History red in tooth and claw, or the evolution of evolution. Before Professor emeritus John Bonner (Campus Notebook, April 24) was Darwin. Before Darwin, there were at least three others.  

“The theory of natural selection, or survival of the fittest, was suggested by William Charles Wells in 1813, and further elaborated by Patrick Matthew in 1831. But the pregnant suggestions of these writers remained practically unnoticed and forgotten, until the theory was independently devised and promulgated by Charles Robert Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace in 1858, and the effect of its publication was immediate and profound” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Handy Volume Issue, Vol. 10, page 34a. 1910).

In the “Historical Sketch” in the Sixth Edition of The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote that in a paper read in 1813 and printed in 1818, “Dr. W.C. Wells … distinctly recognizes the principle of natural selection … but he applies it only to the races of man, and to certain characters alone.” Further, Darwin wrote, Patrick Matthew in 1831 had given “precisely the same view on the origin of species” as that of Mr. Wallace and himself.

Earlier, the geologist James Hutton (1726-1797) wrote that natural selection explained the development of varieties – but not of species, which were ordained by God (see Paul N. Pearson, Nature, Vol. 425, page 665. 2003).

Being first did not fit Hutton, Wells, and Matthew to survive predation by establishment censors.