Page images
PDF
EPUB

considerable physiological importance, is endless. Dr. Prosper Lucas's treatise, in two large volumes, is the full. est and the best on this subject. No breeder doubts how strong is the tendency to inheritance: like produces like 19 his fundamental belief: doubts have been thrown on this principle by theoretical writers alone. When any deviation of structure often appears, and we see it in the father and child, we cannot tell whether it may not be due to the same cause having acted on both; but when amongst individuals, apparently exposed to the same conditions, any very rare deviation, due to some extraordinary combination of circumstances, appears in the parent—say, once amongst several million individuals—ana it reappears in the child, the mere doctrine of chances almost compels us to attribute its reappearance to inheritance. Every one must have heard of cases of albinism, prickly skin, hairy bodies, &c, appearing in several members of the same family. If strange and rare deviations of structure are truly inherited, less strange and commoner deviations may be freely admitted to be inheritable. Perhaps the correct way of viewing the whole subject, would be, to look at the inheritance of every character whatever as the rule, and non-inheritance as the anomaly.'

The laws governing inheritance are quite unknown; no one can say why the same peculiarity in different individuals of the same species, and in individuals of different species, is sometimes inherited and sometimes not so; why the child often reverts in certain characters to its grandfather or grandmother or other much more remote ancestor; why a peculiarity is often transmitted from one sex to both sexes, or to one sex alone, more commonly but not exclusively to the like sex. It is a fact of some little importance to us, that peculiarities appearing in the males of our domestic breeds are often transmitted either exclusively, or in a much greater degree, to males alone. A much more important rule, which I think may be trusted, is that, at whatever period of life peculiarity first appears, it tends to appear in the offspring at a corresponding age, though sometimes earlier. In many cases this could not be otherwise: thus the inherited peculiarities in the horns of cattle could appear only in the offspring when nearly mature; peculiarities in the silkworm are known to appear at the corresponding caterpillar or cocoon stage. But hereditary diseases and some other facts make me believe that the rule has a wider extension, and that when there is no apparent reason why a peculiarity should appear at any particular age, yet that it does tend to appear in the offspring at the same period at which it first appeared. in the parent. I believe this rule to be of the highest importance in explaining the laws of embryology. These remarks are of course confined to the firs'; appearance of the peculiarity, and not to its primary cause, which may have acted on the ovules or male element; in nearly the same manner as in the crossed offspring from a shorthorned cow by a long-horned bull, the greater length of horn, though appearing late in life, is clearly due to the male element.

Having alluded to the subject of reversion, I may here refer to a statement often made by naturalists—namely, that our domestic varieties, when run wild, gradually but certainly revert in character to their aboriginal stocks. Hence it has been argued that no deductions can be drawn from domestic races to species in a state of nature. I have in vain endeavoured to discover on what decisive facts the above statement has so often and so boldly been made. There would be great difficulty in proving its truth: we may safely conclude that very many of the most stronglymarked domestic varieties could not possibly live in a wild state. In many cases we do not know what the aboriginal stock was, and so could not tell whether or not nearly perfect reversion had ensued. It would be quite necessary, in order to prevent the effects of intercrossing, that only a single variety should be turned loose in its new home. Nevertheless, as our varieties certainly do occasionally revert in some of their characters to ancestral forms, it seems to me not improbable, that if we could succeed in naturalising, or were to cultivate, during many generations, the several races, for instance, of the cabbage, m very poor soil (in which case, however, some effect would have to be attributed to the direct action of the poor soil), that they would to a large extent, or even wholly, revert to the wild aboriginal stock. "Whether or not the experiment would succeed, is not of great importance for our line of argument; for by the experiment itself the conditions of life are changed. If it.could be shown that our domestic varieties manifested a strong tendency to reversion,—that is, to lose their acquired 1 characters, whilst kept under unchanged conditions, and whilst kept in a considerable body, so that free intercrossr ing might check, by blending together, any slight devia- j tions of structure, in such case, I grant that we could deduce nothing from domestic varieties in regard to species. But there is not a shadow of evidence in favour of this view: to assert that we could not breed our cart and race-horses, long and short-horned cattle, and poultry of various breeds, and esculent vegetables, for an almost infinite number of generations, would be opposed to all experience. I may add, that when under nature the conditions of life do change, variations and reversions of character probably do occur; but natural selection, as will hereafter be explained, will determine how far the new characters thus arising shall be preserved.

