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On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

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"But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this--
we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated
interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the
establishment of general laws."

W. Whewell: Bridgewater Treatise.

"To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or
an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far
or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's
works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless
progress or proficience in both."

Bacon: Advancement of Learning.

Down, Bromley, Kent,

October 1st, 1859.













Causes of Variability.
Effects of Habit.
Correlation of Growth.
Character of Domestic Varieties.
Difficulty of distinguishing between Varieties and Species.
Origin of Domestic Varieties from one or more Species.
Domestic Pigeons, their Differences and Origin.
Principle of Selection anciently followed, its Effects.
Methodical and Unconscious Selection.
Unknown Origin of our Domestic Productions.
Circumstances favourable to Man's power of Selection.


Individual Differences.
Doubtful species.
Wide ranging, much diffused, and common species vary most.
Species of the larger genera in any country vary more than the species
of the smaller genera.
Many of the species of the larger genera resemble varieties in being
very closely, but unequally, related to each other, and in having
restricted ranges.


Bears on natural selection.
The term used in a wide sense.
Geometrical powers of increase.
Rapid increase of naturalised animals and plants.
Nature of the checks to increase.
Competition universal.
Effects of climate.
Protection from the number of individuals.
Complex relations of all animals and plants throughout nature.
Struggle for life most severe between individuals and varieties of the
same species; often severe between species of the same genus.
The relation of organism to organism the most important of all


Natural Selection: its power compared with man's selection, its power
on characters of trifling importance, its power at all ages and on
both sexes.
Sexual Selection.
On the generality of intercrosses between individuals of the same
Circumstances favourable and unfavourable to Natural Selection,
namely, intercrossing, isolation, number of individuals.
Slow action.
Extinction caused by Natural Selection.
Divergence of Character, related to the diversity of inhabitants of
any small area, and to naturalisation.
Action of Natural Selection, through Divergence of Character and
Extinction, on the descendants from a common parent.
Explains the Grouping of all organic beings.


Effects of external conditions.
Use and disuse, combined with natural selection; organs of flight and
of vision.
Correlation of growth.
Compensation and economy of growth.
False correlations.
Multiple, rudimentary, and lowly organised structures variable.
Parts developed in an unusual manner are highly variable: specific
characters more variable than generic: secondary sexual characters
Species of the same genus vary in an analogous manner.
Reversions to long-lost characters.


Difficulties on the theory of descent with modification.
Absence or rarity of transitional varieties.
Transitions in habits of life.
Diversified habits in the same species.
Species with habits widely different from those of their allies.
Organs of extreme perfection.
Means of transition.
Cases of difficulty.
Natura non facit saltum.
Organs of small importance.
Organs not in all cases absolutely perfect.
The law of Unity of Type and of the Conditions of Existence embraced
by the theory of Natural Selection.


Instincts comparable with habits, but different in their origin.
Instincts graduated.
Aphides and ants.
Instincts variable.
Domestic instincts, their origin.
Natural instincts of the cuckoo, ostrich, and parasitic bees.
Slave-making ants.
Hive-bee, its cell-making instinct.
Difficulties on the theory of the Natural Selection of instincts.
Neuter or sterile insects.


Distinction between the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids.
Sterility various in degree, not universal, affected by close
interbreeding, removed by domestication.
Laws governing the sterility of hybrids.
Sterility not a special endowment, but incidental on other
Causes of the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids.
Parallelism between the effects of changed conditions of life and
Fertility of varieties when crossed and of their mongrel offspring not
Hybrids and mongrels compared independently of their fertility.


On the absence of intermediate varieties at the present day.
On the nature of extinct intermediate varieties; on their number.
On the vast lapse of time, as inferred from the rate of deposition and
of denudation.
On the poorness of our palaeontological collections.
On the intermittence of geological formations.
On the absence of intermediate varieties in any one formation.
On the sudden appearance of groups of species.
On their sudden appearance in the lowest known fossiliferous strata.


On the slow and successive appearance of new species.
On their different rates of change.
Species once lost do not reappear.
Groups of species follow the same general rules in their appearance
and disappearance as do single species.
On Extinction.
On simultaneous changes in the forms of life throughout the world.
On the affinities of extinct species to each other and to living
On the state of development of ancient forms.
On the succession of the same types within the same areas.
Summary of preceding and present chapters.


Present distribution cannot be accounted for by differences in
physical conditions.
Importance of barriers.
Affinity of the productions of the same continent.
Centres of creation.
Means of dispersal, by changes of climate and of the level of the
land, and by occasional means.
Dispersal during the Glacial period co-extensive with the world.


Distribution of fresh-water productions.
On the inhabitants of oceanic islands.
Absence of Batrachians and of terrestrial Mammals.
On the relation of the inhabitants of islands to those of the nearest
On colonisation from the nearest source with subsequent modification.
Summary of the last and present chapters.


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.
EMBRYOLOGY, laws of, explained by variations not supervening at an
early age, and being inherited at a corresponding age.
RUDIMENTARY ORGANS; their origin explained.


Recapitulation of the difficulties on the theory of Natural Selection.
Recapitulation of the general and special circumstances in its favour.
Causes of the general belief in the immutability of species.
How far the theory of natural selection may be extended.
Effects of its adoption on the study of Natural history.
Concluding remarks.



When on board H.M.S. 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was much struck with
certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America,
and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants
of that continent. These facts seemed to me 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, it occurred to
me, in 1837, 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.

My work is now nearly finished; but as it will take me two or three
more years to complete it, and as my health is far from strong, I have
been urged to publish this Abstract. I have more especially been
induced to do this, as Mr. Wallace, who is now studying the natural
history of the Malay archipelago, has arrived at almost exactly the
same general conclusions that I have on the origin of species. Last
year he sent to me a memoir on this subject, with a request that I
would forward it to Sir Charles Lyell, who sent it to the Linnean
Society, and it is published in the third volume of the Journal of
that Society. Sir C. Lyell and Dr. Hooker, who both knew of my
work--the latter having read my sketch of 1844--honoured me by
thinking it advisable to publish, with Mr. Wallace's excellent memoir,
some brief extracts from my manuscripts.

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I
cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements;
and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my
accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have
always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here
give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few
facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice.
No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter
publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my
conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do
this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in
this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading
to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A
fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the
facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot
possibly be here done.

