Eat your heart out, Wilkins!

Since John Wilkins also made the pilgrimage to Down House this past July, we had to one-up him and find something he hadn’t seen—and here it is. There was a laboratory space behind the greenhouses that he hadn’t been able to enter, but we could, and inside was a beehive and…worm pots!


The placard simply says that Darwin studied worms for the last two years of his life, and includes a few paragraphs from his worm work. There they are, three dead-looking pots on a bare shelf. Writhe in envy, Wilkins! Now you’re going to have to book a flight to London to catch up with us.


  1. flame821 says

    So glad to see you back and in good form Professor, we missed you while you were gone.

    (although I did enjoy the Monty Python vids)


  2. says

    I’m going straight to hell for this… Window seat, please.

    “Well, it’s a cup with dirt in it. I call it ‘Cup of Dirt.’ You should move on now. Just go ahead and move on. Head on down the line there.”

  3. says

    I have an 1883 copy of “Earthworms”

    As do I. It’s one of the most affordable pieces of Darwiniana, although, surprisingly, a first edition of “Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872) is pretty cheap too. It’s really only the first editions of the Origin and Descent of Man that start getting into the thousands of dollars.

  4. thwaite says

    How many editions are there for “Earthworms”? (Probably only the one…) You may wish to compare your copies to the photocopied edition Google provides (and has an edition in plain-text.)

    “Descent” had only two editions, and the second was well worth publishing – corrected many errors. My wife owns one of the (many?) bootlegged American versions of the 2d ed – the U.S. was pretty casual about copyright then, sort of like China is now.

    “Origins” had six editions, of which the first was the most direct and clear – so its value is not just as “first edition”. Later editions attempted to respond to various critics’ complaints, which did not improve them. There are valorium texts which collate the many changes in each edition if anyone’s interested (And at least the first and sixth editions are online at, so one could just run ‘diff’… see en.wikipedia’s entry for ‘Origins’)

  5. thwaite says

    That should be “variorum texts”, of course, as here:
    M. Peckham, Editor, 1959, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: A Variorum Text (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

  6. says

    How many editions are there for “Earthworms”? (Probably only the one…)

    I had thought so (and my copy is identical to the 1883 Google scan), but Project Gutenberg says October, 1881. Interesting. In any case, seeing how Darwin died in 1882, if there really were two editions (1881 and 1883), the latter was probably only a reprinting. I’ll have to ask my rare bookseller.

    Yes, the Peckman variorum for the Origin is an interesting read. It’s out in a fairly inexpensive paperback edition these days.

  7. bernarda says

    “The largest collection of Darwin’s writings ever published will appear on this website on 19 October 2006. Never before has so much Darwin material, and so many rare and widely dispersed items, been brought together in one place and made available free of charge.

    This site currently offers more than 50,000 pages of searchable text and 40,000 images of both publications and transcribed manuscripts. Most of the materials are available both as fully formatted electronic text and colour images of the originals. Darwin’s works are also available as free machine-read audio mp3 files.

    The project, designed and directed by Dr John van Wyhe of Christ’s College, Cambridge, is hosted by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities at the University of Cambridge. The launch marks the end of the first year of the three-year’s funding awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.”

  8. says

    “Earthworms” was by far Darwin’s most successful book. I don’t have the publishing history, but it outsold “Origin” by a great margin. So it is probably an easy book to find a first edition of.

    And Mhsfdz… plsplsplt!

  9. says

    The Darwin Online site couldn’t have come online at a more opportune time. It seems that there really was an 1881 edition (there are scans there that include the title page).

  10. thwaite says

    bernada, thanks for posting I just heard about it the BBC and found your posting about six hours ahead of them!

    Not only does the site have editions 2-5 of the Origin, so one can roll one’s own variorum (though Peckham added value with annotations, if I recall), the site also has (or will soon?) Chuck’s notebooks such as the M & N volumes on ‘metaphysics, morals and expressions’. These are more accurately described by Gruber & Barrett’s 1974 compilation from them, DARWIN ON MAN – which this site also cites. Gruber seems to be becoming a rare book itself.

  11. Marc Buhler says

    On behalf of the good philosopher I would like to ask you, PZ, if you have learned anything about life as viewed through the majestic and often statistical lens of cricket. No, not “a” cricket but rather that glorious pastime of willow on leather, of bales up high and a stickey wicket down below, of sea gull counts and an underarm delivery that nearly started a trans-tasman war. I’m talking about calypso music playing on a summer afternoon in a west indian stadium during “tea” (a formal break of play in the afternoon session). Cricket, mate. That’s what I’m talking about – and doing so in place of the good Dr. Wilkins as it isn’t his cup of tea. Did you learn anything at all about the cricket or how life is thus viewed? Perhaps it’s time your university started a “CC” if for nothing else than a beer.

  12. says

    Two years? I thought Darwin studied those worms for 2 DECADES. Long enough to watch them bury a boulder in his backyard.

    Was that a legend?