Although Darwin was not the first to conceive directional selection as a mechanism of phenotypic change, it is his ideas that were received, and that have shaped population biology to this day. A significant change in his theoretical orientation occurred in the mid-1850s. About then he abandoned environmental selection in favor of competitive selection, and adopted relative adaptation with all its consequences as an alternative. These ideas changed his thinking fundamentally and shaped his argument throughout the writing of his great book. It is still these ideas that predominate today.
Here I examine Darwin's ideas in relation to his principle of divergence, sexual selection, and the nature and origin of species. Finally I suggest that had he not misunderstood the function of sexual communication he might well have understood the nature of species and provided a more penetrating resolution to Herschell's “mystery of mysteries,” with which he opened his book.