I much regret that want of space prevents my having the satisfaction
of acknowledging the generous assistance which I have received from
very many naturalists, some of them personally unknown to me. I
cannot, however, let this opportunity pass without expressing my deep
obligations to Dr. Hooker, who for the last fifteen years has aided me
in every possible way by his large stores of knowledge and his
excellent judgment.

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 each 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
coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration. Naturalists
continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, etc.,
as the only possible cause of variation. In one very 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
misseltoe, 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 this 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

The author of the 'Vestiges of Creation' would, I presume, say that,
after a certain unknown number of generations, some bird had given
birth to a woodpecker, and some plant to the misseltoe, and that these
had been produced perfect as we now see them; but this assumption
seems to me to be no explanation, for it leaves the case of the
coadaptations of organic beings to each other and to their physical
conditions of life, untouched and unexplained.

It is, therefore, of the highest importance to gain a clear insight
into the means of modification and coadaptation. At the commencement
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

From these considerations, I shall devote the first chapter of this
Abstract to Variation under Domestication. We shall thus see that a
large amount of hereditary modification is at least possible, and,
what is equally or more important, we shall see how great is the power
of man in accumulating by his Selection successive slight variations.
I will then pass on to the variability of species in a state of
nature; but I shall, unfortunately, be compelled to treat this subject
far too briefly, as it can be treated properly only by giving long
catalogues of facts. We shall, however, be enabled to discuss what
circumstances are most favourable to variation. In the next chapter
the Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the
world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of
increase, will be treated of. This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied
to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals
of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as,
consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence,
it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner
profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying
conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus
be NATURALLY SELECTED. From the strong principle of inheritance, any
selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

This fundamental subject of Natural Selection will be treated at some
length in the fourth chapter; and we shall then see how Natural
Selection almost inevitably causes much Extinction of the less
improved forms of life and induces what I have called Divergence of
Character. In the next chapter I shall discuss the complex and little
known laws of variation and of correlation of growth. In the four
succeeding chapters, the most apparent and gravest difficulties on the
theory will be given: namely, first, the difficulties of transitions,
or in understanding how a simple being or a simple organ can be
changed and perfected into a highly developed being or elaborately
constructed organ; secondly the subject of Instinct, or the mental
powers of animals, thirdly, Hybridism, or the infertility of species
and the fertility of varieties when intercrossed; and fourthly, the
imperfection of the Geological Record. In the next chapter I shall
consider the geological succession of organic beings throughout time;
in the eleventh and twelfth, their geographical distribution
throughout space; in the thirteenth, their classification or mutual
affinities, both when mature and in an embryonic condition. In the
last chapter I shall give a brief recapitulation of the whole work,
and a few concluding remarks.

No one ought to feel surprise at much remaining as yet unexplained in
regard to the origin of species and varieties, if he makes due
allowance for our profound ignorance in regard to the mutual relations
of all the beings which live around us. Who can explain why one
species ranges widely and is very numerous, and why another allied
species has a narrow range and is rare? Yet these relations are of the
highest importance, for they determine the present welfare, and, as I
believe, the future success and modification of every inhabitant of
this world. Still less do we know of the mutual relations of the
innumerable inhabitants of the world during the many past geological
epochs in its history. 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 entertain, 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 convinced that
Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of


Causes of Variability.
Effects of Habit.
Correlation of Growth.
Character of Domestic Varieties.
Difficulty of distinguishing between Varieties and Species.
Origin of Domestic Varieties from one or more Species.
Domestic Pigeons, their Differences and Origin.
Principle of Selection anciently followed, its Effects.
Methodical and Unconscious Selection.
Unknown Origin of our Domestic Productions.
Circumstances favourable to Man's power of Selection.

When we look to the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of
our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which
strikes us, is, that they generally differ much more from each other,
than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of
nature. When we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and
animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all
ages under the most different climates and treatment, I think we are
driven to conclude that this greater variability is simply due to our
domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not
so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the
parent-species have been exposed under nature. There is, also, I
think, some probability in the view propounded by Andrew Knight, that
this variability may be partly connected with excess of food. It seems
pretty clear that organic beings must be exposed during several
generations to the new conditions of life to cause any appreciable
amount of variation; and that when the organisation has once begun to
vary, it generally continues to vary for many generations. No case is
on record of a variable being ceasing to be variable under
cultivation. Our oldest cultivated plants, such as wheat, still often
yield new varieties: our oldest domesticated animals are still capable
of rapid improvement or modification.

It has been disputed at what period of life the causes of variability,
whatever they may be, generally act; whether during the early or late
period of development of the embryo, or at the instant of conception.
Geoffroy St. Hilaire's experiments show that unnatural treatment of
the embryo causes monstrosities; and monstrosities cannot be separated
by any clear line of distinction from mere variations. But I am
strongly inclined to suspect that the most frequent cause of
variability may be attributed to the male and female reproductive
elements having been affected prior to the act of conception. Several
reasons make me believe in this; but the chief one is the remarkable
effect which confinement or cultivation has on the functions of the
reproductive system; this system appearing to be far more susceptible
than any other part of the organisation, to the action of any change
in the conditions of life. Nothing is more easy than to tame an
animal, and few things more difficult than to get it to breed freely
under confinement, even in the many cases when the male and female
unite. How many animals there are which will not breed, though living
long under not very close confinement in their native country! This is
generally attributed to vitiated instincts; but how many cultivated
plants display the utmost vigour, and yet rarely or never seed! In
some few such cases it has been found out that very trifling changes,
such as a little more or less water at some particular period of
growth, will determine whether or not the plant sets a seed. I cannot
here enter on the copious details which I have collected on this
curious subject; but to show how singular the laws are which determine
the reproduction of animals under confinement, I may just mention that
carnivorous animals, even from the tropics, breed in this country
pretty freely under confinement, with the exception of the
plantigrades or bear family; whereas, carnivorous birds, with the
rarest exceptions, hardly ever lay fertile eggs. Many exotic plants
have pollen utterly worthless, in the same exact condition as in the
most sterile hybrids. When, on the one hand, we see domesticated
animals and plants, though often weak and sickly, yet breeding quite
freely under confinement; and when, on the other hand, we see
individuals, though taken young from a state of nature, perfectly
tamed, long-lived, and healthy (of which I could give numerous
instances), yet having their reproductive system so seriously affected
by unperceived causes as to fail in acting, we need not be surprised
at this system, when it does act under confinement, acting not quite
regularly, and producing offspring not perfectly like their parents or

Sterility has been said to be the bane of horticulture; but on this
view we owe variability to the same cause which produces sterility;
and variability is the source of all the choicest productions of the
garden. I may add, that as some organisms will breed most freely under
the most unnatural conditions (for instance, the rabbit and ferret
kept in hutches), showing that their reproductive system has not been
thus affected; so will some animals and plants withstand domestication
or cultivation, and vary very slightly--perhaps hardly more than in a
state of nature.

