Darwin required no prompting; he quickly acquired a copy ofWells’ ‘Essay on Dew’.259 The copy in Darwin’s library in Down House is identified in the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution, Bibliography and the ‘Key to Annotations’ as ‘Pre-B’ and ‘Down’: it was in Darwin’s private library pre-Beagle voyage, later located at Down House; that is, since the Beagle sailed in December 1831, the paper was acquired no later than 1831 (Appendix 1).260Whatever the historical significance of Wells's Essay on Dew (1814. Article IV.—An Essay on Dew, and several Appearances connected with it. The Quarterly Review; London Vol. 12(23): 90-99) the significance for the history of biology of the later published Two Essays lies in neither of the two essays, but in an appended "account of a female of the white race, part of whose skin resembles that of a negro ..." This last account contains an anticipation of natural selection as a means of adaptation of races to their different conditions. That is, Wells did not go as far as to suggest the origin of new species through natural selection, but he got pretty close.
259 Wells, Two Essays.
260 American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), 2005. http://darwinlibrary.amnh.org. Accessed January 25 and September 27, 2009. See also Appendix 1.
The Darwin Library and DDLE are currently accessible on the AMNH website through the following links, as at 13th January, 2017: Darwin Manuscript Project (DMP) Website (darwinlibrary.amnh.org). To go straight to the William C Wells reference, the current URL is (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/docs/DarwinsLibraryBibliography.pdf) (Publications in EvoLit.bib p. 23). Excerpt from AMNH, 2005. ‘Darwin Digital Library of Evolution’ (darwinlibrary.amnh.org): web-page listing for the relevant section of the alphabetical letter ‘W’, showing William Charles Wells’ ‘Two Essays’ in Darwin’s private library, with immediately adjacent names. Wells’ book was acquired by Darwin before the end of 1831. The entry for Wells, 1818 is annotated, ‘*’ (the identifier for Darwin’s private library), ‘Pre-B’ (pre-Beagle voyage, but not known on board), and ‘Down’ (Darwin’s library, later located at Down House, Kent): see the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution, ‘Key to annotations’.
Now, Warren took an information provided by Charles Darwin's Library (at the website of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, BHL) as stating that Darwin owned that book before he even embarked on the Beagle Voyage. (In fact, Warren refers to the American Museum of Natural History, but that link does not exist anymore and the AMNH now relays you to the BHL's Charles Darwin Library.) This would be unproblematic, if the key to annotations had travelled along with the alphabetical list, but it hasn't. Page 84 of this list states:
SCRIBD still has a relic of the original list collated by the staff of the AMNH, this only tells us that the key to the annotations can be found in the book Charles Darwin's Marginalia edited by Di Gregorio & Gill (1990, Garland, New York). Thanks a lot!
Warren (2017) took it to mean that the last location of the book, before it entered the collection at Cambridge University, was Down House and that it was bought before the voyage of the HMS Beagle. Warren studiously avoids to recognize that the "ED" hints at one of the many Erasmus Darwin's rather than our Charles, but the information at BHL and AMNH is probably wrong anyway.
H. W. Rutherford (1908. Catalogue of the library of Charles Darwin now in the Botany School, Cambridge. Compiled by H. W. Rutherford, of the University Library; with an Introduction by Francis Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) was the first at Cambridge University, who collated a list of the books that actually did enter their collection of Charles Darwin's books in 1908, and Francis Darwin wrote the introduction to that catalogue.
The first thing to notice is in Francis Darwin's Introduction:
THE library of Charles Darwin has now found a permanent home in his own University, and it is perhaps appropriate that it should be in the Botany School, since it was a Cambridge professor of Botany who, more than any one man, determined his career as a naturalist.
The collection is not identical with that at Down. Thus the books he wrote and some few others from Down are in my own possession. There are also a few books of mine which, for the sake of convenience, are kept in the Darwin library: these are marked with an asterisk in the catalogue. (Rutherford 1908, p. vii, emphasis added) ##[The books from Francis Darwin's private possession have probably been integrated into the collection by now.] Next thing to notice is the explanation of the abbreviations:
* Books thus marked were not in the Library at Down. ... (Rutherford 1908, p. xiv, emphasis added)And, finally, there is the entry for W. C. Wells:
*Wells (William Charles). Two Essays: one upon single vision with two eyes; the other on Dew: &c. 8vo. London, 1818. 24 (Rutherford 1908, p. 89)That clearly contradicts the Biodiversity Heritage Library's annotation [Down, pre-B, ED], which seems to suggest Down as the location. On the contrary, the asterisk and the introductory statements by Francis Darwin state that Francis added this book to the collection, which has since been called the Darwin Library, and that it was not from Down house.
Maybe it came down to Francis Darwin from Erasmus Darwin (either one). Maybe Francis stored it with some other books of his in Down for a while, before they went to Cambridge. Maybe the collator of the BHL's list made some mistake. Whatever the explanation of the screwed-up information at the BHL, it can surely not be taken as proof that Charles Darwin owned Well's Two Essays long before he even went on the Beagle voyage.