The Descent of Man

The cover of the Danish translation of The Descent of Man

There was one question Darwin did not raise in On the Origin of Species, but it was a question which everyone else immediately considered crucial to the theory. The consequence of Darwin’s theory, which included all living things, was of course that Man too would have developed from an earlier life form. The question was – from what? Thomas Henry Huxley, who did not possess Darwin’s cautiousness, was not afraid to establish Man’s descent with the apes. In the public, the theory was soon referred to as the “ape-theory”. It was however a common misunderstanding that man descended directly from living apes. Huxley fought to make people understand that the theory was about shared descend. Darwin himself remained silent.

In 1871 Darwin had, however, collected an enormous amount of material, and after 12 years of debate the matter was no longer as controversial as it had been. Darwin was now ready to explain what consequences he felt his thoughts had for Man.

The book The Descent of Man was published in two volumes. The second edition arrived in the bookstores after just three weeks, and three months later it had sold 4500 copies. In addition to the extensive evidence on Man’s evolution from a simpler life form, Darwin demonstrated the strength and necessity of yet another evolutionary mechanism: sexual selection. Darwin had discovered that in the fight for survival sexual competition between individuals was crucial to the variation of the species. This was yet another common feature between Man and animals in a world, where all things living were related.

Peter C. Kjærgaard