A long list could easily be given of "sporting plants;" by this term
gardeners mean a single bud or offset, which suddenly assumes a new
and sometimes very different character from that of the rest of the
plant. Such buds can be propagated by grafting, etc., and sometimes by
seed. These "sports" are extremely rare under nature, but far from
rare under cultivation; and in this case we see that the treatment of
the parent has affected a bud or offset, and not the ovules or pollen.
But it is the opinion of most physiologists that there is no essential
difference between a bud and an ovule in their earliest stages of
formation; so that, in fact, "sports" support my view, that
variability may be largely attributed to the ovules or pollen, or to
both, having been affected by the treatment of the parent prior to the
act of conception. These cases anyhow show that variation is not
necessarily connected, as some authors have supposed, with the act of

Seedlings from the same fruit, and the young of the same litter,
sometimes differ considerably from each other, though both the young
and the parents, as Muller has remarked, have apparently been exposed
to exactly the same conditions of life; and this shows how unimportant
the direct effects of the conditions of life are in comparison with
the laws of reproduction, and of growth, and of inheritance; for had
the action of the conditions been direct, if any of the young had
varied, all would probably have varied in the same manner. To judge
how much, in the case of any variation, we should attribute to the
direct action of heat, moisture, light, food, etc., is most difficult:
my impression is, that with animals such agencies have produced very
little direct effect, though apparently more in the case of plants.
Under this point of view, Mr. Buckman's recent experiments on plants
seem extremely valuable. When all or nearly all the individuals
exposed to certain conditions are affected in the same way, the change
at first appears to be directly due to such conditions; but in some
cases it can be shown that quite opposite conditions produce similar
changes of structure. Nevertheless some slight amount of change may, I
think, be attributed to the direct action of the conditions of
life--as, in some cases, increased size from amount of food, colour
from particular kinds of food and from light, and perhaps the
thickness of fur from climate.

Habit also has a decided influence, as in the period of flowering with
plants when transported from one climate to another. In animals it has
a more marked effect; for instance, I find in the domestic duck that
the bones of the wing weigh less and the bones of the leg more, in
proportion to the whole skeleton, than do the same bones in the
wild-duck; and I presume that this change may be safely attributed to
the domestic duck flying much less, and walking more, than its wild
parent. The great and inherited development of the udders in cows and
goats in countries where they are habitually milked, in comparison
with the state of these organs in other countries, is another instance
of the effect of use. Not a single domestic animal can be named which
has not in some country drooping ears; and the view suggested by some
authors, that the drooping is due to the disuse of the muscles of the
ear, from the animals not being much alarmed by danger, seems

There are many laws regulating variation, some few of which can be
dimly seen, and will be hereafter briefly mentioned. I will here only
allude to what may be called correlation of growth. Any change in the
embryo or larva will almost certainly entail changes in the mature
animal. In monstrosities, the correlations between quite distinct
parts are very curious; and many instances are given in Isidore
Geoffroy St. Hilaire's great work on this subject. Breeders believe
that long limbs are almost always accompanied by an elongated head.
Some instances of correlation are quite whimsical; thus cats with blue
eyes are invariably deaf; colour and constitutional peculiarities go
together, of which many remarkable cases could be given amongst
animals and plants. From the facts collected by Heusinger, it appears
that white sheep and pigs are differently affected from coloured
individuals by certain vegetable poisons. Hairless dogs have imperfect
teeth; long-haired and coarse-haired animals are apt to have, as is
asserted, long or many horns; pigeons with feathered feet have skin
between their outer toes; pigeons with short beaks have small feet,
and those with long beaks large feet. Hence, if man goes on selecting,
and thus augmenting, any peculiarity, he will almost certainly
unconsciously modify other parts of the structure, owing to the
mysterious laws of the correlation of growth.

The result of the various, quite unknown, or dimly seen laws of
variation is infinitely complex and diversified. It is well worth
while carefully to study the several treatises published on some of
our old cultivated plants, as on the hyacinth, potato, even the
dahlia, etc.; and it is really surprising to note the endless points
in structure and constitution in which the varieties and sub-varieties
differ slightly from each other. The whole organisation seems to have
become plastic, and tends to depart in some small degree from that of
the parental type.

Any variation which is not inherited is unimportant for us. But the
number and diversity of inheritable deviations of structure, both
those of slight and those of considerable physiological importance, is
endless. Dr. Prosper Lucas's treatise, in two large volumes, is the
fullest and the best on this subject. No breeder doubts how strong is
the tendency to inheritance: like produces like is his fundamental
belief: doubts have been thrown on this principle by theoretical
writers alone. When a deviation appears not unfrequently, and we see
it in the father and child, we cannot tell whether it may not be due
to the same original cause acting 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 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, etc., 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 a 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 first 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
short-horned 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 strongly-marked 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, in 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 characters, whilst kept under unchanged conditions, and
whilst kept in a considerable body, so that free intercrossing might
check, by blending together, any slight deviations 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 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 lesser degree than, do closely-allied species of the
same genus in a state of nature. I think this must be admitted, when
we find that there are hardly any domestic races, either amongst
animals or plants, which have not been 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 and natural
species--for instance, of the many foxes--inhabiting different
quarters of the world. I do not believe, as we shall presently see,
that all our dogs have descended from any one wild species; but, in
the case of some other domestic races, there is presumptive, or even
strong, evidence in favour of this view.

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? 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
have 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 in the multiple origin of our
domestic 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? But Mr. Horner's researches have rendered it in
some degree probable that man sufficiently civilized to have
manufactured pottery existed in the valley of the Nile thirteen or
fourteen thousand years ago; and who will pretend to say how long
before these ancient periods, savages, like those of Tierra del Fuego
or Australia, who possess a semi-domestic dog, may not have existed in

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. In regard to sheep and
goats I can form no opinion. I should think, from facts communicated
to me by Mr. Blyth, on the habits, voice, and constitution, etc., of
the humped Indian cattle, that these had descended from a different
aboriginal stock from our European cattle; and several competent
judges believe that these latter have had more than one wild parent.
With respect to horses, from reasons which I cannot give here, I am
doubtfully inclined to believe, in opposition to several authors, that
all the races have descended from one wild stock. Mr. Blyth, whose
opinion, from his large and varied stores of knowledge, I should value
more than that of almost any one, thinks that all the breeds of
poultry have proceeded from the common wild Indian fowl (Gallus
bankiva). In regard to ducks and rabbits, the breeds of which differ
considerably from each other in structure, I do not doubt that they
all have descended from the common wild duck and rabbit.

