This article includes the context of his life, work and outside influences at the time.
Natural history at that time was dominated by clerical naturalists who saw their science as revealing God's plan, and whose income came from the Established Church of England. Darwin found three close allies. The eminent geologist Charles Lyell, whose books had influenced the young Darwin during the Voyage of the Beagle, befriended Darwin who he saw as a supporter of his ideas of gradual geological processes with continuing divine Creation of species. By the 1840s Darwin became friends with the young botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker who had followed his father into the science, and after going on a survey voyage used his contacts to eventually find a position. In the 1850s Darwin met Thomas Huxley, an ambitious naturalist who had returned from a long survey trip but lacked the family wealth or contacts to find a career and who joined the progressive group around Herbert Spencer looking to make science a profession, freed from the clerics.
This was also a time of intense conflict over religious morality in England, where evangelicalism led to increasing professionalism of clerics who had previously been expected to act as country gentlemen with wide interests, but now were seriously focussed on expanded religious duties. A new orthodoxy proclaimed the virtues of truth but also inculcated beliefs that the Bible should be read literally and that religious doubt was in itself sinful so should not be discussed. Science was also becoming professional and a series of discoveries cast doubt on literal interpretations of the Bible and the honesty of those denying the findings. A series of crises erupted with fierce debate and criticism over issues such as George Combe's The Constitution of Man and the anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation which converted vast popular audiences to the belief that natural laws controlled the development of nature and society. German higher criticism questioned the Bible as a historical document in contrast to the evangelical creed that every word was divinely inspired. Dissident clergymen grew concerned about the morality of cruel dogmas, and Benjamin Jowett's 1855 commentary on St. Paul brought a storm of controversy.
By September 1854 Darwin's other books reached a stage where he was able to turn his attention fully to Species, and from this point he was working to publish his theory. On 18 June 1858 he received a parcel from Wallace enclosing about twenty pages describing what seemed the same theory as Darwin had been working on. Darwin put matters in the hands of his friends Lyell and Hooker, who agreed on a joint presentation to the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858. Their paper were entitled respectively On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection.
By 9 December when Darwin left Ilkley to come home, he had been told that Murray was organising a second run of 3,000 copies. Hooker had been "converted", Lyell was "absolutely gloating" and Huxley wrote "with such tremendous praise", advising that he was sharpening his "beak and claws" to disembowel "the curs who will bark and yelp".
Darwin made his views clearer to others, telling Lyell that if each step in evolution was providentially planned, the whole procedure would be a miracle and natural selection superfluous. To Asa Gray he suggested "designed laws" with "the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance", and asked, if everything were "ordained", why was there so much misery? "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.", expressing his particular revulsion at the parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in the larvae and pupae of other insects so that their parasitoid young have a ready source of food.
On Boxing Day (26 December) The Times carried an anonymous review. The staff reviewer, "as innocent of any knowledge of science as a babe", gave the task to Huxley, leading Darwin to ask his friend how "did you influence Jupiter Olympus and make him give three and a half columns to pure science? The old fogies will think the world will come to an end." Darwin treasured the piece more than "a dozen reviews in common periodicals", but noted "Upon my life I am sorry for Owen... he will be so d--d savage, for credit given to any other man, I strongly suspect, is in his eyes so much credit robbed from him. Science is so narrow a field, it is clear there ought to be only one cock of the walk!".
Hooker also wrote a favourable review, which appeared at the end of December in the Gardener's Chronicle and treated the theory as an extension of horticultural lore.
The most enthusiastic response came from atheists, with Hewett Watson hailing Darwin as the "greatest revolutionist in natural history of this century". The 68 year old Robert Edmund Grant, who had shown him the study of invertebrates when Darwin was a student at the University of Edinburgh and who was still teaching Lamarckian evolution weekly at University College London, brought out a small book on classification dedicated to Darwin: "With one fell-sweep of the wand of truth, you have now scattered to the winds the pestilential vapours accumulated by 'species-mongers'."
As 1860 began, more opinions were voiced. Karl Marx saw it as a "bitter satire" that showed "a basis in natural science for class struggle in history", in which "Darwin recognizes among beasts and plants his English society".
