Charles Darwin - Origin of Species

Charles Robert Darwin was born at Shrewsbury, England, Feb. 12, 1809, of a family distinguished on both sides. Abandoning medicine for natural history, he joined H.M.S. Beagle in 1831 on the five years' voyage, which he described in "The Voyage of the Beagle," and to which he refers in the introduction to his masterpiece. The "Origin of Species" containing, in the idea of natural selection, the distinctive contribution of Darwin to the theory of organic evolution, was published in November, 1859. In only one brief sentence did he there allude to man, but twelve years later he published the "Descent of Man," in which the principles of the earlier volume found their logical outcome.
In other works Darwin added vastly to our knowledge of coral reefs, organic variation, earthworms, and the comparative expression of the emotions in man and animals. Darwin died in ignorance of the work upon variation done by his great contemporary, Gregor Mendel, whose work was rediscovered in 1900. "Mendelism" necessitates much modification of Darwin's work, which, however, remains the maker of the greatest epoch in the study of life and the most important contribution to that study ever made. Its immortal author died on April 19, 1882, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

I.—Creation or Evolution?

When on board H.M.S. Beagle as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geographical relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, in 1837, it occurred to me that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work, I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions which then seemed to me probable. From that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.

In considering the origin of species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified so as to acquire that perfection of structure and co-adaptation which justly excites our admiration.

Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, etc., as the only possible cause of variation. In one limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the mistletoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of the parasite, with its relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself.

It is, therefore, of the highest importance to gain a clear insight into the means of modification and co-adaptation. At the beginning of my observations it seemed to me probable that a careful study of domesticated animals and of cultivated plants would offer the best chance of making out this obscure problem. Nor have I been disappointed; in this and in all other perplexing cases I have invariably found that our knowledge, imperfect though it be, of variation under domestication, afforded the best and safest clue. I may venture to express my conviction of the high value of such studies, although they have been very commonly neglected by naturalists.

Although much remains obscure, and will long remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgment of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists until recently entertained, and which I formerly entertained—namely, that each species has been independently created—is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not immutable, but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am also convinced that Natural Selection has been the most important, but not the exclusive, means of modification.

II.—Variation and Selection

All living beings vary more or less from one another, and though variations which are not inherited are unimportant for us, the number and diversity of inheritable deviations of structure, both those of slight and those of considerable physiological importance, are endless.

No breeder doubts how strong is the tendency to inheritance; that like produces like is his fundamental belief. Doubts have been thrown on this principle only by theoretical writers. 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—and it re-appears in the child, the mere doctrine of chances almost compels us to attribute its reappearance to inheritance.

Everyone must have heard of cases of albinism, prickly skin, hairy bodies, etc., appearing in members of the same family. If strange and rare deviations of structure are really 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 for the most part unknown. No one can say why the same peculiarity in different individuals of the same species, or in different species, is sometimes inherited and sometimes not so; why the child often reverts in certain characters to its grandfather or grandmother, or 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.

The fact of heredity being given, we have evidence derived from human practice as to the influence of selection. There are large numbers of domesticated races of animals and plants admirably suited in various ways to man's use or fancy—adapted to the environment of which his need and inclination are the most essential constituents. We cannot suppose that all the breeds were suddenly produced as perfect and as useful as we now see them; indeed, in many cases, we know that this has not been their history. The key is man's power of accumulative selection. Nature gives successive variations; man adds them up in certain directions useful to him. In this sense he may be said to have made for himself useful breeds.

The great power of this principle of selection is not hypothetical. It is certain that several of our eminent breeders have, even within a single lifetime, modified to a large extent their breeds of cattle and sheep. What English breeders have actually effected is proved by the enormous prices given for animals with a good pedigree; and these have been exported to almost every quarter of the world. The same principles are followed by horticulturists, and we see an astonishing improvement in many florists' flowers, when the flowers of the present day are compared with drawings made only twenty or thirty years ago.

The practice of selection is far from being a modern discovery. The principle of selection I find distinctly given in an ancient Chinese encyclopædia. Explicit rules are laid down by some of the Roman classical writers. It is clear that the breeding of domestic animals was carefully attended to in ancient times, and is now attended to by the lowest savages. It would, indeed, have been a strange fact had attention not been paid to breeding, for the inheritance of good and bad qualities is so obvious.