The doctrine of the origin of our several domestic races from several
aboriginal stocks, has been carried to an absurd extreme by some
authors. They believe that every race which breeds true, let the
distinctive characters be ever so slight, has had its wild prototype.
At this rate there must have existed at least a score of species of
wild cattle, as many sheep, and several goats in Europe alone, and
several even within Great Britain. One author believes that there
formerly existed in Great Britain eleven wild species of sheep
peculiar to it! When we bear in mind that Britain has now hardly one
peculiar mammal, and France but few distinct from those of Germany and
conversely, and so with Hungary, Spain, etc., but that each of these
kingdoms possesses several peculiar breeds of cattle, sheep, etc., we
must admit that many domestic breeds have originated in Europe; for
whence could they have been derived, as these several countries do not
possess a number of peculiar species as distinct parent-stocks? So it
is in India. Even in the case of the domestic dogs of the whole world,
which I fully admit have probably descended from several wild species,
I cannot doubt that there has been an immense amount of inherited
variation. Who can believe that animals closely resembling the Italian
greyhound, the bloodhound, the bull-dog, or Blenheim spaniel, etc.--so
unlike all wild Canidae--ever existed freely in a state of nature? It
has often been loosely said that all our races of dogs have been
produced by the crossing of a few aboriginal species; but by crossing
we can get only forms in some degree intermediate between their
parents; and if we account for our several domestic races by this
process, we must admit the former existence of the most extreme forms,
as the Italian greyhound, bloodhound, bull-dog, etc., in the wild
state. Moreover, the possibility of making distinct races by crossing
has been greatly exaggerated. There can be no doubt that a race may be
modified by occasional crosses, if aided by the careful selection of
those individual mongrels, which present any desired character; but
that a race could be obtained nearly intermediate between two
extremely different races or species, I can hardly believe. Sir J.
Sebright expressly experimentised for this object, and failed. The
offspring from the first cross between two pure breeds is tolerably
and sometimes (as I have found with pigeons) extremely uniform, and
everything seems simple enough; but when these mongrels are crossed
one with another for several generations, hardly two of them will be
alike, and then the extreme difficulty, or rather utter hopelessness,
of the task becomes apparent. Certainly, a breed intermediate between
TWO VERY DISTINCT breeds could not be got without extreme care and
long-continued selection; nor can I find a single case on record of a
permanent race having been thus formed.


Believing that it is always best to study some special group, I have,
after deliberation, taken up domestic pigeons. I have kept every breed
which I could purchase or obtain, and have been most kindly favoured
with skins from several quarters of the world, more especially by the
Honourable W. Elliot from India, and by the Honourable C. Murray from
Persia. Many treatises in different languages have been published on
pigeons, and some of them are very important, as being of considerable
antiquity. I have associated with several eminent fanciers, and have
been permitted to join two of the London Pigeon Clubs. The diversity
of the breeds is something astonishing. Compare the English carrier
and the short-faced tumbler, and see the wonderful difference in their
beaks, entailing corresponding differences in their skulls. The
carrier, more especially the male bird, is also remarkable from the
wonderful development of the carunculated skin about the head, and
this is accompanied by greatly elongated eyelids, very large external
orifices to the nostrils, and a wide gape of mouth. The short-faced
tumbler has a beak in outline almost like that of a finch; and the
common tumbler has the singular and strictly inherited habit of flying
at a great height in a compact flock, and tumbling in the air head
over heels. The runt is a bird of great size, with long, massive beak
and large feet; some of the sub-breeds of runts have very long necks,
others very long wings and tails, others singularly short tails. The
barb is allied to the carrier, but, instead of a very long beak, has a
very short and very broad one. The pouter has a much elongated body,
wings, and legs; and its enormously developed crop, which it glories
in inflating, may well excite astonishment and even laughter. The
turbit has a very short and conical beak, with a line of reversed
feathers down the breast; and it has the habit of continually
expanding slightly the upper part of the oesophagus. The Jacobin has
the feathers so much reversed along the back of the neck that they
form a hood, and it has, proportionally to its size, much elongated
wing and tail feathers. The trumpeter and laugher, as their names
express, utter a very different coo from the other breeds. The fantail
has thirty or even forty tail-feathers, instead of twelve or fourteen,
the normal number in all members of the great pigeon family; and these
feathers are kept expanded, and are carried so erect that in good
birds the head and tail touch; the oil-gland is quite aborted. Several
other less distinct breeds might have been specified.

In the skeletons of the several breeds, the development of the bones
of the face in length and breadth and curvature differs enormously.
The shape, as well as the breadth and length of the ramus of the lower
jaw, varies in a highly remarkable manner. The number of the caudal
and sacral vertebrae vary; as does the number of the ribs, together
with their relative breadth and the presence of processes. The size
and shape of the apertures in the sternum are highly variable; so is
the degree of divergence and relative size of the two arms of the
furcula. The proportional width of the gape of mouth, the proportional
length of the eyelids, of the orifice of the nostrils, of the tongue
(not always in strict correlation with the length of beak), the size
of the crop and of the upper part of the oesophagus; the development
and abortion of the oil-gland; the number of the primary wing and
caudal feathers; the relative length of wing and tail to each other
and to the body; the relative length of leg and of the feet; the
number of scutellae on the toes, the development of skin between the
toes, are all points of structure which are variable. The period at
which the perfect plumage is acquired varies, as does the state of the
down with which the nestling birds are clothed when hatched. The shape
and size of the eggs vary. The manner of flight differs remarkably; as
does in some breeds the voice and disposition. Lastly, in certain
breeds, the males and females have come to differ to a slight degree
from each other.

Altogether at least a score of pigeons might be chosen, which if shown
to an ornithologist, and he were told that they were wild birds, would
certainly, I think, be ranked by him as well-defined species.
Moreover, I do not believe that any ornithologist would place the
English carrier, the short-faced tumbler, the runt, the barb, pouter,
and fantail in the same genus; more especially as in each of these
breeds several truly-inherited sub-breeds, or species as he might have
called them, could be shown him.

