« PreviousContinue »
males, the greater brilliancy and ornamentation of these,' and the occasional preference' by females in confinement for particular males. Is there here any sufficient foundation for such a superstructure? In the first place, in insects, e.g. butterflies, we have often many brilliant males crowding in pursuit of a single female. Yet, as Mr. Wallace justly observes, “Surely the male who finally obtains the female will be either the most vigorous, or the strongest-winged, or the most patient-the one who tires out or beats off the rest.' Similarly in birds strength and perseverance will, no doubt, generally reward the suitor possessing those qualities. Doubtless, also, this will generally be the most beautiful or most melodious; but this will simply be because extra beauty of plumage, or of song, will accompany supereminent vigour of constitution and fulness of vitality. What has been before said as to the fierce combats of cockbirds must be borne in mind.
But that internal spontaneous powers are sufficient to produce all the most varied or bizarre sexual characters which any birds exhibit, is actually demonstrated by the class of insects, especially caterpillars which from their sexless undeveloped state can have nothing to do with the kind of selection Mr. Darwin advocates. Yet amongst caterpillars we not only find some ornamented with spots, bands, stripes, and curious patterns, * perfectly definite in character and of the most brilliantly contrasted hues. We have also many ornamental appendages; beautiful fleshy tubercles or tentacles, hard spines, beautifully coloured hairs arranged in tufts, brushes, starry clusters, or long pencils, and horns on the head and tail, either single or double, pointed or clubbed. Mr. Wallace adds, "Now if all these beautiful and varied ornaments can be produced and rendered constant in each species by some unknown cause quite independent of sexual selection, why cannot the same cause produce the colours and many of the ornaments of perfect insects; '-we may also add, the colours and ornaments of all other animals, including birds?
There is, however, another reason which induces Mr. Darwin to accept sexual selection; and it is probably this which, in his mind, mainly gives importance to the facts mentioned as to the plumage and motions of birds. He says of 'display,', 'It is incredible that all this display should be purposeless' (vol. ii. p. 399); and again (vol. ii. p. 93), he declares that any one who denies that the female Argus pheasant can appreciate the refined beauty of the plumage of her mate, will be compelled to admit that the extraordinary attitudes assumed by the male during the act of courtship, by which the wonderful beauty of his plumage
is fully displayed, are purposeless; and this is a conclusion which I for one will never admit.' It seems then that it is this imaginary necessity of attributing purposelessness to acts, which determines Mr. Darwin to attribute that peculiar and special purpose to birds' actions which he does attribute to them. But surely this difficulty is a mere chimæra. Let it be granted that the female does not select; yet the display of the male may be useful in supplying the necessary degree of stimulation to her nervous system, and to that of the male. Pleasurable sensation, perhaps very keen in intensity, may thence result to both. There would be no difficulty in suggesting yet other purposes if we were to ascend into higher speculative regions. Mr. Darwin has given us in one place a very remarkable passage; he
says: * With respect to female birds feeling a preference for particular males, we must bear in mind that we can judge of choice being exerted, only by placing ourselves in imagination in the same position. If an inhabitant of another planet were to behold a number of young rustics at a fair, courting and quarrelling over a pretty girl, like birds at one of their places of assemblage, he would be able to infer that she had the power of choice only by observing the eagerness of the wooers to please her, and to display their finery:'-vol. ii. 122.
Now here it must be observed that, as is often the case, Mr. Darwin assumes the very point in dispute, unless he means by
power of choice' mere freedom of physical power. If he means an internal, mental faculty of choice, then the observer could attribute such power to the girl only if he had reason to attribute to the rustics an intellectual and moral nature similar in kind to that which he possessed himself. Such a similarity of nature Mr. Darwin, of course, does attribute to rational beings and to brutes; but those who do not agree with him in this would require other tests than the presence of ornaments, and the performance of antics and gestures unaccompanied by any evidence of the faculty of articulate speech.
Such, then, is the nature of the evidence on which sexual selection is supposed to rest. To us the action of sexual selection scarcely seems more than a possibility, the evidence rarely raising it to probability. It cannot be a sufficient cause' to account for the phenomena which it is intended to explain, nor can it even claim to be taken as a vera causa at all. Yet Mr. Darwin again and again speaks as if its reality and cogency were indisputable.
As to the alleged action of natural selection on our own species we may mention two points.
First, as to the absence of hair. This is a character which Mr. Darwin admits cannot be accounted for by 'natural selection,' because manifestly not beneficial; it is therefore attributed to sexual selection, incipient man being supposed to have chosen mates with less and less hairy bodies; and the possibility of such action is thought by Mr. Darwin to be supported by the fact that certain monkeys have parts of the body naked. Yet it is a fact that the higher apes have not this nakedness, or have it in a much smaller degree.
Secondly, as to the races of mankind, Mr. Darwin's theory, indeed, requires the alternation of constancy and caprice to account for the selection and the conservation of marked varieties. In order that each race may possess and preserve its own ideal standard of beauty we require the truth of the hypothesis that certain tastes may in the course of time become inherited;' and yet Mr. Darwin candidly admits (vol. ii. p. 353): 'I know of no evidence in favour of this belief.' On the other hand, he says (p. 370), As soon as tribes exposed to different conditions came to vary, each isolated tribe would form for itself a slightly different standard of beauty,' which would gradually and inevitably be increased to a greater and greater degree.' But why have not the numerous tribes of North American Indians diverged from each other more conspicuously, inhabiting, as they do, such different climates, and surrounded by such diverse conditions ?
