Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

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Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
Title page of the 12th edition of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1884)
AuthorRobert Chambers
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectEvolutionary biology
PublisherJohn Churchill
Publication date
October 1844

Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation is an 1844 work by Robert Chambers. It was published anonymously in England. The book openly discussed the transmutation of species in an attractive way.

Vestiges became an international bestseller. Its theme contradicted the natural theology fashionable at the time. Its ideas were reviled by clergymen. The ideas in the book were popular with a wider public. Prince Albert read it aloud to Queen Victoria in 1845. Vestiges caused a shift in popular opinion which – Charles Darwin believed – prepared the public mind for the scientific theories of evolution by natural selection as in his On the Origin of Species in 1859.[1]

For decades there was speculation about the authorship of Vestiges. The 12th edition of 1884, revealed that the author was Robert Chambers, a Scottish journalist. He had written the book in St Andrews between 1841 and 1844 while recovering from illness.[2] Initially, Chambers had proposed the title The Natural History of Creation, but he was persuaded to revise the title in deference to the Scottish geologist James Hutton. Hutton had remarked of the timeless aspect of geology: "no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end".

Publication[change | change source]

The book was published in October 1844 by John Churchill in London. The secret of the authorship was kept from from Churchill.

Difficulties appreciated[change | change source]

"In other words, the fact of extinction — which can be observed in the fossil layers — suggests that some designs were flawed... Some other idea must then come with regard to the mode in which the Divine Author proceeded in the organic creation. (p153)

" can we suppose that the august Being who brought all these countless worlds into form by the simple establishment of a natural principle flowing from his mind, was to interfere personally and specially on every occasion when a new shell-fish or reptile was to be ushered into existence on one of these worlds? Surely this idea is too ridiculous to be for a moment entertained". (p154)

The general scandal caused by Vestiges meant Darwin was reluctant to publish his own ideas until he had well researched answers to all possible objections.[3]

Reaction[change | change source]

The first edition of 1,750 copies sold out in a few days. The book was translated into five languages, and many editions were published in the U.S.A.

Chambers followed the book with another, this time dealing with all the questions raised by the first book: Chambers, Robert 1845. Explanations: a sequel to Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. London: John Churchill.

References[change | change source]

  1. Secord, James A. 2000. Victorian sensation: the extraordinary publication, reception, and secret authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-74410-0
  2. Crawford, Robert (2011). The Beginning and The End of the World: St Andrews, Scandal and the Birth of Photography. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 9781841589800.
  3. Bowler, Peter J. 2003. Evolution: the history of an idea. 3rd ed, University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23693-9