A RARE first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is to be auctioned from the estate of one of Scotland’s best-loved authors.
The book, valued between £15,000 and £25,000, will be sold from Lady Mary Stewart’s library on Wednesday at Lyon & Turnbull’s Edinburgh auction rooms.
As Lady Stewart explained in a letter to a London bookseller, her great grandfather sailed on board the Beagle, leading her to add one of the most sought-after works of natural history to her library.
As a well-known author of romantic novels, Lady Stewart’s most famous novels included the Arthurian trilogy The Crystal Cave of 1970, The Hollow Hills from 1973 and The Last Enchantment, written in 1979.
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, and is a work of scientific literature which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology.
Simon Vickers, head of the rare books and manuscripts department at Lyon & Turnbull, said: “The book is probably the most important biological breakthrough in the 19th century.
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“This is the book in which Darwin prepared his theory.
“It has affected the study of biology and is a very important textbook. It is one of the most important scientific books written ever.
“We sold a copy about five years ago that made £12,000 but this one has been repaired and re-backed and is in good condition.”
Lady Mary Stewart was born on 17 September 1916, in Sunderland.
She graduated with a double first at Durham University in English and French, then gained a teaching diploma.
After teaching in schools for a couple of years, she was invited back to the university when all the young lecturers were joining the army during the Second World War, and lectured in English, French and Anglo Saxon.
It was in Durham that she met and married her husband, Frederick Stewart, a young Scot who lectured in geology. They married in 1945, only three months after they met at a VE Day dance.
Mr Vickers added: “Lady Mary Stewart not only had a passion for writing books, but also collecting them.
“Indeed, there is scarcely an area of human endeavour that has not been impacted by Darwin’s theory, the terms Darwinism and Darwinian now being integral parts of the modern lexicon.
“Lady Mary Stewart also developed an interest in the illustrated, deluxe edition works of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen.
“Each purchase was made in careful consultation with London booksellers, who would especially look out impressive copies of these coveted works, which reflect her interest in the myths and legends of the past.”
Cathy Marsden, a specialist in the rare books and manuscripts department at Lyon & Turnbull, said that the book would generate a lot of interest, especially from collectors.
She said: “The book is from Lady Mary Stewart’s estate and there are 450 lots in the auction.
“I think it will generate quite a lot of interest. It’s one of, if not the most important natural history books ever written, so it will be of great interest to collectors.
“The estimate is £15,000 to £25,000. It’s a very important book so that’s probably why it will fetch such a high price.
“There will be people bidding online, on the phone and in the room on Wednesday.”
The auction will take place at Lyon & Turnbull Auctioneers at 11am.