Rejecting Darwin

In the TimesOnline (via Sci Tech Daily):

As rejection letters go, it would have taken some beating. The publishers of Charles Darwin’s seminal work, On the Origin of Species, considered turning down his manuscript and asking him to write about pigeons instead.

The near-miss was unearthed in 150-year-old correspondence between Darwin’s publisher, John Murray, and a clergyman, the Rev Whitwell Elwin. Elwin was one of Murray’s special advisers, part of a literary panel that was the Victorian equivalent of a modern focus group.

He was asked by the London publisher for his opinion of Darwin’s new work, which challenged Old Testament ideas of Creation. Unsurprisingly for a man of the cloth, Elwin disapproved. Writing back from his rectory in Norwich on May 3, 1859, he urged Murray not to publish. Darwin’s theories were so farfetched, prejudiced and badly argued that right-thinking members of the public would never believe them, he said. “At every page I was tantalised by the absence of the proofs,” Elwin wrote, adding that the “harder and drier” writing style was also off-putting.

He suggested that Darwin’s earlier observations on pigeons should be made into a book as “everybody is interested in pigeons”. He enthused: “The book would be received in every journal in the kingdom and would soon be on every table.”

Fortunately, Murray chose to ignore the advice. He went on to publish On the Origin of Species. The rest, as they say, is history.