Writing to her fellow Malthusian (and atheist) George Holyoake she enthused "What a book it is! – overthrowing (if true) revealed Religion on the one hand, & Natural (as far as Final Causes & Design are concerned) on the other. The range & mass of knowledge take away one's breath." To Fanny Wedgwood she wrote "I rather regret that C.D. went out of his way two or three times to speak of "The Creator" in the popular sense of the First Cause.... His subject is the "Origin of Species" & not the origin of Organisation; & it seems a needless mischief to have opened the latter speculation at all – There now! I have delivered my mind."
The Anglican establishment was opposed to Darwin. Apparently Palmerston, who became Prime Minister in June 1859, mooted Darwin's name to Queen Victoria as a candidate for the Honours List with the prospect of a knighthood. While Prince Albert supported the idea, after the publication of the Origin her ecclesiastical advisers including the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce were opposed, and the request was turned down. Some Anglicans were more in favour, and Huxley reported of Kingsley that "He is an excellent Darwinian to begin with, and told me a capital story of his reply to Lady Aylesbury who expressed astonishment at his favouring such a heresy – "What can be more delightful to me Lady Aylesbury, than to know that your Ladyship & myself sprang from the same toad stool." Whereby the frivolous old woman shut up, in doubt whether she was being chaffed or adored for her remark."
The position of Richard Owen was unknown: when emphasising to a Parliamentary committee the need for a new Natural History museum, he pointed out that "The whole intellectual world this year has been excited by a book on the origin of species; and what is the consequence? Visitors come to the British Museum, and they say, "Let us see all these varieties of pigeons: where is the tumbler, where is the pouter?" and I am obliged with shame to say, I can show you none of them".... As to showing you the varieties of those species, or of any of those phenomena that would aid one in getting at that mystery of mysteries, the origin of species, our space does not permit; but surely there ought to be a space somewhere, and, if not in the British Museum, where is it to be obtained?"
However, Huxley's attacks were making their mark. When Owen's review of the Origin appeared in the April Edinburgh Review he showed his anger at what he saw as Darwin's caricature of the creationist position and his ignoring Owen's axiom of the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things. To him, new species appeared at birth, not through natural selection. As well as attacking Darwin's "disciples" Hooker and Huxley for their "short sighted adherence", he thought that the book symbolised the sort of "abuse of science... to which a neighbouring nation, some seventy years since, owed its temporary degradation." After reading this, Darwin spent a sleepless night and called it "Spiteful, extremely malignant, clever, and... damaging". Later he got together with Huxley and Hooker "so we three enjoyed it together", and commented to Henslow that "The Londoners say he is mad with envy because my book is so talked about. It is painful to be hated in the intense degree with which Owen hates me."
Huxley's April review in the Westminster Review included the first mention of the term "Darwinism" and called the Origin a "Whitworth gun in the armoury of Liberalism" projecting "the dominance of Science" over "regions of thought into which she has, as yet, barely penetrated."
Darwin had already written thanking Asa Gray for his support; "For myself, also, I rejoice profoundly; for, thinking of so many cases of men pursuing an illusion for years, often and often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy. Now I look at it as morally impossible that investigators of truth, like you and Hooker, can be wholly wrong, and therefore I rest in peace." He now discussed the arguments: "About the weak points I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder." "I remember well the time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, and now small trifling particulars of structure often make me feel uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!"
Interest was widespread. Three publishers tried to exploit the absence of international copyright to print Origin in the USA, but Asa Gray managed to make two withdraw and agreed a 5 per cent royalty with Appleton's of New York, who published a print run of 2,500 copies in May. A well pleased Darwin offered Gray a share of the proceeds, writing "I never dreamed of my book being so successful... [Once] I should have laughed at the idea of sending the sheets to America".
The most scientific of the seven was the Reverend Baden Powell, who held the Savilian Chair of Geometry at the University of Oxford. Referring to "Mr Darwin's masterly volume" and restating his argument that God is a lawgiver, miracles break the lawful edicts issued at Creation, therefore belief in miracles is atheistic, he wrote that the book "must soon bring about an entire revolution in opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature." He drew attacks, with Sedgwick accusing him of "greedily" adopting nonsense and Tory reviews saying he was joining "the infidel party". He would have been on the platform at the British Association debate, facing the bishop, but died of a heart attack on 11 June.