When we look to the hereditary varieties or races of . our domestic animals and plants, and compare them with species closely allied together, we generally perceive in each domestic race, as already remarked, less uniformity i of character than in true species. Domestic races of the same species, also, often have a somewhat monstrous character; by which I mean, that, although differing from each other, and from the other species of the same genus, in several trifling respects, they often differ in an extreme degree in some one part, both when compared one with another, and more especially when compared with all the species in nature to which they are nearest allied. With these exceptions (and with that of the perfect fertility of varieties when crossed,—a subject hereafter to be discussed), domestic races of the same species differ from each other in the same manner as, only in most cases in a

[graphic]

when we find that there are hardly any domestic races, either amongst animals or plants, which have not beeu ranked by some competent judges as mere varieties, and by other competent judges as the descendants of aboriginally distinct species. If any marked distinction existed between^domestic races and species, this source of doubt could not so perpetually recur. It has often been stated that domestic races do not differ from each other in characters of generic value. I think it could be shown that this statement is hardly correct; but naturalists differ most widely in determining what characters are of generic value; all such valuations being at present empirical. Moreover, on the view of the origin of genera which I shall presently give, we have no right to expect often to meet with generic differences in our domesticated productions.

When we attempt to estimate the amount of structural difference between the domestic races of the same species, we are soon involved in doubt, from not knowing whether they have descended from one or several parent-species. This point, if it could be cleared up, would be interesting; if, for instance, it could be shown that the greyhound, bloodhound, terrier, spaniel, and bull-dog, which we all know propagate their kind so truly, were the offspring of any single species, then such facts would have great weight in making us doubt about the immutability of the many very closely allied natural species—for instance, of the many foxes—inhabiting different quarters of the world. I do not believe, as we shall presently see, that the whole amount of difference between the several breeds of the dog has been produced under domestication; I believe that some small part of the difference is due to their being descended from distinct species. In the case of some other domesticated species, there is presumptive, or even strong evidence, that all the breeds have descended from a single wild stock.

It has often been assumed that man has chosen for domestication animals and plants having an extraordinary inherent tendency to vary, and likewise to withstand diverse climates. I do not dispute that these capacities have added largely to the value of most of our domesticated productions; but how could a savage possibly know, when he first tamed an animal, whether it would vary in succeeding generations, and whether it would endure other climates i Has the little variability of the ass or guinea-fowl, or the small power of endurance of warmth by the rein-deer, or of cold by the common camel, prevented their domestication? I cannot doubt that if other animals and plants, equal in number to our domesticated productions, and belonging to equally diverse classes and countries, were taken from a state of nature, and could be made to breed for an equal number of generations under domestication, they would vary on an average as largely as the parent species of our existing domesticated productions nave varied.

In the case of most of our anciently domesticated animals and plants, I do not think it is possible to come to any definite conclusion, whether they have descended from one or several species. The argument mainly relied on by those who believe iu the multiple origin of our domesticated animals is, that we find in the most ancient records, more especially on the monuments of Egypt, much diversity in the breeds; and that some of the breeds closely resemble, perhaps are identical with, those still existing. Even if this latter fact were found more strictly and generally true than seems to me to be the case, what does it show, but that some of our breeds originated there four or five thousand years ago? After the recent discoveries of flint tools or celts in the superficial deposits of France and England, few geologists will doubt that man, in a sufficiently civilized state to have manufactured weapons, existed at a period extremely remote as measured by years; and we know that at the present day there is hardly any tribe so barbarian as not to have domesticated at least the dog.

The whole subject must, I think, remain vague; nevertheless, I may, without here entering on any details, state that, from geographical and other considerations, I think it highly probable that our domestic dogs have descended from several wild species. Knowing, as we do, that savages are very fond of taming animals, it seems to me unlikely, in the case of the dog-genus, which is distributed in a wild state throughout the world, that since man first appeared one single species alone

« PreviousContinue »