8to. (7 ¾ x 5 ½ inches) Half titles. 5 full page woodcuts, 18 half-page woodcuts, 15 quarter page woodcuts (lightly toned throughout, loose front end paper). Original publisher’s green cloth gilt (lightly rubbed, indentations, extremities bumped).
Provenance: Manuscript ownership inscription of George Basalla to front free endpaper. Freeman's sale 1540 lot 177.
Second edition. Considered by Darwin himself to be proof of his credibility after the controversial Origin of the Species was published. He wrote in a letter to his publisher, John Murray, that, “'I think this little volume will do good to the "Origin", as it will show that I have worked hard at details'. Later in his Autobiography he writes, “On May 15th, 1862, my little book on the Fertilisation of Orchids, which cost me ten months' work, was published: most of the facts had been slowly accumulated during several previous years. During the summer of 1839, and, I believe, during the previous summer, I was led to attend to the cross-fertilisation of flowers by the aid of insects, from having come to the conclusion in my speculations on the origin of species, that crossing played an important part in keeping specific forms constant. I attended to the subject more or less during every subsequent summer; and my interest in it was greatly enhanced by having procured and read in November 1841, through the advice of Robert Brown, a copy of C. K. Sprengel's wonderful book, Das entdeckte Geheimnis der Natur. For some years before 1862 I had specially attended to the fertilisation of our British orchids; and it seemed to me the best plan to prepare as complete a treatise on this group of plants as well as I could, rather than to utilise the great mass of matter which I had slowly collected with respect to other plants. My resolve proved a wise one; for since the appearance of my book, a surprising number of papers and separate works on the fertilisation of all kinds of flowers have appeared; and these are far better done than I could possibly have effected. The merits of poor old Sprengel, so long overlooked, are now fully recognised many years after his death” (Darwin 1876).