« EelmineJätka »
furnish matter for a few observations, of some interest to biologists and at the same time not unintelligible to the less scientific members of the Association who may honour us with their presence. The subjects I first propose to consider have no general name, and are not easily grouped under a single descriptive heading; but they may be compared with that recent development of a sister science which has been termed surface-geology or Earth-sculpture. In the older geological works we learnt much about strata, and rocks, and fossils, their superposition, contortions, chemical constitution, and affinities, with some general notions of how they were formed in the remote past; but we often came to the end of the volume no whit the wiser as to how and why the surface of the earth came to be so wonderfully and beautifully diversified; we were not told why some mountains are rounded and others precipitous; why some valleys are wide and open, others narrow and rocky; why rivers so often pierce through mountain-chains; why mountain-lakes are often so enormously deep; whence came the gravel, and drift, and erratic blocks so strangely spread over wide areas while totally absent from other areas equally extensive. So long as these questions were almost ignored, geology could hardly claim to be a complete science, because, while professing to explain how the crust of the earth came to be what it is, it gave no intelligible account of many phenomena presented by its surface. But of late years these surface-phenomena have been assiduously studied; the marvellous effects of denudation and glacial action in giving the final touches to the actual contour of the earth's surface, and their relation to climatic changes and the antiquity of man, have been clearly traced, thus investing geology with a new and popular interest, and at the same time elucidating many of the phenomena presented in the older formations. Now just as a surface-geology was required to complete that science, so a surface-biology was wanted to make the science of living things more complete and more generally interesting, by applying the results arrived at by special workers to the interpretation of those external and prominent features whose endless variety and beauty constitute the charm which attracts us to the contemplation or to the study of nature. We have the descriptive zoologist, for example, who gives us the external characters of animals; the anatomist studies their internal structure; the histologist makes known the nature of their component tissues; the embryologist patiently watches the progress of their development; the systematist groups them into classes and orders, families, genera, and species; while the field-naturalist studies for us their food and habits and general economy. But, till quite recently, none of these earnest students nor all of them combined, could answer satisfactorily, or even attempted to answer, many of the simplest questions concerning the external characters and general relations of animals and plants. Why are flowers so wonderfully varied in form and colour ! what causes the Arctic fox and the ptarmigan to turn white in winter ? why are there no elephants in America and no deer in Australia why are closely allied species rarely found together ? why are male animals so frequently bright-coloured why are extinct animals so often larger than those which are now living' what has led to the production of the gorgeous train of the peacock and of the two kinds of flower in the primrose ? The solution of these and a hundred other problems of like nature was rarely approached by the old method of study, or if approached was only the subject of vague speculation. It is to the illustrious author of the Origin of Species that we are indebted for teaching us how to study nature as one great, compact, and beautifully-adjusted system. Under the touch of his magic wand the countless isolated facts of internal and external structure of living things— their habits, their colours, their development, their distribution, their geological history, all fell into their approximate places; and although, from the intricacy of the subject and our very imperfect knowledge of the facts themselves, much still remains uncertain, yet we can no longer doubt that even the minutest and most superficial peculiarities of animals and plants either, on the one hand, are or have been useful to them, or, on the other hand, have been developed under the influence of general laws, which we may one day understand to a much greater extent than we do at present. So great is the alteration effected in our comprehension of nature by the study of variation, inheritance, cross-breeding, competition, distribution, protection, and selection— showing, as they often do, the meaning of the most obscure phenomena and the mutual dependence of the most widely-separated organisms—that it can only be fitly compared with the analogous alteration produced in our conception of the universe by Newton's grand discovery of the law of gravitation. I know it will be said (and is said), that Darwin is too highly rated, that some of his theories are wholly and others partially erroneous, and that he often builds a vast superstructure on a very uncertain basis of doubtfully interpreted facts. Now, even admitting this criticism to be well founded—and I myself believe that to a limited extent it is so—I nevertheless maintain that Darwin is not and cannot be too highly rated ; for his greatness does not at all depend upon his being infallible, but on his having developed, with rare patience and judgment, a new system of observation and study, guided by certain general principles which are almost as simple as gravitation and as wide-reaching in their effects. And if other principles should hereafter be discovered, or if it be proved that some of his subsidiary theories are wholly or partially erroneous, this very discovery can only be made by following in Darwin's steps, by adopting the method of research which he has taught us, and by largely using the rich stores of material which he has collected. The Origin of Species, and the grand series of works which have succeeded it, have revolutionized the study of biology; they have given us new ideas and fertile principles; they have infused life and vigour into our science, and have opened up hitherto unthought-of lines of research on which hundreds of eager students are now labouring. Whatever modifications some of his theories may require, Darwin must none the less be looked up to as the founder of philosophical biology. As a small contribution to this great subject, I propose now to call your attention to some curious relations of organisms to their environment, which seem to me worthy of more systematic study than has hitherto been given them. The points I shall more especially deal with are—the influence of locality, or of some unknown local causes, in determining the colours of insects, and, to a less extent, of birds; and the way in which certain peculiarities in the distribution of plants may have been brought about by their dependence on insects. The latter part of my address will deal with the present state of our knowledge as to the antiquity and early history of mankind.
ON SOME RELATIONS OF LIVING THINGS TO THEIR
Of all the external characters of animals, the most beautiful, the most varied, and the most generally attractive are the brilliant colours and strange yet often elegant markings with which so many of them are adorned. Yet of all characters this is the most difficult to bring under the laws of utility or of physical connection. Mr. Darwin—as you are well aware—has shown how wide is the influence of sex on the intensity of coloration ; and he has been led to the conclusion that active or voluntary sexual selection is one of the chief causes, if not the chief cause, of all the variety and beauty of colour we see among the higher animals. This is one of the points on which there is much divergence of opinion even among the supporters of Mr. Darwin, and one as to which I myself differ from him. I have argued, and still believe, that the need of protection is a far more efficient cause of variation of colour than is generally suspected; but there are evidently other causes at work, and one of these seems to be an influence depending strictly on locality, whose nature