From Hooker's account, Draper "droned on for an hour", then for half an hour "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce replied with the eloquence that had earned him his nickname. This time the climate of opinion had changed and the ensuing debate was more evenly matched, with Hooker being particularly successful in defence of Darwin's ideas. In response to what Huxley took as a jibe from Wilberforce as to whether it was on Huxley's grandfather's or grandmother's side that he was descended from an ape, Huxley made a reply which he later recalled as being that "[if asked] would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape". No verbatim record was taken: eyewitness accounts exist, and vary somewhat.
Robert FitzRoy, who had been the captain of HMS Beagle during Darwin's voyage, was there to present a paper on storms. During the debate FitzRoy, seen by Hooker as "a grey haired Roman nosed elderly gentleman", stood in the centre of the audience and "lifting an immense Bible first with both and afterwards with one hand over his head, solemnly implored the audience to believe God rather than man". As he admitted that the Origin of Species had given him "acutest pain" the crowd shouted him down.
Hooker's "blood boiled, I felt myself a dastard; now I saw my advantage–I swore to myself I would smite that Amalkite Sam hip and thigh", (he was invited up to the platform and) "there and then I smacked him amid rounds of applause...proceeded... to demonstrate that he could never have read your book... wound up with a very few observations on the old and new hypotheses... Sam was shut up... and the meeting was dissolved forthwith leaving you [Darwin] master of the field after 4 hours battle."
Both sides came away claiming victory, with Hooker and Huxley each sending Darwin rather contradictory triumphant accounts. Supporters of Darwinism seized on this meeting as a sign that the idea of evolution could not be suppressed by authority, and would be defended vigorously by its advocates. Liberal clerics were also satisfied that literal belief in all aspects of the Bible was now questioned by science; they were sympathetic to some of the ideas in Essays and Reviews.
Wilberforce also attacked Essays and Reviews in the Quarterly Review, and in a letter to The Times, signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and 25 bishops, which threatened the theologians with the ecclesiastical courts. Darwin quoted a proverb: "A bench of bishops is the devil's flower garden", and joined others including Lyell, though not Hooker and Huxley, in signing a counter-letter supporting Essays and Reviews for trying to "establish religious teachings on a firmer and broader foundation". Despite this alignment of pro-evolution scientists and Unitarians with liberal churchmen, two of the authors were indicted for heresy and lost their jobs by 1862.
Over the winter he organised a third edition of the Origin, adding an introductory historical sketch. Asa Gray had published three supportive articles in the Atlantic Monthly. Darwin persuaded Gray to publish them as a pamphlet, and was delighted when Gray came up with the title of Natural Selection Not Inconsistent with Natural Theology. Darwin paid half the cost, imported 250 copies into Britain and as well as advertising it in periodicals and sending 100 copies out to scientists, reviewers, and theologians (including Wilberforce), he included in the Origin a recommendation for it, available to be purchased for 1s. 6d. from Trübner's in Paternoster Row.
The Huxleys became close family friends, frequently visiting Down House. When their 3 year old son died of scarlet fever they were badly affected. Henrietta Huxley brought their three infants to Down in March 1861 where Emma helped to console her, while Huxley continued with his working-men's lectures at the Royal School of Mines, writing that "My working men stick with me wonderfully, the house fuller than ever, By next Friday evening they will all be convinced that they are monkeys."
Their campaign ran over two years and was devastatingly successful, with each "slaying" being followed by a recruiting drive for the Darwinian cause. The spite lingered. When Huxley joined the Zoological Society Council in 1861, Owen left, and in the following year Huxley moved to stop Owen from being elected to the Royal Society Council as "no body of gentlemen" should admit a member "guilty of wilful & deliberate falsehood."
Lyell was troubled both by Huxley's belligerence and by the question of ape ancestry, but got little sympathy from Darwin who teased him that "Our ancestor was an animal which breathed water, had a swim bladder, a great swimming tail, an imperfect skull, and undoubtedly was a hermaphrodite! Here is a pleasant genealogy for mankind... mankind will progress to such a pitch [that 19th century gentlemen will be looked back on] as mere barbarians". Lyell began work on a book examining human origins.
See also Thomas Henry Huxley#Man and ape for more information about the debate on the brains of humans and apes. See also Darwin from Orchids to Variation for Darwin's life, work and influences in the following period.