Great as the differences are between the breeds of pigeons, I am fully
convinced that the common opinion of naturalists is correct, namely,
that all have descended from the rock-pigeon (Columba livia),
including under this term several geographical races or sub-species,
which differ from each other in the most trifling respects. As several
of the reasons which have led me to this belief are in some degree
applicable in other cases, I will here briefly give them. If the
several breeds are not varieties, and have not proceeded from the
rock-pigeon, they must have descended from at least seven or eight
aboriginal stocks; for it is impossible to make the present domestic
breeds by the crossing of any lesser number: how, for instance, could
a pouter be produced by crossing two breeds unless one of the
parent-stocks possessed the characteristic enormous crop? The supposed
aboriginal stocks must all have been rock-pigeons, that is, not
breeding or willingly perching on trees. But besides C. livia, with
its geographical sub-species, only two or three other species of
rock-pigeons are known; and these have not any of the characters of
the domestic breeds. Hence the supposed aboriginal stocks must either
still exist in the countries where they were originally domesticated,
and yet be unknown to ornithologists; and this, considering their
size, habits, and remarkable characters, seems very improbable; or
they must have become extinct in the wild state. But birds breeding on
precipices, and good fliers, are unlikely to be exterminated; and the
common rock-pigeon, which has the same habits with the domestic
breeds, has not been exterminated even on several of the smaller
British islets, or on the shores of the Mediterranean. Hence the
supposed extermination of so many species having similar habits with
the rock-pigeon seems to me a very rash assumption. Moreover, the
several above-named domesticated breeds have been transported to all
parts of the world, and, therefore, some of them must have been
carried back again into their native country; but not one has ever
become wild or feral, though the dovecot-pigeon, which is the
rock-pigeon in a very slightly altered state, has become feral in
several places. Again, all recent experience shows that it is most
difficult to get any wild animal to breed freely under domestication;
yet on the hypothesis of the multiple origin of our pigeons, it must
be assumed that at least seven or eight species were so thoroughly
domesticated in ancient times by half-civilized man, as to be quite
prolific under confinement.

An argument, as it seems to me, of great weight, and applicable in
several other cases, is, that the above-specified breeds, though
agreeing generally in constitution, habits, voice, colouring, and in
most parts of their structure, with the wild rock-pigeon, yet are
certainly highly abnormal in other parts of their structure: we may
look in vain throughout the whole great family of Columbidae for a
beak like that of the English carrier, or that of the short-faced
tumbler, or barb; for reversed feathers like those of the jacobin; for
a crop like that of the pouter; for tail-feathers like those of the
fantail. Hence it must be assumed not only that half-civilized man
succeeded in thoroughly domesticating several species, but that he
intentionally or by chance picked out extraordinarily abnormal
species; and further, that these very species have since all become
extinct or unknown. So many strange contingencies seem to me
improbable in the highest degree.

Some facts in regard to the colouring of pigeons well deserve
consideration. The rock-pigeon is of a slaty-blue, and has a white
rump (the Indian sub-species, C. intermedia of Strickland, having it
bluish); the tail has a terminal dark bar, with the bases of the outer
feathers externally edged with white; the wings have two black bars;
some semi-domestic breeds and some apparently truly wild breeds have,
besides the two black bars, the wings chequered with black. These
several marks do not occur together in any other species of the whole
family. Now, in every one of the domestic breeds, taking thoroughly
well-bred birds, all the above marks, even to the white edging of the
outer tail-feathers, sometimes concur perfectly developed. Moreover,
when two birds belonging to two distinct breeds are crossed, neither
of which is blue or has any of the above-specified marks, the mongrel
offspring are very apt suddenly to acquire these characters; for
instance, I crossed some uniformly white fantails with some uniformly
black barbs, and they produced mottled brown and black birds; these I
again crossed together, and one grandchild of the pure white fantail
and pure black barb was of as beautiful a blue colour, with the white
rump, double black wing-bar, and barred and white-edged tail-feathers,
as any wild rock-pigeon! We can understand these facts, on the
well-known principle of reversion to ancestral characters, if all the
domestic breeds have descended from the rock-pigeon. But if we deny
this, we must make one of the two following highly improbable
suppositions. Either, firstly, that all the several imagined
aboriginal stocks were coloured and marked like the rock-pigeon,
although no other existing species is thus coloured and marked, so
that in each separate breed there might be a tendency to revert to the
very same colours and markings. Or, secondly, that each breed, even
the purest, has within a dozen or, at most, within a score of
generations, been crossed by the rock-pigeon: I say within a dozen or
twenty generations, for we know of no fact countenancing the belief
that the child ever reverts to some one ancestor, removed by a greater
number of generations. In a breed which has been crossed only once
with some distinct breed, the tendency to reversion to any character
derived from such cross will naturally become less and less, as in
each succeeding generation there will be less of the foreign blood;
but when there has been no cross with a distinct breed, and there is a
tendency in both parents to revert to a character, which has been lost
during some former generation, this tendency, for all that we can see
to the contrary, may be transmitted undiminished for an indefinite
number of generations. These two distinct cases are often confounded
in treatises on inheritance.

Lastly, the hybrids or mongrels from between all the domestic breeds
of pigeons are perfectly fertile. I can state this from my own
observations, purposely made on the most distinct breeds. Now, it is
difficult, perhaps impossible, to bring forward one case of the hybrid
offspring of two animals CLEARLY DISTINCT being themselves perfectly
fertile. Some authors believe that long-continued domestication
eliminates this strong tendency to sterility: from the history of the
dog I think there is some probability in this hypothesis, if applied
to species closely related together, though it is unsupported by a
single experiment. But to extend the hypothesis so far as to suppose
that species, aboriginally as distinct as carriers, tumblers, pouters,
and fantails now are, should yield offspring perfectly fertile, inter
se, seems to me rash in the extreme.

From these several reasons, namely, the improbability of man having
formerly got seven or eight supposed species of pigeons to breed
freely under domestication; these supposed species being quite unknown
in a wild state, and their becoming nowhere feral; these species
having very abnormal characters in certain respects, as compared with
all other Columbidae, though so like in most other respects to the
rock-pigeon; the blue colour and various marks occasionally appearing
in all the breeds, both when kept pure and when crossed; the mongrel
offspring being perfectly fertile;--from these several reasons, taken
together, I can feel no doubt that all our domestic breeds have
descended from the Columba livia with its geographical sub-species.