Study of the origin of our domestic races of animals and plants leads to the following conclusions. Changed conditions of life are of the highest possible importance in causing variability, both by acting directly on the organisation, and indirectly by affecting the reproductive system. Spontaneous variation of unknown origin plays its part. Some, perhaps a great, effect may be attributed to the increased use or disuse of parts.

The final result is thus rendered infinitely complex. In some cases the intercrossing of aboriginally distinct species appears to have played an important part in the origin of our breeds. When several breeds have once been formed in any country, their occasional intercrossing, with the aid of selection, has, no doubt, largely aided in the formation of new sub-breeds; but the importance of crossing has been much exaggerated, both in regard to animals and to those plants which are propagated by seed. Over all these causes of change, the accumulative action of selection, whether applied methodically and quickly, or unconsciously and slowly, but more efficiently, seems to have been the predominant power.

III.—Variation Under Nature

Before applying these principles to organic beings in a state of nature, we must ascertain whether these latter are subject to any variation. We find variation everywhere. Individual differences, though of small interest to the systematist, are of the highest importance for us, for they are often inherited; and they thus afford materials for natural selection to act and accumulate, in the same manner as man accumulates in any given direction individual differences in his domesticated productions. Further, what we call varieties cannot really be distinguished from species in the long run, a fact which we can clearly understand if species once existed as varieties, and thus originated. But the facts are utterly inexplicable if species are independent creations.

How have all the exquisite adaptations of one part of the body to another part, and to the conditions of life, and of one organic being to another being, been perfected? For everywhere we find these beautiful adaptations.

The answer is to be found in the struggle for life. Owing to this struggle, variations, however slight, and from whatever cause proceeding, if they be in any degree profitable to the individuals of a species in their infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to their physical conditions of life, will tend to the preservation of such individuals, and will generally be inherited by the offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. But the expression, often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer, of the Survival of the Fittest, is more accurate.

We have seen that man, by selection, can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations given to him by the hand of Nature. Natural Selection is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts as the works of Nature are to those of Art.

All organic beings are exposed to severe competition. Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult—at least, I have found it so—than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet, unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, the whole economy of Nature, with every fact of distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of Nature bright with gladness; we often see superabundance of food. We do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds or beasts of prey. We do not always bear in mind that, though food may be superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.

A struggle for existence, the term being used in a large, general, and metaphorical sense, inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase.

Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year; otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them.

There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair. Even slow-breeding man has doubled in twenty-five years, and at this rate, in less than a thousand years, there would literally not be standing-room for his progeny. Linnæus has calculated that if an annual plant produced only two seeds—and there is no plant so unproductive as this—and their seedlings next year produced two, and so on, then in twenty years there would be a million plants. The elephant is reckoned the slowest breeder of all known animals, and I have taken some pains to estimate its probable minimum rate of natural increase. It will be safest to assume that it begins breeding when thirty years old, and goes on breeding until ninety years old, bringing forth six young in the interval, and surviving till one hundred years old. If this be so, after a period of from 740 to 750 years there would be nearly nineteen million elephants alive, descended from the first pair.

The causes which check the natural tendency of each species to increase are most obscure. Eggs or very young animals seem generally to suffer most, but this is not invariably the case. With plants there is a vast destruction of seeds. The amount of food for each species of course gives the extreme limit to which each can increase; but very frequently it is not the obtaining food, but the serving as prey to other animals, which determines the average number of a species. Climate is important, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought seem to be the most effective of all checks.

The relations of all animals and plants to each other in the struggle for existence are most complex, and often unexpected. Battle within battle must be continually recurring with varying success; and yet in the long run the forces are so nicely balanced that the face of Nature remains for long periods of time uniform, though assuredly the merest trifle would give the victory to one organic being over another. Nevertheless, so profound is our ignorance, and so high our presumption, that we marvel when we hear of the extinction of an organic being; and as we do not see the cause, we invoke cataclysms to desolate the world, or invent laws on the duration of the forms of life!

