Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace are usually credited with independently developing the idea that natural selection could be the important process by which new species arise, although history has apportioned most of the fame to Darwin alone.
In the first edition of his most famous book Darwin (1859) cited no sources, and credited no-one except Thomas Malthus as a source of ideas. He was criticized for this, and from the third edition onwards he provided a historical essay mentioning a few more names.
The basic issue is that the idea of natural selection had been "in the air" for more than half a century, but only with respect to within-species variation. It was Darwin and Wallace who took the leap to consider between-species variation, on the basis that there is no historical boundary defining species — all individuals trace their ancestry back through a whole series of ancestors, including those who existed before the origin of their current species. That is, phylogenies trace back to the origin of life not just to the origin of each species.
So, who were the people who published, however briefly, a comment noting the idea of within-species natural selection? Joachim Dagg, of the Natural History Apostils blog, has recently been writing a series of posts discussing many of those publications that contain a clear description of selection. Here I have provided a convenient overview, in time order, with links to Joachim's blog for those of you who want more information.
- (1786, republished in 1817) A Dissertation on the Poor Laws, by a Well-wisher to Mankind. London: Ridgways.
Link 1 - Link 2
- (1794) Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of the Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy. Volume 2. Edinburgh: Strahan & Cadell. [section 13, chapter 3]
William Charles Wells
- (1813) An Account of a White Female, Part of Whose Skin Resembles that of a Negro. [talk]
- (1818) Two Essays: One Upon Single Vision with Two Eyes; the other on Dew. [plus] An Account of a Female of the White Race of Mankind, Part of Whose Skin Resembles that of a Negro. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable.
Link 1 - Link 2
- (1814) A Treatise on the Supposed Hereditary Properties of Diseases. London: J. Callow.
Link 1 - Link 2 - Link 3
- (1831) On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; with Critical Notes on Authors who have Recently Treated the Subject of Planting. Edinburgh: Adam Black.
Link 1 - Link 2 - Link 3 - Link 4 - Link 5
You can learn more about him at The Patrick Matthew Project.
John C. Loudon
- (1832) [Book review of] Matthew, Patrick: On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; with Critical Notes on Authors who have recently treated the Subject of Planting. The Gardener's Magazine 8: 702-703.
Link 1 - Link 2
- (1835) An attempt to classify the "varieties" of animals, with observations on the marked seasonal and other changes which naturally take place in various British species, and which do not constitute varieties. The Magazine of Natural History 8: 40-53.*
- (1836) Observations on the various seasonal and other external changes which regularly take place in birds, more particularly in those which occur in Britain; with remarks on their great importance in indicating the true affinities of species; and upon the natural system of arrangement. The Magazine of Natural History 9: 393-409.*
- (1837) On the psychological distinctions between man and all other animals; and the consequent diversity of human influence over the inferior ranks of creation, from any mutual or reciprocal influence exercised among the latter. The Magazine of Natural History, new series, 1: 1-9.*
- (1852) A theory of population, deduced from the general law of animal fertility. Westminster Review 57: 468-501.
* Full title: The Magazine of Natural History and Journal of Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Geology, and Meteorology