Page images
PDF
EPUB

islands possess their own peculiar species of aerial mammals or bats. We can see why there should be some relation between the presence of mammals, in a more or less modified condition, and the depth of the sea between an island and the mainland. We can clearly see why all the inhabitants of an archipelago, though specifically distinct on the several islands, should be closely related to each other, and likewise be related, but less closely, to those of the nearest continent or other source whence immigrants were probably derived. We can see why in two areas, however distant from each other, there should be a correlation, in the presence of identical species, of varieties, of doubtful species, and of distinct but representative species.

As the late Edward Forbes often insisted, there is a striking parallelism in the laws of life throughout time and space: the laws governing the succession of forms in past times being nearly the same with those governing at the present time the differences in different areas. We see this in many facts. The endurance of each species and group of species is continuous in time; for the exceptions to the rule are so few, that they may fairly be attributed to our not having as yet discovered in an intermediate deposit the forms which are therein absent, but which occur above and below: so in space, it certainly is the general rule that the area inhabited by a single species, or by a group of species, is continuous; and the exceptions, which are not rare, may, as I have attempted to show, be accounted for by migration at some former period under different conditions or by occasional means of transport, and by the species having become extinct in the intermediate tracts. J3oth in time and space, species and groups of species have their points of maximum development. Groups of species, belonging either to a certain period of time, or to a certain area, are often characterised by trifling characters in common, as of sculpture or colour. In looking to the long succession of ages, as in now looking to distant provinces throughout the world, we find that some organisms differ little, whilst others belonging to a different class, or to a different order, or

even only to a different family of the same order, differ greatly. In both time and space the lower members of each class generally change less than the higher; but there are in both cases marked exceptions to the rule. On my theory these several relations throughout time and space are intelligible; for whether we look to the forms of life which have changed during successive ages within the same quarter of the world, or to those which have changed after having migrated into distant quarters, in both cases the forms within each class have been connected by the same bond of ordinary generation; and the more nearly any two forms are related in blood, the nearer they will generally stand to each other in time and space; in both cases the laws of variation have been the same, and modifications have been accumulated by the same power of natural selection.

CHAPTER XIII.

MUTUAL AFFINITIES OF ORGANIC BEINGS: MOKPHOLOGY: EMBRYOLOGY: RUDIMENTARY ORGANS.

Classification, groups subordinate to groups—Natural system—Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification—Classification of varieties—Descent always used in classification—Analogical or adaptive characters—Affinities, general, complex and radiating—Extinction separates and defines groups—Morphology, between members of the same class, between parts of the same individual—Embbtoloot, laws of, explained by variations not supervening at an early age, and being inherited at a corresponding age—Rudimentary Obqans; their origin explained—Summary.

From the first dawn of life, all organic beings are found to resemble each other in descending degrees, so that they can be classed in groups under groups. This classification is evidently not arbitrary like the grouping of the stars in constellations. The existence of groups would have been of simple signification if one group had been exclusively fitted to inhabit the land, and another the water; one to feed on flesh, another on vegetable matter, and so on; but the case is widely different in nature; for it is notorious how commonly members of even the same sub-group have different habits. In our second and fourth chapters, on Variation and on Natural Selection, I have attempted to show that it is the widely ranging, the much diffused and common, that is the dominant species belonging to the larger genera, which vary most. The varieties, or incipient species, thus produced ultimately become converted, as I believe, into new and distinct species; and these, on the principle of inheritance, tend to produce other new and dominant species. Consequently the groups which are now large, and which generally include many dominant species, tend to go on increasing indefinitely in size. I further attempted to show that from the varying de

[graphic]

scendants of each species trying to occupy as many and as different places as possible in the economy of nature, there is a constant tendency in their characters to diverge. This conclusion was supported by looking at the great diversity of the forms of life which, in any small area, come into the closest competition, and by looking to certain facts in naturalisation.

I attempted also to show that there is a constant tendency in the forms which are increasing in number and diverging in character, to supplant and exterminate the less divergent, the less improved, and preceding forms. I request the reader to turn to the diagram illustrating the action, as formerly explained, of these several principles, and he will see that the inevitable result is that the modified descendants proceeding from one progenitor become broken up into groups subordinate to groups. In the diagram each letter on the uppermost line may represent a genus including several species; and all the genera on this line form together one class, for all have descended from one ancient but unseen parent, and, consequently, have inherited something in common. But the three genera on the left hand have, on this same principle, much in common, and form a sub-family, distinct from that including the next two genera on the right hand, which diverged from a common parent at the fifth stage of descent. These five genera have also much, though less, in common ; and they form a family distinct from that including the three genera still further to the right hand, which diverged at a still earlier period. And all these genera, descended from (A), form an order distinct from the genera descended from (I). So that we here have many species descended from a single progenitor grouped into genera; and the genera are included in, or subordinate to, subfamilies, and orders, all united into one class. Thus, the grand fact in natural history of the subordination of group under group, which, from its familiarity, does not always sufficiently strike us, is in my judgment fully explained.

Naturalists try to arrange the species, genera, and families in each class, on what is called the Natural System. But what is meant by this system? Some authors 1

look at it merely as a scheme for arranging together those living objects which are most alike, and for separating those which are most unlike; or as an artificial means for enunciating, as briefly as possible, general propositions,—~ that is, by one sentence, to give the characters common, for instance, to all mammals, by another those common to all carnivora, by another those common to the dog-genus, and then by adding a single sentence, a full description is given of each kind of dog. The ingenuity and utility of this system are indisputable. But many naturalists think that something more is meant by the Natural System; they believe that it reveals the plan of the Creator; but unless it be specified whether order in time or space, or what else is meant by the plan of the Creator, it seems to me that nothing is thus added to our knowledge. fiunh ^ expressions as that famous cue of T.iim^p, and which tya often meet with in a more or less concealed form, that the characters do not make the genus, but that the genus gives the characters, seem to imply that something more is included in our classification, than mere resemblance. I believe that something more is included; and that propinquity of descent,—the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings,—is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classifications.

Let us now consider the rules followed in classification, and the difficulties which are encountered on the view that classification either gives some unknown plan of creation, or is simply a scheme for enunciating general propositions and of placing together the forms most like each other. Tt might have been thought (and wa» in-ancient times thought) that those parts of the structure which determined the habits of life, and the general place of each being in the economy of nature would be of very high importance in classification. Nothing can be more false. No one regards the external similarity of a mouse to a shrew, of a dugong to a whale, of a whale to a fish, as of any importance. These resemblances, though so intimately connected with the whole life of the being, are ranked as merely " adaptive or analogical .characters ; " but to

[graphic]
[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »