Page images

terrestrial conditions, has been long ago reached. In cases, however, where this limit had not been so nearly reached as in the horse, we have been enabled to make a more marked advance and to produce a greater difference of form. The wild dog is an animal that hunts much in company, and trusts more to endurance than to speed. Man has produced the greyhound, which differs much more from the wolf or the dingo than the racer does from the wild Arabian. Domestic dogs, again, have varied more in size and in form than the whole family of Canidæ in a state of nature. No wild dog, fox, or wolf, is either so small as some of the smallest terriers and spaniels, or so large as the largest varieties of hound or Newfoundland dog. And, certainly, no two wild animals of the family differ so widely in form and proportions as the Chinese pug and the Italian greyhound, or the bulldog and the common greyhound. The known range of variation is, therefore, more than enough for the derivation of all the forms of Dogs, Wolves, and Foxes from a common ancestor.

Again, it is objected that the Pouter or the Fantail pigeon cannot be further developed in the same direction. Variation seems to have reached its limits in these birds. But so it has in nature. The Fantail has not only more tail feathers than any of the three hundred and forty existing species of pigeons, but more than any of the eight thousand known species of birds. There is, of course, some limit to the number of feathers of which a tail useful for flight can consist, and in the Fan-tail we have probably reached that limit. Many birds have the cesophagus or the skin of the neck more or less dilatable, but in no known bird is it so dilatable as in the Pouter pigeon. Here again the possible limit, compatible with a healthy existence, has probably been reached. In like manner the differences in the size and form of the beak in the various breeds of the domestic Pigeon, is greater than that between the extreme forms of beak in the various genera and sub-families of the whole Pigeon tribe. From these facts, and many others of the same nature, we may fairly infer, that if rigid selection were applied to any organ, we could in a comparatively short time produce a much greater amount of change than that which occurs between species and species in a state of nature, since the differences which we do produce are often comparable with those which exist between distinct genera or distinct families. The facts adduced by the writer of the article referred to, of the definite limits to variability in certain directions in domesticated animals, are, therefore, no objection whatever to the view, that all the niodifications which exist in nature have been produced by the accumulation, by natural selection, of small and useful variations, since those very modifications have equally definite and very similar limits.

Objection to the Argument from Classification. To another of this writer's objections that by Professor Thomson's calculations the sun can only have existed in a solid state 500,000,000 of years, and that therefore time would not suffice for the slow process of development of all living organisms — it is hardly necessary to reply, as it cannot be seriously contended, even if this calculation has claims to approximate accuracy, that the process of change and development may not have been sufficiently rapid to have occurred within that period. His objection to the Classification argument is, however, more plausible. The uncertainty of opinion among Naturalists as to which are species and which varieties, is one of Mr. Darwin's very strong arguments that these two names cannot belong to things quite distinct in nature and origin. The Reviewer says that this argument is of no weight, because the works of man present exactly the same phenomena ; and he instances patent inventions, and the excessive difficulty of determining whether they are new or old. I accept the analogy though it is a very imperfect one, and maintain that such as it is, it is all in favour of Mr. Darwin's views. For are not all inventions of the same kind directly affiliated to a common ancestor? Are not improved Steam Engines or Clocks the lineal descendants of some existing Steam Engine or Clock? Is there ever a new Creation in Art or Science any more than in Nature ? Did ever patentee absolutely originate any complete and entire invention, no portion of which was derived from anything that had been made or described before? It is therefore clear that the difficulty of distinguishing the various classes of inventions which

claim to be new, is of the same nature as the difficulty of distinguishing varieties and species, because neither are absolute new creations, but both are alike descendants of pre-existing forms, from which and from each other they differ by varying and often imperceptible degrees. It appears, then, that however plausible this writer's objections may seem, whenever he descends from generalities to any specific statement, his supposed difficulties turn out to be in reality strongly confirmatory of Mr. Darwin's view.

The Times,” on Natural Selection. The extraordinary misconception of the whole subject by popular writers and reviewers, is well shown by an article which appeared in the Times newspaper on “ The Reign of Law.” Alluding to the supposed economy of nature, in the adaptation of each species to its own place and its special use, the reviewer remarks : “ To this universal law of the greatest economy, the law of natural selection stands in direct antagonism as the law of greatest possible waste of time and of creative power. To conceive a duck with webbed feet and a spoon-shaped bill, living by suction, to pass naturally into a gull with webbed feet and a knife-like bill, living on flesh, in the longest possible time and in the most laborious possible way, we may conceive it to pass from the one to the other state by natural selection. The battle of life the ducks will have to fight will increase in peril continually as they cease (with the change of their bill) to be ducks, and attain a maximum of danger in the condition in which they begin to be gulls; and ages must elapse and whole generations must perish, and countless generations of the one species be created and sacrificed, to arrive at one single pair of the other.”

In this passage the theory of natural selection is so absurdly misrepresented that it would be amusing, did we not consider the misleading effect likely to be produced by this kind of teaching in so popular a journal. It is assumed that the duck and the gull are essential parts of nature, each well fitted for its place, and that if one had been produced from the other by a gradual metamorphosis, the intermediate forms would have been useless, unmeaning, and unfitted for any place, in the system of the universe. Now, this idea can only exist in a mind ignorant of the very foundation and essence of the theory of natural selection, which is, the preservation of useful variations only, or, as has been well expressed, in other words, the “ survival of the fittest.” Every intermediate form which could possibly have arisen during the transition from the duck to the gull, so far from having an unusually severe battle to fight for existence, or incurring any “ maximum of danger,” would necessarily have been as accurately adjusted to the rest of nature, and as well fitted to maintain and to enjoy its existence, as the duck or the gull actually are. If it were not so, it never could have been produced under the law of natural selection.

« EelmineJätka »