The struggle for life is most severe between individuals and varieties of the same species. The competition is most severe between allied forms which fill nearly the same place in the economy of Nature. But great is our ignorance on the mutual relations of all organic beings. All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase in a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief that the war of Nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.

IV.—The Survival of the Fittest

How will the struggle for existence act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply under Nature? I think we shall see that it can act most efficiently. Let the endless number of slight variations and individual differences occurring in our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, in those under Nature, be borne in mind, as well as the strength of the hereditary tendency. Under domestication, it may be truly said that the whole organisation becomes in some degree plastic.

But the variability, which we almost universally meet with in our domestic productions, is not directly produced by man; he can neither originate variations nor prevent their occurrence; he can only preserve and accumulate such as do occur. Unintentionally he exposes organic beings to new and changing conditions of life, and variability ensues; but similar changes of condition might and do occur under Nature.

Let it also be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life, and consequently what infinitely varied diversities of structure might be of use to each being under changing conditions of life. Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing what variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations, useful in some way to each being in the great complex battle of life, should occur in the course of many successive generations? If such do occur, can we doubt, remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive, that individuals having any advantage over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest.

The term is too frequently misapprehended. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection. It is not asserted that natural selection induces variability. It implies only the preservation of such varieties as arise and are beneficial to the being under its conditions of life. Again, it has been said that I speak of natural selection as an active Power or Deity; but who objects to an author speaking of the attraction of gravity as ruling the movements of the planets? It is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by Nature only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us.

As man can produce, and certainly has produced, a great result by his methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not natural selection effect? Man can act only on external and visible characters; Nature, if I may be allowed to personify the natural preservation or survival of the fittest, cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they are useful to any being. She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life. Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends. Every selected character is fully exercised by her, as is implied by the fact of their selection. Man keeps the natives of many climates in the same country; he seldom exercises each selected character in some peculiar and fitting manner; he feeds a long and a short-beaked pigeon on the same food; he does not exercise a long-backed or long-legged quadruped in any peculiar manner; he exposes sheep with long and short wool to the same climate.

Man does not allow the most vigorous males to struggle for the females. He does not rigidly destroy all inferior animals, but protects during each varying season, as far as lies in his power, all his productions. He often begins his selection by some half-monstrous form; or at least by some modification prominent enough to catch the eye or to be plainly useful to him.

But under Nature, the slightest differences of structure or constitution may well turn the nicely-balanced scale in the struggle for life, and so be preserved. How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man! How short his time! And, consequently, how poor will be his results compared with those accumulated by Nature during whole geological periods! Can we wonder that Nature's productions should be far "truer" in character than man's productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?

It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long-past geological ages that we see only that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were.

Although natural selection can act only through and for the good of each being, yet characters and structures, which we are apt to consider as of very trifling importance, may thus be acted on.

Natural selection will modify the structure of the young in relation to the parent, and of the parent in relation to the young. In social animals it will adapt the structure of each individual for the benefit of the whole community, if the community profits by the selected change. What natural selection cannot do is to modify the structure of one species, without giving it any advantage, for the good of another species; and though statements to this effect may be found in works of natural history, I cannot find one case which will bear investigation.

A structure used only once in an animal's life, if of high importance to it, might be modified to any extent by natural selection; for instance, the great jaws possessed by certain insects, used exclusively for opening the cocoon, or the hard tip to the beak of unhatched birds, used for breaking the egg. It has been asserted that of the best short-beaked tumbler pigeons a greater number perish in the egg than are able to get out of it; so that fanciers assist in the act of hatching. Now, if Nature had to make the beak of a full-grown pigeon very short for the bird's own advantage, the process of modification would be very slow, and there would be simultaneously the most rigorous selection of all the young birds within the egg, for all with weak beaks would inevitably perish; or more easily broken shells might be selected, the thickness of the shell being known to vary like every other structure.

