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avoidable as long as the history of the world was thought to be of short duration ; and now that we have acquired some idea of the lapse of time, we are too apt to assume, without proof, that the geological record is so perfect that it would have afforded us plain evidence of the mutation of species, if they had undergone mutation.
But the chief cause of our natural unwillingness to admit that one species has given birth to another and distinct species, is that we are always slow in admitting any great change of which we do not see the intermediate steps. The difficulty is the same as that felt by so many geologists, when Lyell 'first insisted that long lines of inland cliffs had been formed, and great valleys excavated, by the slow action of the coast-waves. The mind cannot possibly grasp the full meaning of the term of a hundred million years; it cannot add up and perceive the full effects of many slight variations, accumulated during an almost infinite number of generations.
Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume under the form of an abstract, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the “plan of creation,"
unity of design,” &c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact. Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject my theory. A few naturalists, endowed with much flexibility of mind, and who have already begun to doubt on the immutability of species, may be influenced by this volume; but I look with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality. Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction ; for only thus can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed.
Several eminent naturalists have of late published their belief that a multitude of reputed species in each genus are not real species ; but that other species are real, that is, have been independently created. This seems to me a strange conclusion to arrive at. They
admit that a multitude of forms, which till lately they themselves thought were special creations, and which are still thus looked at by the majority of naturalists, and which consequently have every external characteristic feature of true species,—they admit that these have been produced by variation, but they refuse to extend the same view to other and very slightly different forms. Nevertheless they do not pretend that they can define, or even conjecture, which are the created forms of life, and which are those produced by secondary laws. They admit variation as a vera causa in one case, they arbitrarily reject it in another, without assigning any distinction in the two cases. The day will come when this will be given as a curious illustration of the blindness of preconceived opinion. These authors seem more startled at a miraculous act of creation than at an ordinary birth. But do they really believe that at innumerable periods in the earth's history certain elemental atoms have been commanded suddenly to flash into living tissues ? Do they believe that at each supposed act of creation one individual or many were produced ? Were all the infinitely numerous kinds of animals and plants created as eggs or seed, or as full grown ? and in the case of mammals, were they created bearing the false marks of nourishment from the mother's womb ? Undoubtedly these same questions cannot be answered by those who, under the present state of science, believe in the creation of a few aboriginal forms, or of some one form of life. It has been asserted by sev al authors that it as easy to believe in the creation of a hundred million beings as of one ; but Maupertuis' philosophical axiom,“ of least action leads the mind more willingly to admit the smaller number; and certainly we ought not to believe that innumerable beings within each great class have been created with plain, but deceptive, marks of descent from a single parent.
It may be asked how far I extend the doctrine of the modification of species. The
The question is difficult to answer, because the more distinct the forms are which we may consider, by so much the arguments fall away in force. But some arguments of the greatest weight extend very far. All the members of whole classes can be connected together by chains of affinities, and all can be classified on the same principle, in groups subordinate to groups. Fossil remains sometimes tend to
fill up very wide intervals between existing orders. Organs in a rudimentary condition plainly show that an early progenitor had the organ in a fully developed state; and this in some instances necessarily implies an enormous amount of modification in the descendants. Throughout whole classes various structures are formed on the same pattern, and at an embryonic age the species closely resemble each other. Therefore I cannot doubt that the theory of descent with modification races all the members of the same class. I believe that animals have descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number.
