Darwin in Translation

John van Wyhe

The American Philosophical Society’s Valentine/Darwin Collection is one of the richest resources for the works of Charles Darwin in the Americas. Other important collections include the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, the History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries and the Stecher Collection at the Dittrick Medical History Center, Case Western Reserve University. In the United Kingdom there are of course the important collections at Cambridge University Library, Down House (English Heritage), The Natural History Museum (London) and the British Library. There are also several noteworthy private collections which I have had the privilege of examining. But the Valentine/Darwin Collection, because it is open to researchers, associated with a large and relevant library for the history of science as well as the largest collection of Darwin manuscripts outside of Europe, and is excellently catalogued in a freely searchable online database, is of central importance.

Valentine Darwin Bookplate

One of the most important aspects of Darwin’s influence is its global reach. If his influence were merely a national one there would be very little heard of Darwin anywhere else. Of course this is not the case. When Darwin died in April 1882 obituaries appeared all over the world and in many languages. The international reception of Darwin’s influences is consequently a flourishing area of scholarly research.1 Nor is it solely a historical matter. Just as Darwin’s ideas continue to be studied and debated, his works continue to be published and translated all over the world.

Darwin’s words first appeared in print in 1829 while he was a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge.2 More of Darwin’s writings appeared in books, essays, articles, letters to an editor, or other publication every following year of his life except 1833-4 (during the Beagle voyage) and 1854 (at the end of his barnacle studies). He was first translated, as far as is known, in 1839 in German in the periodical Neue Notizen aus dem Gebiete der Natur- und Heilkunde [New notices from the areas of nature and medicine]. The small item entitled ‘Über der Luftshifferei der Spinnen’ [On the aerial navigation of spiders] was an extract from Darwin’s Journal of researches (1839, pp. 187-188).3 The book itself was such a success that the great German naturalist-traveller Alexander von Humboldt recommended its translation into German in 1844. [Available in: [VAL 508.3 D25n.g 1844] The second edition of Darwin’s Journal was later translated into Danish, French, German, Italian, Russian and Swedish, in his lifetime; and at least a further twenty-five languages since.

As the Origin of species (1859) dramatically increased his fame, Darwin’s works were much more widely translated. The Origin of species was translated into eleven languages in Darwin’s lifetime and more than thirty-five to date making it the most widely translated science work in history. The Descent of man was translated into eight languages in Darwin’s time and perhaps twenty at the present. Only his taxonomy of barnacles and some of the shorter publications have never been translated. (Although a translation of barnacles is planned in Portuguese by Nuno Gomes to be published by PlanetaVivo.)

Darwin’s son Francis provided a valuable list of his father’s publications at the end of Life and letters (1887) [VAL B D25]. Modern bibliography of Darwin’s publications is due largely to the efforts of Richard Broke Freeman (1915-1986) whose numbered bibliographical handlist was first published in 1965 [VAL 012 D25F]. An enlarged second edition appeared in 1977 covering Darwin’s publications in English and translation between 1835 to the end of 1975. [VAL 012 D25F.2].The second edition re-numbered all of Darwin’s publications, such as F373 for the first edition of Origin of species. Freeman’s personal library of Darwin works is now housed in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

Freeman continued to collect additions and corrections, some of which were listed in a privately published pamphlet in 1986. When preparing for the expansion of Darwin Online at Cambridge in 2004 with funding by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (awarded to Jim Secord and Janet Browne), which was to include Freeman’s records, his widow, Dr Mary Whitear sold the copyright of the bibliography to the Charles Darwin Trust who in turn allowed Darwin Online to reproduce Freeman’s original book. As the founder and Director of Darwin Online (begun in 2002), the mantle of editorship of Freeman’s legacy fell to me. The project was also kindly provided with Freeman’s unpublished corrections and these combined with much further research by other scholars, the Darwin Correspondence Project, Kees Rookmaaker and myself have expanded, corrected and updated the bibliography in the ‘Freeman bibliographical database’. See the introduction to the database http://darwin-online.org.uk/Freeman_intro.html. Many new items have been added. The numbers of Freeman’s 2nd edition were retained, since they were so widely cited in the literature, but new ones are being created as necessary, sequentially from F1806 (the latest number is F2153 at the time of writing). We will focus particularly on nineteenth and early twentieth century editions of Darwin’s works and translations.

Freeman was aware of Darwin’s works translated into thirty-three languages in his 1977 edition. Since Freeman wrote the number of languages Darwin has been translated into has risen to forty-nine currently recorded in the Freeman bibliographical database. Darwin is thus the most widely translated scientist in history. Freeman did not normally give foreign titles, but listed bibliographical details for translations under the original English title used as a heading. We are gradually supplying these omitted titles in the Freeman bibliographical database. Corrections and additions are warmly welcomed.