With all beings there must be much fortuitous destruction, which can have little or no influence on the course of natural selection. For instance, a vast number of eggs or seeds are annually devoured, and these could be modified through natural selection only if they varied in some manner which protected them from their enemies. Yet many of these eggs or seeds would perhaps, if not destroyed, have yielded individuals better adapted to their conditions of life than any of those which happened to survive. So, again, a vast number of mature animals and plants, whether or not they be the best adapted to their conditions, must be annually destroyed by accidental causes, which would not be in the least degree mitigated by certain changes of structure or constitution which would in other ways be beneficial to the species.

But let the destruction of the adults be ever so heavy, if the number which can exist in any district be not wholly kept down by such causes—or, again, let the destruction of eggs or seeds be so great that only a hundredth or a thousandth part are developed—yet of those which do survive, the best adapted individuals, supposing there is any variability in a favourable direction, will tend to propagate their kind in larger numbers than the less well adapted.

On our theory the continued existence of lowly organisms offers no difficulty; for natural selection does not necessarily include progressive development; it only takes advantage of such variations as arise and are beneficial to each creature under its complex relations of life.

The mere lapse of time by itself does nothing, either for or against natural selection. I state this because it has been erroneously asserted that the element of time has been assumed by me to play an all-important part in modifying species, as if all the forms of life were necessarily undergoing change through some innate law.

V.—Sexual Selection

This form of selection depends, not on a struggle for existence in relation to other organic beings or to external conditions, but on a struggle between the individuals of one sex, generally the males, for the possession of the other sex. The result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring. Sexual selection is, therefore, less rigorous than natural selection. Generally, the most vigorous males, those which are best fitted for their places in Nature, will leave most progeny. But, in many cases, victory depends not so much on general vigour as on having special weapons, confined to the male sex. A hornless stag or spurless cock would have a poor chance of leaving numerous offspring. Sexual selection, by always allowing the victor to breed, might surely give indomitable courage, length to the spur, and strength to the wing to strike in the spurred leg, in nearly the same manner as does the brutal cock-fighter by the careful selection of his best cocks.

How low in the scale of Nature the law of battle descends I know not. Male alligators have been described as fighting, bellowing, and whirling round, like Indians in a war-dance, for the possession of the females; male salmons have been observed fighting all day long; male stag-beetles sometimes bear wounds from the mandibles of other males; the males of certain other insects have been frequently seen fighting for a particular female who sits by, an apparently unconcerned beholder of the struggle, and then retires with the conqueror. The war is, perhaps, severest between the males of the polygamous animals, and these seem oftenest provided with special weapons. The males of carnivorous animals are already well armed, though to them special means of defence may be given through means of sexual selection, as the mane of the lion and the hooked jaw of the salmon. The shield may be as important for victory as the sword or spear.

Amongst birds, the contest is often of a more peaceful character. All those who have attended to the subject believe that there is the severest rivalry between the males of many species to attract, by singing, the females. The rock-thrush of Guiana, birds of paradise, and some others, congregate; and successive males display with the most elaborate care, and show off in the best manner, their gorgeous plumage; they likewise perform strange antics before the females, which, standing by as spectators, at last choose the most attractive partner.

If man can in a short time give beauty and an elegant carriage to his bantams, according to his standard of beauty, I can see no good reason to doubt that female birds, by selecting, during thousands of generations, the most melodious or beautiful males, according to their standard of beauty, might produce a marked effect.

VI.—The Struggle for Existence

Under domestication we see much variability, caused, or at least excited, by changed conditions of life; but often in so obscure a manner that we are tempted to consider the variations as spontaneous. Variability is governed by many complex laws—by correlated growth, compensation, the increased use and disuse of parts, and the definite action of the surrounding conditions. There is much difficulty in ascertaining how largely our domestic productions have been modified; but we may safely infer that the amount has been large, and that modifications can be inherited for long periods. As long as the conditions of life remain the same, we have reason to believe that a modification, which has already been inherited for many generations, may continue to be inherited for an almost infinite number of generations. On the other hand, we have evidence that variability, when it has once come into play, does not cease under domestication for a very long period; nor do we know that it ever ceases, for new varieties are still occasionally produced by our oldest domesticated productions.

