In June 1858 a crisis intervened which caused an acceleration of Charles Darwin’s plans to publish his theory of evolution. Darwin opened a letter postmarked as coming from the Malay Archipelago. Inside he found an essay about the origin of species by a collector he knew slightly: Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace had written an article on natural selection, ready for publication, while Darwin, lost in his book, was still silent.
Darwin’s friends and mentors, geologist Charles Lyell and botanist Joseph Hooker, had no intention of letting the problem fester and they swiftly conjured a solution that would settle the matter. What was needed was not a publication but a session at a learned society, where Darwin and Wallace could both be heard.
The material was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858 and the first formal exposition of the theory of evolution by natural selection appeared on 20 August 1858 when Darwin and Russel Wallace’s theories were published in the Journal of Proceedings of the Linnean Society.
“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection.”Charles Darwin