DARWIN, Charles (1809-1882). Insectivorous Plants. London: John Murray, 1875.

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8vo., (7 ¾ x 5 ½ inches). Half-title, publisher’s advertisement to verso of title page. 30 in-text illustrations (some spotting throughout). Original publisher’s green cloth, gilt-lettered spine (a bit rubbed, extremities worn with some loss).


Provenance: With ownership inscription of George Basalla to front free endpaper. Freeman’s sale 1540, April 4, 2016, Lot 177.

First edition, “third thousand.” FIRST EDITION of Darwin’s study of insectivorous plants, with illustrations throughout. Figures 7 and 8 were engraved from drawings by Darwin. “Darwin began his work with insectivorous plants in the mid-1860s, though his findings would not be published until 1875. In his autobiography Darwin reflected on the delay that allowed him to refine his work: ‘The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were that of another person.’ Several decades after he began this work, Darwin was clearly able to see that a plant ‘should secrete’ a ‘fluid... closely analogous to the digestive fluid of an animal, was certainly a remarkable discovery.’ The resulting volume, ‘Insectivorous Plants’ (1875) [as here], was one in a series of works in which Darwin explored the reaches of natural selection. This work allowed Darwin to focus on the features of insectivorous plants that allowed them to survive in difficult environments. Darwin used several experiments to stimulate the plants’ trap mechanisms, including feeding them meat, blowing on them, and stimulating them with hair. Through his work he concluded that the plants would only react to the movements of ‘prey’; Darwin believed that this was a wonderful adaptation for the plants as it enabled them to ignore unhelpful stimuli.

“The monograph is an excellent example of Darwin’s interest in scientific collaboration with other naturalists and experts; in particular he worked with Professor Edward Frankland of the Royal College of Chemistry in designing and executing some of the key experiments. Darwin's sons George and Francis helped him with the illustrations for the volume, each working up illustrations for the key species Darwin was most interested in: Drosera, Dionaea, Aldrovanda, and Utricularia. He also corresponded with the New Jersey naturalist, Mary Treat, about carnivorous plants. Darwin and Treat exchanged fifteen letters from 1871-1876 about the behavior and mechanisms of these plants. Darwin corresponded more with Treat than with any other female naturalist” (Darwin Correspondence Project, University of Cambridge online). Freeman 1219.