Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 301–318 | Cite as

Charles Darwin's debt to malthus and Edward Blyth

  • Joel S. Schwartz


It is not justifiable to accuse Darwin of conscious or unconscious plagiarism. This charge is contrary to the historical evidence and to the extensive information that we have about his character. When Darwin listed the writers on the origin of species by natural selection before himself, he did not mention Blyth, and this omission did not disturb the cordial relations between Darwin and Blyth. Blyth continued to supply Darwin with information which Darwin used in his later publications with due acknowledgment to Blyth. For example, in The Descent of Man, Darwin cited Blyth: “Mr. Blyth, as he informs me, saw Indian crows feeding two or three of their companions which were blind.”63 Blyth felt no resentment. If he did, he would have so informed Darwin. Blyth did not regard himself as in any sense a predecessor of Darwin and he certainly did not resent Darwin as a plagiarizer of himself. Moreover, Darwin went to a great deal of trouble to find his own predecessors and to give them proper credit.64

After Darwin had completed his work on natural selection, he wrote a letter to the Reverend Baden Powell in which he clearly showed recognition of the contribution of others to his own work:

No educated person, not even the most ignorant, could suppose I mean to arrogate to myself the origination of the doctrine that species had not been independently created. The only novelty in my work is the attempt to explain how species became modified, and to a certain extent how the theory of descent explains certain large classes of facts; and in these respects I received no assistance from my predecessors.65 *** DIRECT SUPPORT *** A8402011 00002


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1974

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel S. Schwartz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesStaten Island Community College of the City University of New YorkStaten IslandUSA

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