As Freeman pointed out, translations and foreign reprintings should not be regarded as mere copies. Often they have material not available in English editions. Some of these are detailed below. These not only indicate changing views of Darwin and evolution but regional or national attitudes in different times and contexts. These differences are crucial to attempt to isolate, if possible, which social and cultural characteristics correlate, for example, with the acceptance or rejection of aspects of Darwin’s theories.

In the case of the co-discoverer of natural selection, the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), the best edited edition of his Malay Archipelago is the Dutch translation (1870-1) by the eminent scholar of the East Indies P. J. Veth. Veth’s detailed scholarly notes, amongst other things, corrected many errors in the text that were never appropriated into English editions. Many places and individuals mentioned by Wallace were also identified. (See also VAL 575 D25 Pam No.118) For a list of Darwin translations currently recorded see the Freeman bibliographical database and for recent translations the Index translationum.

Of course no one can read and appreciate all of these translations- hence it is important to have a collection open to scholars to collaborate. Freeman noted of translations in 1977 that “holdings in English and American libraries are thin”. But times have changed. The American Philosophical Society’s Valentine/Darwin Collection contains his works in translation in twenty-five languages, thus making it an important resource for the study of more than 150 years of worldwide Darwinism for scholars in North America.

The languages

The following section surveys each of the languages in which Darwin’s works are available in the Valentine/Darwin Collection. The language is followed by the number of works the catalogue indicates is available in that language. To search the American Philosophical Society’s online catalogue (here http://opac.amphilsoc.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-search.pl ) it can be limited to the Valentine collection by using the Call Number Prefix "VAL". One can limit the search to a particular language by using the language abbreviation codes here: http://www.loc.gov/marc/languages/language_code.html and entering them in the top keyword search box. It is also helpful to limit the search by adding the name Darwin to the author field (available under keyword).

Chinese (10)

Darwin was first translated into Chinese in 1902. I am aware (from personal communication) that a new translation of the Origin of species is in preparation. The Valentine/Darwin Collection contains ten works in Chinese. These include the Origin of species printings from 1963, 1972, 1995, 2004, (1998), 2009; Nora Barlow’s unexpurgated edition of the Autobiography from 1958, 1982; Journal of researches 1957, 1998 and Expression of the emotions 1958.

See Haiyan Yang, ‘Post-Darwin: China’ in M. Ruse ed., The Cambridge encyclopedia of Darwin and evolutionary thought (forthcoming 2013); R. B. Freeman. 1986. Darwin in Chinese. Archives of Natural History 13 (1): 19-24 and P. J. P. Whitehead. 1988. Darwin in Chinese: some additions. Archives of Natural History 15 (1): 61-62.

Danish (11)

The Valentine/Darwin Collection has thirteen works in Danish dating between 1876 and 1999. Darwin in Danish has recently received a full scholarly study under the leadership of Peter Kjaergaard. See Darwin in Denmark and The Danish Darwin Archive.

Dutch (21)

Darwin was first translated into Dutch when the Origin of species appeared in 1860. It is one of the few languages with a more or less complete works of Darwin available in a set published by E. and M. Cohen with introductions by naturalist and freethinker H. Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen.

Finnish (2)

Darwin was first translated into Finish in 1913. The Valentine/Darwin Collection contains two modern editions of Origin of species. [VAL 575.8 D25L.fin 1988]

French (90)

The reception of Darwin in France was notoriously more muted than Germany, Denmark and some other European nations. There are 125 French works in the Valentine/Darwin Collection. Darwin’s first translator of Origin of species in 1862 [VAL 575.8 D25o.f] was Clémence Royer whom Darwin described as “one of the cleverest and oddest women in Europe” although he thought it was unfortunate that she had not “known more of natural history”. Darwin was more satisfied with the third translation by Edmond Barbier in 1876 [VAL 575.8 D25o.fb 1876].

German (178)

One of the most important languages Darwin was translated into in his lifetime was German. It was in German translation that Darwin influenced the founder of genetics Gregor Mendel, and the pioneering evolutionists August Weismann and Ernst Haeckel. Although Darwin was not happy with the first translation by the German geologist and palaeontologist Heinrich Georg Bronn [VAL 575.8 D25e.gb 1860] who omitted passages he did not like, the following translator, the zoologist Julius Victor Carus, became in the words of Freeman, “the most faithful and punctual of all Darwin's translators”.

