The three-volume Principles of Geology (1830-33) was Charles Lyell's most important publication. In it, Lyell advocated uniformitarianism, the doctrine that laws operating in the universe now have always been there. Interpretation, especially of geological remains and associated processes, was thus possible using this 'the present is the key to the past' approach. Darwin was captivated by Lyell's theoretical scheme and utilized it during his explorations, especially in South America. Darwin eventually met Lyell on 29 October 1836; they became close friends.
Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology. 11th ed. London: John Murray, 1872. Leith Storage P DG L
It was the Rev. John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), Professor of botany and mineralogy, who informed Darwin that Captain FitzRoy was willing to give up part of his cabin to allow a gentleman to go with him on the Beagle, 'more as a companion than a mere collector.' Henslow vigorously supported his candidature to Darwin's father. Darwin was a devoted disciple and friend, and he claimed that Henslow 'influenced my career more than any other.'
John Stevens Henslow. Photograph, c.1860
In 1831, Patrick Matthew, a wealthy Scottish landowner and orchardist, first described the principle of Natural Selection in an appendix to his book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. Although a treatise on tree-growing, he expressed notions of 'indefinite divergence through time.' Darwin wrote to Alfred Russel Wallace in 1860: 'He [Matthew] gives most clearly but very briefly...our view of Natural Selection. It is a most complete case of anticipation.' This unprepossessing volume is an exceedingly rare book.
Patrick Matthew, On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. London: Longman, Rees, Orme Brown, et al., 1831. Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries
Perhaps because it was termed immoral and godless, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) was a best-seller, with some 24,000 copies sold by 1860. Published anonymously, it captivated the public’s interest in the notion of evolution. The author was Robert Chambers (1802-71), a successful publisher and scientist, who believed in the world’s great age, and rejected the idea that the entire surface of the planet had been under water. Chambers was also conscious of variation; he was born a full hexadactyl, that is, with six digits on both hands and feet. Darwin read his book as did Wallace.
[Robert Chambers], Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. 11th ed. London: John Churchill, 1860. Special Collections QH 363 CE328