« PreviousContinue »
vertebrate animals by the belief that many ancient forms of life have been utterly lost' (463).
If utterly lost they never can be found ; they never have been found, and they exist only in the pages of Mr Darwin's book. But the demands of this creed sometimes place the author in a very awkward predicament, as for instance, when he says, 'we may readily believe that the unknown progenitor of the vertebrata possessed many vertebræ' (469). Now the context requires that the 'many'vertebræ should mean many more than are now found in the vertebrata : so then, vertebræ began all at once ! 'the unknown progenitor,' the first of this class, did not acquire his vertebræ by the slow process of Natural Selection, through untold ages, but had all his vertebræ, per saltum, and more too than his descendants.' We should have expected to hear, as in harmony with the rest of the system, that vertebræ began from a rudiment—a rudiment worked into a sketch of a vertebra; and after some million of years a series of vertebræ produced for the benefit of the animal—but no, a whole series of vertebræ all started into being for the unknown progenitor.' Here, then, surely was a creation! here was a miracle! the animal made at once for the needs of his life, the very thing which Mr Darwin abominates, and tells us would be fatal to his system.
But in these strictures on Natural Selection we must not forget the co-ordinate principle of Struggle for Life. These two agents have, according to the Theory, produced all the phenomena of living beings. Natural Selection does not, in any instance, work alone; in proportion as she produces, the Struggle for Life destroys. It is the object of the one to improve organized beings, and of the other to remove those which show no tendency to improvement: a plant or animal relatively unimproved is infallibly exterminated; all progressive beings destroy the stationary members of their family.
These two principles are, as we have seen, two personifications, two metaphors, two figures of speech. It is, however, an error and a deception of language to represent them as distinct, as the real meaning of one is an acci. dental change of organization, and of the other the ad. vantages resulting from that change. There must be some agent to struggle, and this can only be the ‘modified organization.' Non-change is relatively nothing, an unimproved animal or plant is simply passive. Non-change is non-improvement, according to the Theory, and the unimproved perish.
'In looking at Nature,' says Mr Darwin, it is most necessary to keep in mind that every single organic being around us lives by a struggle at some period of its life' (70). “Battle with battle must ever be recurring with varying success, and yet in the long run the forces are so nearly balanced, that the face of nature remains uniform for long periods of time, though assuredly the merest trifle would often give the victory to one organic being over another’ (76). “All organic beings are striving to seize on each place in the economy of nature; if any one species does not become modified and improved in a corresponding degree with its competitor it will soon be exterminated' (107).
Surely this statement is a strange perversion of the realities of nature. It is indeed certain that the destructive principle, the Shevah mystery of creation, is actively at work to repress the redundancy of existence, and that an
immense amount of animal life is sacrificed every hour of every day, on the earth, and in the waters, and in the air, to say nothing of trees and plants continually consumed by various animals ; but this is very different from the demands of the Theory, different in principle and different in action.
On the principle of course we cannot agree; according to our view, destruction is as much a plan of Nature as existence; it is indeed one convincing proof amongst many of the design apparent in Nature. Life has been given in infinite forms, and with it a check to the excess of life; though the very check is, in another view, a predetermined method of sustaining life, for the animal that perishes is the food of the animal that destroys it. In one sense we may say that all animal life is sustained by destruction, by the consumption of vegetables or animals. But the destruction is not a blind accident without a design, but a well-calculated plan, or, if ever apparently not answering the object of the design, failing in temporary and exceptional instances rather from its want of energy than from its too great activity-as for instance in the occasional overwhelming increase of locusts. *
• The principle of struggle for life, supposed by Mr Darwin, is not destruction acting as a well-considered balance to keep down the excess of life, but an accidental circumstance out of which come forth new forins of life. His system of extermination is invented merely to account for the appearance of new species in the way of transformation, by getting out of the way the pretended predecessors of the last-formed species. The real struggle for existence which in some cases may be observed in nature, produces a totally different result, as M. Trémaux has well observed; it does not evoke new forms of life, but is equally and impartially injurious to all the beings engaged in the struggle. Any one may see the phenomenon in a thickly planted wood. There a struggle for existence really does take place, that is, each tree does its best to reach the light and air, and find an expanse for its ramification. The result is not the formation of a new tree, with improveinents enabling it to take the place of its con.
It is probable chat there is scarcely an organized being that uus 10t some intaqonist to its prosperity; but, nerertheless, the weakest is weil is the strongest thrive and prosper; the ion and the bare, the eagle and the wren, the hark and the piichard keep their ancient positions in the ranks of life ; accidents, disappointments, and dangers mar sometimes be their lot, but extermination of their species is wholly improbable.
In the sea there a vast majority of the inhabitants are carnivorous, the principle of destriction is most active, one species preying on another in a series of slaughters; but slanghter is not extermination, and thongh it may go on at a fiichtful rate, if numbers are counted, vet in the end the balance of life will remain the same. Few animals can suffer so largely from numerous enemies as the herring, hundreds of millions are devoured by other fishes and by the birds, and hundreds of millions are captured by man. This, it called a struggle for existence, a struggle in which there is no resistance or effort of any sort,) will always have a certain termination. The herring will be victorious, and the race will not be exterminated.
And how is this? the animal has not been improved in any wonderful way to enable it to confront its dangerous destiny, it has no defensive or offensive apparatus, it is easily captured, and in certain seasons is apparently indif. ferent to its pursuers, allowing them to approach, without any effort to escape ; it is a simple unarmed animal, negpetitors, bat an injury matually inflicted by all the trees on one another. In all the vast woods of Nature's domain, or in those planted by man, who ever heard of this struggle issuing in a newly-invented tree qualified to master all its competitors ? Myriads of trees perish, alter a hard and precarions existence, for want of space, but no new rival springs up to exter. minato them.
lected by Natural Selection, and left to take its chance, and yet it flourishes amazingly, and will flourish.
Mr Darwin does indeed himself acknowledge that the forces are so nearly balanced that the face of Nature remains uniform for a long period of time, i.e. till it is changed. But how could this balance be sustained for a ‘long period of time,' that is, for all the time we know anything of, if all were left to a blind accident, and there had been no calculation in contriving the antagonistic principles of life and destruction ?
If there is a balance that has, for unknown ages, preserved the order of Nature in its just proportions, surely this must be the result of some profound calculation which could grapple with the whole abstruse problem, the unknown number of which was to be found only in futurity; for if Natural Selection, which is in fact identical with chance, be supposed to have produced the destroyers, how is it possible to imagine that at the end of thousands of years, there should be no mistake, and that the face of Nature should remain uniform. This is believing in the old story of the atoms of Epicurus, and their accidental wisdom. Natural Selection acts for the benefit of individuals only, and has no general plan for the good of all, of this we are frequently reminded, but here is a system of events at any rate, if plan it may not be called, which has, in spite of infinite combinations and contrarieties, and circumstances which no ordinary foresight could take into calculation, brought out undiminished and unimpaired, through all the hazards of time, the original harmony of Nature.
If for a moment we think of all destructive genera of