The Valentine/Darwin Collection contains almost 200 works in German, though not all of these are translations of Darwin’s works.

The Krause/Butler affair was one of the most notorious translation events. The German naturalist Ernst Krause wrote a biography of Darwin’s paternal grandfather Erasmus Darwin published in the periodical Kosmos in February 1879. [VAL B D251k.gw 1880] Darwin liked it so much that he asked Krause if it could be it translated into English. Darwin wrote his own lengthy biographical introduction in 1879. [VAL B D25e] Krause’s revised version, which referred indirectly to Samuel Butler 1879 (published in May), was published by Darwin in November. Butler became outraged and somewhat irrational at what he perceived as a veiled attack on his views in a work that appeared to have been written before his own. Unfortunately in an earlier draft of his introduction, Darwin had in fact referred to the fact that Krause’s work was revised. See ‘The Darwin-Butler Controversy.’ Appendix 2 in Autobiography, pp. 167-229. Correspondence Calendar: 12396.

Hebrew (1)

Darwin was first translated into Hebrew in 1930 with the Journal of researches. A Hebrew Origin of species is available in the Valentine/Darwin Collection in an edition from 1960, the first translation in that language. [VAL 575.8 D25o.hw 1960]

Hungarian (6)

Darwin was first translated into Hungarian in 1873-4 when Origin of species was translated by Dapsy László and published in Budapest. The six editions in the Valentine/Darwin Collection date from 1910. [VAL 575 D25e.hu 1910]

Italian (99)

Darwin was first translated into Italian, as far as is known, in 1843. (See F1661d) The first book translated, however, was the Origin of species translated by Gio. Canestrini and L. Salimbeni in 1864. [See VAL 575.8 D25i.zm and VAL 575.8 D25o.if 2001] A translation of the 1858 Linnean Society article with Alfred Russel Wallace, which first announced an outline of the theory of evolution by natural selection, appeared in Italian in 1960. [VAL 575.8 D25o.ib 1960] A letter by Darwin published in Italian in 1881 was not translated into English until 2009.4

Japanese (7)

Darwin was first translated into Japanese in 1881 with The descent of man. [F1099c] The Origin of species first appeared in 1896 (F718). The Valentine/Darwin Collection contains five editions from 1927 to the latest translation of 1997. [VAL 575.8 D25o.ija] The only other works are the Autobiography [VAL B D25a.jp] and a translation of the late 19th century American abbreviation of Journal of researches called What Mr. Darwin saw. [VAL 508.3 D25w.ja 1975]

Norwegian (3)

Darwin was first translated into Norwegian in 1888-1889 with the three volumes of Life and letters (1887). See ‘Introduction to the Norwegian translation of the Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1888-9) By Gry Vissing Jensen’. The following year, 1890, the Origin of species was published in Norwegian translation. [VAL 575.8 D25a.no] This was not recorded by Freeman. This appears to be the 1890 edition, though undated.5 See Darwin in Denmark and The Danish Darwin Archive.

Polish (3)

Darwin was first translated into Polish in 1873. The Valentine/Darwin Collection contains three volumes from 1875-1929: Part of the Descent of man published under the title ‘Sexual selection’ (Dobór plciowy) (1875) [VAL 575 D25d.pol and a 1929 edition: VAL 575 D25p.pl 1929] and the Autobiography (1891) [VAL B D25k.pol].

Portuguese (13)

Darwin was first translated into Portuguese, as far as was known to Freeman, in 1904. It was a translation of Darwin’s early article ‘Bar of sandstone off Pernambuco’ [Brazil]. See F268. Freeman believed Darwin’s first book translated into Portuguese was The descent of man in 1910. (F2033) The Origin of species appeared about the same time in 1910-12. (F1104) However the Valentine/Darwin Collection contains an edition of the Journal of researches published in 1871! [VAL 508.3 D25d.pr 1871] A new and very ambitious edition of the works of Darwin in Portuguese, edited by Nuno Gomes, is appearing with PlanetaVivo from 2009. (See F2062.7)

Romanian (7)

Darwin was translated into Romanian, with the Origin of species, in 1950. The seven works in the Valentine/Darwin Collection date between 1962-1967. This is typical of the Communist era interest in Darwin’s works, along with those of Karl Marx.