In favour of this view, I may add, firstly, that C. livia, or the
rock-pigeon, has been found capable of domestication in Europe and in
India; and that it agrees in habits and in a great number of points of
structure with all the domestic breeds. Secondly, although an English
carrier or short-faced tumbler differs immensely in certain characters
from the rock-pigeon, yet by comparing the several sub-breeds of these
breeds, more especially those brought from distant countries, we can
make an almost perfect series between the extremes of structure.
Thirdly, those characters which are mainly distinctive of each breed,
for instance the wattle and length of beak of the carrier, the
shortness of that of the tumbler, and the number of tail-feathers in
the fantail, are in each breed eminently variable; and the explanation
of this fact will be obvious when we come to treat of selection.
Fourthly, pigeons have been watched, and tended with the utmost care,
and loved by many people. They have been domesticated for thousands of
years in several quarters of the world; the earliest known record of
pigeons is in the fifth Aegyptian dynasty, about 3000 B.C., as was
pointed out to me by Professor Lepsius; but Mr. Birch informs me that
pigeons are given in a bill of fare in the previous dynasty. In the
time of the Romans, as we hear from Pliny, immense prices were given
for pigeons; "nay, they are come to this pass, that they can reckon up
their pedigree and race." Pigeons were much valued by Akber Khan in
India, about the year 1600; never less than 20,000 pigeons were taken
with the court. "The monarchs of Iran and Turan sent him some very
rare birds;" and, continues the courtly historian, "His Majesty by
crossing the breeds, which method was never practised before, has
improved them astonishingly." About this same period the Dutch were as
eager about pigeons as were the old Romans. The paramount importance
of these considerations in explaining the immense amount of variation
which pigeons have undergone, will be obvious when we treat of
Selection. We shall then, also, see how it is that the breeds so often
have a somewhat monstrous character. It is also a most favourable
circumstance for the production of distinct breeds, that male and
female pigeons can be easily mated for life; and thus different breeds
can be kept together in the same aviary.

I have discussed the probable origin of domestic pigeons at some, yet
quite insufficient, length; because when I first kept pigeons and
watched the several kinds, knowing well how true they bred, I felt
fully as much difficulty in believing that they could ever have
descended from a common parent, as any naturalist could in coming to a
similar conclusion in regard to the many species of finches, or other
large groups of birds, in nature. One circumstance has struck me much;
namely, that all the breeders of the various domestic animals and the
cultivators of plants, with whom I have ever conversed, or whose
treatises I have read, are firmly convinced that the several breeds to
which each has attended, are descended from so many aboriginally
distinct species. Ask, as I have asked, a celebrated raiser of
Hereford cattle, whether his cattle might not have descended from long
horns, and he will laugh you to scorn. I have never met a pigeon, or
poultry, or duck, or rabbit fancier, who was not fully convinced that
each main breed was descended from a distinct species. Van Mons, in
his treatise on pears and apples, shows how utterly he disbelieves
that the several sorts, for instance a Ribston-pippin or Codlin-apple,
could ever have proceeded from the seeds of the same tree. Innumerable
other examples could be given. The explanation, I think, is simple:
from long-continued study they are strongly impressed with the
differences between the several races; and though they well know that
each race varies slightly, for they win their prizes by selecting such
slight differences, yet they ignore all general arguments, and refuse
to sum up in their minds slight differences accumulated during many
successive generations. May not those naturalists who, knowing far
less of the laws of inheritance than does the breeder, and knowing no
more than he does of the intermediate links in the long lines of
descent, yet admit that many of our domestic races have descended from
the same parents--may they not learn a lesson of caution, when they
deride the idea of species in a state of nature being lineal
descendants of other species?


Let us now briefly consider the steps by which domestic races have
been produced, either from one or from several allied species. Some
little effect may, perhaps, be attributed to the direct action of the
external conditions of life, and some little to habit; but he would be
a bold man who would account by such agencies for the differences of a
dray and race horse, a greyhound and bloodhound, a carrier and tumbler
pigeon. One of the most remarkable features in our domesticated races
is that we see in them adaptation, not indeed to the animal's or
plant's own good, but to man's use or fancy. Some variations useful to
him have probably arisen suddenly, or by one step; many botanists, for
instance, believe that the fuller's teazle, with its hooks, which
cannot be rivalled by any mechanical contrivance, is only a variety of
the wild Dipsacus; and this amount of change may have suddenly arisen
in a seedling. So it has probably been with the turnspit dog; and this
is known to have been the case with the ancon sheep. But when we
compare the dray-horse and race-horse, the dromedary and camel, the
various breeds of sheep fitted either for cultivated land or mountain
pasture, with the wool of one breed good for one purpose, and that of
another breed for another purpose; when we compare the many breeds of
dogs, each good for man in very different ways; when we compare the
game-cock, so pertinacious in battle, with other breeds so little
quarrelsome, with "everlasting layers" which never desire to sit, and
with the bantam so small and elegant; when we compare the host of
agricultural, culinary, orchard, and flower-garden races of plants,
most useful to man at different seasons and for different purposes, or
so beautiful in his eyes, we must, I think, look further than to mere
variability. We cannot suppose that all the breeds were suddenly
produced as perfect and as useful as we now see them; indeed, in
several 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 make 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 some breeds of cattle and
sheep. In order fully to realise what they have done, it is almost
necessary to read several of the many treatises devoted to this
subject, and to inspect the animals. Breeders habitually speak of an
animal's organisation as something quite plastic, which they can model
almost as they please. If I had space I could quote numerous passages
to this effect from highly competent authorities. Youatt, who was
probably better acquainted with the works of agriculturalists than
almost any other individual, and who was himself a very good judge of
an animal, speaks of the principle of selection as "that which enables
the agriculturist, not only to modify the character of his flock, but
to change it altogether. It is the magician's wand, by means of which
he may summon into life whatever form and mould he pleases." Lord
Somerville, speaking of what breeders have done for sheep, says:--"It
would seem as if they had chalked out upon a wall a form perfect in
itself, and then had given it existence." That most skilful breeder,
Sir John Sebright, used to say, with respect to pigeons, that "he
would produce any given feather in three years, but it would take him
six years to obtain head and beak." In Saxony the importance of the
principle of selection in regard to merino sheep is so fully
recognised, that men follow it as a trade: the sheep are placed on a
table and are studied, like a picture by a connoisseur; this is done
three times at intervals of months, and the sheep are each time marked
and classed, so that the very best may ultimately be selected for