Analogy would lead me one step farther, namely, to the belief that, all animals and plants have descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide. Nevertheless all living things have much in common,-in their chemical composition, their cellular structure, their laws of growth, and their liability to injurious influences. We see this even in so trifling a circumstance as that the same poison often similarly affects plants and animals; or that the poison secreted by the gall-fly produces monstrous growths on the wild rose or oak-tree. In all organic beings the union of a male and female elemental cell seems occasionally to be necessary for the production of a new being. In all, as far as is at present known, the germinal vesicle is the same. So that every individual organic being starts from a common origin. If we look even to the two main divisions -namely, to the animal and vegetable kingdoms-certain low forms are so far intermediate in character that naturalists have disputed to which kingdom they should be referred, and, as Professor Asa Gray has remarked, “the spores and other reproductive bodies of many of the lower algæ may claim to have first a characteristically animal, and then an unequivocally vegetable existence.” Therefore, on the principle of natural selection with divergence of character, it does not seem incredible that, from some such low and intermediate form, both animals and plants may have been developed ; and, if we admit this, we must admit that all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth may have descended from some one primordial form. But this inference is chiefly grounded on analogy, and it is immaterial whether or not it be accepted. The case is different with the members of each great class, as the Vertebrata, the Articulata, &c.;
for here, as has just been remarked, we have in the laws of homology and embryology, &c., distinct evidence that all have descended from a single parent.
When the views advanced by me in this volume, and by Mr. Wallace in the Linnean Journal, or when analogous views on the origin of species are generally admitted, we can dimly foresee that there will be a considerable revolution in natural history. Systematists will be able to pursue their labours as at present; but they will not be incessantly haunted by the shadowy doubt whether this or that form be in essence a species. This I feel sure, and I speak after experience, will be no slight relief. The endless disputes whether or not some fifty species of British brambles are true species will cease. Systematists will have only to decide (not that this will be easy) whether any form be sufficiently constant and distinct from other forms, to be capable of definition ; and if definable, whether the differences be sufficiently important to deserve a specific name. This latter point will become a far more essential consideration than it is at present ; for differences, however slight, between any two forms, if not blended by intermediate gradations, are looked at by most naturalists as sufficient to raise both forms to the rank of species. Hereafter we shall be compelled to acknowledge that the only distinction between species and well-marked varieties is, that the iatter are known, or believed, to be connected at the present day by intermediate gradations, whereas species were formerly thus connected. Hence, without rejecting the consideration of the present existence of intermediate gradations between any two forms, we shall be led to weigh more carefully and to value higher the actual amount of difference between them. It is quite possible that forms now generally acknowledged to be merely varieties may hereafter be thought worthy of specific names, as with the primrose and cowslip ; and in this case scientific and common language will come into accordance. In short, we shall have to treat species in the same manner as those naturalists treat genera, who admit that genera are merely artificial combinations made for convenience. This may not be a cheering prospect ; but we shall at least be freed from the vain search for the undiscovered and undiscoverable essence of the term species.
The other and more general departments of natural history will rise greatly in interest. The terms used by
naturalists of affinity, relationship, community of type, paternity, morphology, adaptive characters, rudimentary and aborted organs, &c., will cease to be metaphorical, and will have a plain signification. When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as at something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which has had a history ; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, nearly in the same way as when we look at any great mechanical invention as the summing up of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen ; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting, I speak from experience, will the study of natural history become!
A grand and almost untrodden field of inquiry will be opened, on the causes and laws of variation, on correlation of growth, on the effects of use and disuse, on the direct action of external conditions, and so forth. The study of domestic productions will rise immensely in value. A new variety raised by man will be a more important and interesting subject for study than one more species added to the infinitude of already recorded species. Our classifications will come to be, às far as they can be so made, genealogies ; and will then truly give what may be called the plan of creation. The rules for classifying will no doubt become simpler when we have a definite object in view. We possess no pedigrees or armorial bearings ; and we have to discover and trace the many diverging lines of descent in our natural genealogies, by characters of any kind which have long been inherited. Rudimentary organs will speak infallibly with respect to the nature of long-lost structures. Species and groups of species, which are called aberrant, and which may fancifully be called living fossils, will aid us in forming a picture of the ancient forms of life. Embryology will reveal to us the structure, in some degree obscured, of the prototypes of each great class.
When we can feel assured that all the individuals of the same species, and all the closely allied species of most genera have within a not very remote period descended from one parent, and have 'migrated from some birthplace; and when we better know the many means of migration, then, by the light which geology now