Russian (25)

Darwin was translated into Russian, as far as is known, in 1846 with a summary of his 1842 book on coral reefs, part of the three volume series The geology of the voyage of the Beagle. (See F320) The Origin of species first appeared in Russian in 1864. (See F748) Of particular interest is the fact that Darwin’s largest work, The variation of animals and plants under domestication (1868), actually appeared first in Russian. It is the only one of his works not to appear first in English. Darwin sent the translator, Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky, copies of corrected proofs as they were produced. These were published in Russian in parts from 1867 without waiting to complete the entire work. (See F925 and Correspondence vol. 16.)

Serbo-Croat (1)

Darwin was first translated into Serbo-Croatian, like so many other Communist block countries, from the late 1940s, namely the Journal of researches in 1949. [VAL 508.3 D25p.b 1949; F244] Further editions of this book followed but so far as is currently recorded no other works of Darwin have been translated into Serbo-Croatian. One wonders why the Origin of species has not appeared in this language.

Spanish (241)

Spanish is the largest language after English in the Valentine/Darwin Collection with titles ranging from 1877 to recent editions of 2009. Darwin was first translated into Spanish, as far as is known, in 1857 in an edition of the Admiralty manual edited by John Herschel unrecorded by Freeman. [See F2073] The Descent of man was first translated and published in Spanish in 1876. The Origin of species appeared in 1877 and included two letters of Darwin that are not published elsewhere. There are two copies in the collection. [See VAL 575.8 D25o.6sp2; VAL 575.8 D25o.6sp and F770]

The collection includes two 1880 editions of Descent of man that were unknown to Freeman. [VAL 575 D25o.sp 1880 and VAL 575 D25o.spa 2009]

Of perhaps the greatest value, even to scholars who do not speak Spanish, is the best illustrated edition of the Journal of researches in any language, the Spanish translation published first in 1942 in Buenos Aires with 121 plates which include many historical images of the places and settings mentioned by Darwin from local archives. A copy is in the Valentine/Darwin Collection. [508.3 D25V.SP 1942; F255] Almost none of these wonderful images have appeared in the many later works published on the voyage of the Beagle.

Swedish (14)

Darwin was first translated into Swedish, as far as Freeman was aware, in 1871 when the Origin of species was published in Stockholm. [VAL 575.8 D25o.st 1871] However the Valentine/Darwin Collection contains an earlier edition from 1870. [VAL 575.8 D25a.swS] In the following years the Descent of man [VAL 575 D25m.sw] and Journal of researches [VAL 508.3 D25n.sw 1872; F259] were published. There is also A. R. Wallace’s important work Darwinism (1890) in Swedish. [VAL 575 W15d.sw]

Turkish (1)

Darwin was first translated into Turkish in 1968 with the Descent of man. The Origin of species was translated two years later. The Valentine/Darwin Collection contains a 1996 edition of The Origin of species. [VAL 575.8 D25t.tur]

Yiddish (2)

Darwin was first translated into Yiddish with a three volume New York edition of Descent of man in 1921. [VAL 575 D25u.m28] The second work in Yiddish in the collection is an edition of Descent of man dated by Freeman as 1926 with a biographical sketch by Dr. Y. A. Morrison and an essay on Darwinism by J. A. Thomson. [VAL 575 D25u.m28 1923; F1139]


I am grateful to the American Philosophical Society for inviting me to contribute an essay on the Valentine/Darwin Collection “to encourage and attract scholarly use of the collection”, in particular Martin Levitt, Charles Greifenstein, Marian Christ and Sandra Duffy. I am particularly grateful for their understanding in my production of this essay. Many thanks to Estelle Markel-Joyet, NEH Project Cataloger for the Darwin/Valentine Collection, for assistance with the online catalogue and identifying many of the foreign translations and other assistance. Thanks to Kees Rookmaaker for help checking against the Freeman Bibliographical Database for unrecorded items.

1See for example: Glick, Thomas F. ed., The Comparative Reception of Darwinism. Chicago, 1988.
Glick, Thomas F. ed., The reception of Darwinism in the Iberian world: Spain, Spanish America and Brazil. Springer, 2001.
Engels, Eve-Marie and Thomas F. Glick eds., The reception of Charles Darwin in Europe. London: Continuum, 2008.

2See van Wyhe ed. Charles Darwin’s shorter publications. 2009 and van Wyhe, Darwin in Cambridge. 2009.

3Darwin, C. R. 1839. Über der Luftshifferei der Spinnen. Neue Notizen aus dem Gebiete der Natur- und Heilkunde 11: cols 23-24.

41881. [Letter to G. E. Mengozzi on design in nature]. Roma Etrusca No. 2 (15 July): 10. F1970. See van Wyhe ed., Shorter publications.

5I am grateful to Peter Kjaergaard for calling this edition to my attention and confirming that this is the work in the catalogue.