What English breeders have actually effected is proved by the enormous
prices given for animals with a good pedigree; and these have now been
exported to almost every quarter of the world. The improvement is by
no means generally due to crossing different breeds; all the best
breeders are strongly opposed to this practice, except sometimes
amongst closely allied sub-breeds. And when a cross has been made, the
closest selection is far more indispensable even than in ordinary
cases. If selection consisted merely in separating some very distinct
variety, and breeding from it, the principle would be so obvious as
hardly to be worth notice; but its importance consists in the great
effect produced by the accumulation in one direction, during
successive generations, of differences absolutely inappreciable by an
uneducated eye--differences which I for one have vainly attempted to
appreciate. Not one man in a thousand has accuracy of eye and judgment
sufficient to become an eminent breeder. If gifted with these
qualities, and he studies his subject for years, and devotes his
lifetime to it with indomitable perseverance, he will succeed, and may
make great improvements; if he wants any of these qualities, he will
assuredly fail. Few would readily believe in the natural capacity and
years of practice requisite to become even a skilful pigeon-fancier.

The same principles are followed by horticulturists; but the
variations are here often more abrupt. No one supposes that our
choicest productions have been produced by a single variation from the
aboriginal stock. We have proofs that this is not so in some cases, in
which exact records have been kept; thus, to give a very trifling
instance, the steadily-increasing size of the common gooseberry may be
quoted. 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. When a race of plants is once pretty
well established, the seed-raisers do not pick out the best plants,
but merely go over their seed-beds, and pull up the "rogues," as they
call the plants that deviate from the proper standard. With animals
this kind of selection is, in fact, also followed; for hardly any one
is so careless as to allow his worst animals to breed.

In regard to plants, there is another means of observing the
accumulated effects of selection--namely, by comparing the diversity
of flowers in the different varieties of the same species in the
flower-garden; the diversity of leaves, pods, or tubers, or whatever
part is valued, in the kitchen-garden, in comparison with the flowers
of the same varieties; and the diversity of fruit of the same species
in the orchard, in comparison with the leaves and flowers of the same
set of varieties. See how different the leaves of the cabbage are, and
how extremely alike the flowers; how unlike the flowers of the
heartsease are, and how alike the leaves; how much the fruit of the
different kinds of gooseberries differ in size, colour, shape, and
hairiness, and yet the flowers present very slight differences. It is
not that the varieties which differ largely in some one point do not
differ at all in other points; this is hardly ever, perhaps never, the
case. The laws of correlation of growth, the importance of which
should never be overlooked, will ensure some differences; but, as a
general rule, I cannot doubt that the continued selection of slight
variations, either in the leaves, the flowers, or the fruit, will
produce races differing from each other chiefly in these characters.

It may be objected that the principle of selection has been reduced to
methodical practice for scarcely more than three-quarters of a
century; it has certainly been more attended to of late years, and
many treatises have been published on the subject; and the result, I
may add, has been, in a corresponding degree, rapid and important. But
it is very far from true that the principle is a modern discovery. I
could give several references to the full acknowledgment of the
importance of the principle in works of high antiquity. In rude and
barbarous periods of English history choice animals were often
imported, and laws were passed to prevent their exportation: the
destruction of horses under a certain size was ordered, and this may
be compared to the "roguing" of plants by nurserymen. The principle of
selection I find distinctly given in an ancient Chinese encyclopaedia.
Explicit rules are laid down by some of the Roman classical writers.
From passages in Genesis, it is clear that the colour of domestic
animals was at that early period attended to. Savages now sometimes
cross their dogs with wild canine animals, to improve the breed, and
they formerly did so, as is attested by passages in Pliny. The savages
in South Africa match their draught cattle by colour, as do some of
the Esquimaux their teams of dogs. Livingstone shows how much good
domestic breeds are valued by the negroes of the interior of Africa
who have not associated with Europeans. Some of these facts do not
show actual selection, but they show 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.

At the present time, eminent breeders try by methodical selection,
with a distinct object in view, to make a new strain or sub-breed,
superior to anything existing in the country. But, for our purpose, a
kind of Selection, which may be called Unconscious, and which results
from every one trying to possess and breed from the best individual
animals, is more important. Thus, a man who intends keeping pointers
naturally tries to get as good dogs as he can, and afterwards breeds
from his own best dogs, but he has no wish or expectation of
permanently altering the breed. Nevertheless I cannot doubt that this
process, continued during centuries, would improve and modify any
breed, in the same way as Bakewell, Collins, etc., by this very same
process, only carried on more methodically, did greatly modify, even
during their own lifetimes, the forms and qualities of their cattle.
Slow and insensible changes of this kind could never be recognised
unless actual measurements or careful drawings of the breeds in
question had been made long ago, which might serve for comparison. In
some cases, however, unchanged or but little changed individuals of
the same breed may be found in less civilised districts, where the
breed has been less improved. There is reason to believe that King
Charles's spaniel has been unconsciously modified to a large extent
since the time of that monarch. Some highly competent authorities are
convinced that the setter is directly derived from the spaniel, and
has probably been slowly altered from it. It is known that the English
pointer has been greatly changed within the last century, and in this
case the change has, it is believed, been chiefly effected by crosses
with the fox-hound; but what concerns us is, that the change has been
effected unconsciously and gradually, and yet so effectually, that,
though the old Spanish pointer certainly came from Spain, Mr. Borrow
has not seen, as I am informed by him, any native dog in Spain like
our pointer.

By a similar process of selection, and by careful training, the whole
body of English racehorses have come to surpass in fleetness and size
the parent Arab stock, so that the latter, by the regulations for the
Goodwood Races, are favoured in the weights they carry. Lord Spencer
and others have shown how the cattle of England have increased in
weight and in early maturity, compared with the stock formerly kept in
this country. By comparing the accounts given in old pigeon treatises
of carriers and tumblers with these breeds as now existing in Britain,
India, and Persia, we can, I think, clearly trace the stages through
which they have insensibly passed, and come to differ so greatly from
the rock-pigeon.

