in climbing plants, showing that the same mechanisms hold true for flowering plants in general. It was well reviewed and immediately sold 1500 copies.
Darwin was an exceptionally affectionate father whose anxious feelings for his own children greatly spurred his study of inherited characteristics and of evolution. (He and his wife Emma were first cousins, a genetic liability that tormented him.) This book, written in partnership with one of his children and presented to another, is a potent testament to the intertwining of scientific genius and fatherhood that so characterized Darwin and catalyzed his momentous career. Books inscribed by Darwin to his children are extremely rare on the market. The last such book at auction - a copy of The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, inscribed by Darwin to his daughter Henrietta (who had edited the book) - sold for £90,000 at Sotheby's in 2015. Item #110418