Again, far from each race being bound in the trammels of its own features, all cultivated Europeans, whether Celts, Teutons, or Slaves, agree in admiring the Hellenic ideal as the highest type of human beauty.
We may now pass on to the peculiarities of man's bodily frame, and the value and signification of the resemblances presented by it to the various structures which are found to exist in lower members of the animal kingdom.
Mr. Darwin treats us to a very interesting account, not only of man's anatomy, but also of the habits, diseases, and parasites (internal and external) of man, together with the process of his development. He points out (vol. i. p. 11) not only the close similarity even of cerebral structure between man and apes,
but also how the same animals are liable to many of the same non-contagious diseases as we are ; thus Rengger, who carefully observed for a long time the Cebus Azare in its native land, found it liable to catarrh, with the usual symptoms, and which when often recurrent, led to consumption. These monkeys suffered also from apoplexy, inflammation of the bowels, and cataract in the eye. ones, when shedding their milk-teeth, often died from fever. Medicines produced the same effect on them as on us. Many
kinds of monkeys have a strong taste for tea, coffee, and spirituous liquors; they will also, as I have myself seen, smoke tobacco with pleasure. He also tells us of baboons which, after taking too much beer, 'on the following morning were very cross and dismal, held their aching heads with both hands, and wore a most pitiable expression: when beer or wine was offered them, they turned away with disgust, but relished the juice of lemons. He notices, besides, the process of development in man with the transitory resemblances it exbibits to the immature conditions of other animals, and he mentions certain muscular abnormalities.
Mr. Darwin also brings forward an observation of Mr. Woolner, the sculptor, as to a small projection of the helix or outermost fold of the human ear, which projection 'we may safely conclude’ to be “a vestige of formerly pointed ears—which occasionally reappears in man' (vol. i. p. 23). Very many other interesting facts are noted which it would be superfluous here to recapitulate. It is, however, in connexion with man's bodily structure and its resemblances that we have observed slight errors on the part of Mr. Darwin, which it may be as well to point out; though it should be borne in mind that he does not profess to be in any sense an anatomist. Thus, at vol. i. p. 28, he mistakes the supra-condyloid foramen of the humerus for the inter-condyloid perforation. Did the former condition frequently occur in man—as, through this mistake, he asserts—it would be remarkable indeed, as it is only found in the lower monkeys and not in the higher. A more singular mistake is that of the malar bone for the premaxilla (vol. i. p. 124).
To return to the bodily and other characters enumerated at such length by Mr. Darwin. They may, and doubtless they will, produce a considerable effect on readers who are not anatomists, but in fact the whole and sole result is to show that man is an animal. That he is such is denied by no one, but has been taught and accepted since the time of Aristotle. We remember on one occasion meeting at a dinner-table a clever medical man of materialistic views. He strongly impressed the minds of some laymen present by an elaborate statement of the mental phenomena following upon different injuries, or diseased conditions of different parts of the brain, until one of the number remarked as a climax, Yes; and when the brain is entirely removed the mental phenomena cease altogether '—the previous observations having only brought out vividly what no denied, viz., that during this life a certain integrity of bodily structure is requisite for the due exercise of the mental powers. Thus Mr. Darwin's remarks are merely an elaborate statement of
what all admit, namely, that man is an animal. They further imply, however, that he is no more than an animal, and that the mode of origin of his visible being must be the mode of his origin as a whole-a conclusion of which we should not question the legitimacy if we could accept Mr. Darwin's views of man's mental powers.
All that can be said to be established by our author is, that if the various kinds of lower aniinals have been evolved one from the other by a process of natural generation or evolution, then it becomes highly probable a priori that man's body has been similarly evolved; but this, in such a case, becomes equally probable from the admitted fact that he is an animal at all.
The evidence for such a process of evolution of man's body amounts, however, only to an a priori probability, and might be reconciled with another mode of origin if there were sufficient reason (of another kind) to justify a belief in such other mode of origin. Mr. Darwin says :— It is only our natural prejudice, and that arrogance which made our forefathers declare that they were descended from demi-gods, which leads us to demur to this conclusion' (vol. i. p. 32). But this is not the case ; for many demur to his conclusion because they believe that to accept his view would be to contradict other truths which to them are far more evident.
He also makes the startling assertion that to take any other view than his as to man's origin, “is to admit that our own structure and that of all the animals around us, is a mere snare laid to entrap our judgment' (vol. i. p. 32). Mr. Darwin is, we are quite sure, far enough from pretending that he has exhausted the possibilities of the case, and yet could anything but a conviction that the whole field had been explored exhaustively, justify such an assertion? If, without such a conviction, it were permissible so to dogmatize, every theorizer who had attained to a plausible explanation of a set of phenomena might equally make use of the assertion, and say, until a better explanation was found, that to doubt him would be to attribute duplicity to the Almighty.
In tracing man's origin Mr. Darwin is again betrayed into slight inaccuracies. Thus, in combating the position, advanced in this "Review,'* that the hands of apes bad been preformed (with a view to man) in a condition of perfection beyond their needs, he says:
On the contrary, I see no reason to doubt that a more perfectly constructed hand would have been an advantage to them, provided, and it is important to note this, that their hands had not thus been
* See Quarterly Review,' April, 1869, p. 392, Vol. 131.-No. 261.