Variability is not actually caused by man; he only unintentionally exposes organic beings to new conditions of life, and then Nature acts on the organisation and causes it to vary. But man can and does select the variations given to him by Nature, and thus accumulates them in any desired manner. He thus adapts animals and plants for his own benefit or pleasure. He may do this methodically, or he may do it unconsciously by preserving the individuals most useful or pleasing to him without an intention of altering the breed.

It is certain that he can influence the character of a breed by selecting, in each successive generation, individual differences so slight as to be inappreciable except by an educated eye. This unconscious process of selection has been the agency in the formation of the most distinct and useful domestic breeds. That many breeds produced by man have to a large extent the character of natural species is shown by the inextricable doubts whether many of them are varieties or aboriginally distinct species.

There is no reason why the principles which have acted so efficiently under domestication should not have acted under Nature. In the survival of favoured individuals and races, during the constantly recurrent struggle for existence, we see a powerful and ever-acting form of selection. The struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high geometrical ratio of increase which is common to all organic beings. This high rate of increase is proved by calculation; by the rapid increase of many animals and plants during a succession of peculiar seasons and when naturalised in new countries. More individuals are born than can possibly survive. A grain in the balance may determine which individuals shall live and which shall die; which variety or species shall increase in number, and which shall decrease, or finally become extinct.

As the individuals of the same species come in all respects into the closest competition with each other, the struggle will generally be most severe between them; it will be almost equally severe between the varieties of the same species, and next in severity between the species of the same genus. On the other hand, the struggle will often be severe between beings remote in the scale of Nature. The slightest advantage in certain individuals, at any age or during any season, over those with which they come into competition, or better adaptation, in however slight a degree, to the surrounding physical conditions, will, in the long run, turn the balance.

With animals having separated sexes, there will be in most cases a struggle between the males for the possession of the females. The most vigorous males, or those which have most successfully struggled with their conditions of life, will generally leave most progeny. But success will often depend on the males having special weapons, or means of defence, or charms; and a slight advantage will lead to victory.

As geology plainly proclaims that each land has undergone great physical changes, we might have expected to find that organic beings have varied under Nature in the same way as they have varied under domestication. And if there has been any variability under Nature, it would be an unaccountable fact if natural selection had not come into play. It has often been asserted, but the assertion is incapable of proof, that the amount of variation under Nature is a strictly limited quantity. Man, though acting on external characters alone, and often capriciously, can produce within a short period a great result by adding up mere individual differences in his domestic productions; and everyone admits that species present individual differences. But, besides such differences, all naturalists admit that natural varieties exist, which are considered sufficiently distinct to be worthy of record in systematic works.

No one has drawn any clear distinction between individual differences and slight varieties, or between more plainly marked varieties and sub-species and species. On separate continents, and on different parts of the same continent when divided by barriers of any kind, what a multitude of forms exist which some experienced naturalists rank as varieties, others as geographical races or sub-species, and others as distinct, though closely allied species!

If, then, animals and plants do vary, let it be ever so slightly or slowly, why should not variations or individuals, differences which are in any way beneficial, be preserved and accumulated through natural selection, or the survival of the fittest? If man can, by patience, select variations useful to him, why, under changing and complex conditions of life, should not variations useful to Nature's living products often arise, and be preserved, or selected? What limit can be put to this power, acting during long ages and rigidly scrutinising the whole constitution, structure, and habits of each creature—favouring the good and rejecting the bad? I can see no limit to this power, in slowly and beautifully adapting each form to the most complex relations of life.

In the future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on the foundation already well laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer—that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. Judging from the past, we may safely infer that not one living species will transmit its unaltered likeness to a distant futurity.

Of the species now living very few will transmit progeny of any kind to a far distant futurity; for the manner in which all organic beings are grouped shows that the greater number of species in each genus, and all the species in many genera, have left no descendants, but have become utterly extinct. We can so far take a prophetic glance into futurity as to foretell that it will be the common and widely-spread species, belonging to the larger and dominant groups within each class, which will ultimately prevail and procreate new and dominant species. As all the living forms of life are the lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Cambrian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world. We may look with some confidence to a secure future of great length. As natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance, which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a ratio of increase so high as to lead to a struggle for life, and, as a consequence, to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of Nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms, or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.


Post a Comment