Youatt gives an excellent illustration of the effects of a course of
selection, which may be considered as unconsciously followed, in so
far that the breeders could never have expected or even have wished to
have produced the result which ensued--namely, the production of two
distinct strains. The two flocks of Leicester sheep kept by Mr.
Buckley and Mr. Burgess, as Mr. Youatt remarks, "have been purely bred
from the original stock of Mr. Bakewell for upwards of fifty years.
There is not a suspicion existing in the mind of any one at all
acquainted with the subject that the owner of either of them has
deviated in any one instance from the pure blood of Mr. Bakewell's
flock, and yet the difference between the sheep possessed by these two
gentlemen is so great that they have the appearance of being quite
different varieties."

If there exist savages so barbarous as never to think of the inherited
character of the offspring of their domestic animals, yet any one
animal particularly useful to them, for any special purpose, would be
carefully preserved during famines and other accidents, to which
savages are so liable, and such choice animals would thus generally
leave more offspring than the inferior ones; so that in this case
there would be a kind of unconscious selection going on. We see the
value set on animals even by the barbarians of Tierra del Fuego, by
their killing and devouring their old women, in times of dearth, as of
less value than their dogs.

In plants the same gradual process of improvement, through the
occasional preservation of the best individuals, whether or not
sufficiently distinct to be ranked at their first appearance as
distinct varieties, and whether or not two or more species or races
have become blended together by crossing, may plainly be recognised in
the increased size and beauty which we now see in the varieties of the
heartsease, rose, pelargonium, dahlia, and other plants, when compared
with the older varieties or with their parent-stocks. No one would
ever expect to get a first-rate heartsease or dahlia from the seed of
a wild plant. No one would expect to raise a first-rate melting pear
from the seed of a wild pear, though he might succeed from a poor
seedling growing wild, if it had come from a garden-stock. The pear,
though cultivated in classical times, appears, from Pliny's
description, to have been a fruit of very inferior quality. I have
seen great surprise expressed in horticultural works at the wonderful
skill of gardeners, in having produced such splendid results from such
poor materials; but the art, I cannot doubt, has been simple, and, as
far as the final result is concerned, has been followed almost
unconsciously. It has consisted in always cultivating the best known
variety, sowing its seeds, and, when a slightly better variety has
chanced to appear, selecting it, and so onwards. But the gardeners of
the classical period, who cultivated the best pear they could procure,
never thought what splendid fruit we should eat; though we owe our
excellent fruit, in some small degree, to their having naturally
chosen and preserved the best varieties they could anywhere find.

A large amount of change in our cultivated plants, thus slowly and
unconsciously accumulated, explains, as I believe, the well-known
fact, that in a vast number of cases we cannot recognise, and
therefore do not know, the wild parent-stocks of the plants which have
been longest cultivated in our flower and kitchen gardens. If it has
taken centuries or thousands of years to improve or modify most of our
plants up to their present standard of usefulness to man, we can
understand how it is that neither Australia, the Cape of Good Hope,
nor any other region inhabited by quite uncivilised man, has afforded
us a single plant worth culture. It is not that these countries, so
rich in species, do not by a strange chance possess the aboriginal
stocks of any useful plants, but that the native plants have not been
improved by continued selection up to a standard of perfection
comparable with that given to the plants in countries anciently

In regard to the domestic animals kept by uncivilised man, it should
not be overlooked that they almost always have to struggle for their
own food, at least during certain seasons. And in two countries very
differently circumstanced, individuals of the same species, having
slightly different constitutions or structure, would often succeed
better in the one country than in the other, and thus by a process of
"natural selection," as will hereafter be more fully explained, two
sub-breeds might be formed. This, perhaps, partly explains what has
been remarked by some authors, namely, that the varieties kept by
savages have more of the character of species than the varieties kept
in civilised countries.

On the view here given of the all-important part which selection by
man has played, it becomes at once obvious, how it is that our
domestic races show adaptation in their structure or in their habits
to man's wants or fancies. We can, I think, further understand the
frequently abnormal character of our domestic races, and likewise
their differences being so great in external characters and relatively
so slight in internal parts or organs. Man can hardly select, or only
with much difficulty, any deviation of structure excepting such as is
externally visible; and indeed he rarely cares for what is internal.
He can never act by selection, excepting on variations which are first
given to him in some slight degree by nature. No man would ever try to
make a fantail, till he saw a pigeon with a tail developed in some
slight degree in an unusual manner, or a pouter till he saw a pigeon
with a crop of somewhat unusual size; and the more abnormal or unusual
any character was when it first appeared, the more likely it would be
to catch his attention. But to use such an expression as trying to
make a fantail, is, I have no doubt, in most cases, utterly incorrect.
The man who first selected a pigeon with a slightly larger tail, never
dreamed what the descendants of that pigeon would become through
long-continued, partly unconscious and partly methodical selection.
Perhaps the parent bird of all fantails had only fourteen
tail-feathers somewhat expanded, like the present Java fantail, or
like individuals of other and distinct breeds, in which as many as
seventeen tail-feathers have been counted. Perhaps the first
pouter-pigeon did not inflate its crop much more than the turbit now
does the upper part of its oesophagus,--a habit which is disregarded
by all fanciers, as it is not one of the points of the breed.

Nor let it be thought that some great deviation of structure would be
necessary to catch the fancier's eye: he perceives extremely small
differences, and it is in human nature to value any novelty, however
slight, in one's own possession. Nor must the value which would
formerly be set on any slight differences in the individuals of the
same species, be judged of by the value which would now be set on
them, after several breeds have once fairly been established. Many
slight differences might, and indeed do now, arise amongst pigeons,
which are rejected as faults or deviations from the standard of
perfection of each breed. The common goose has not given rise to any
marked varieties; hence the Thoulouse and the common breed, which
differ only in colour, that most fleeting of characters, have lately
been exhibited as distinct at our poultry-shows.

I think these views further explain what has sometimes been
noticed--namely that we know nothing about the origin or history of
any of our domestic breeds. But, in fact, a breed, like a dialect of a
language, can hardly be said to have had a definite origin. A man
preserves and breeds from an individual with some slight deviation of
structure, or takes more care than usual in matching his best animals
and thus improves them, and the improved individuals slowly spread in
the immediate neighbourhood. But as yet they will hardly have a
distinct name, and from being only slightly valued, their history will
be disregarded. When further improved by the same slow and gradual
process, they will spread more widely, and will get recognised as
something distinct and valuable, and will then probably first receive
a provincial name. In semi-civilised countries, with little free
communication, the spreading and knowledge of any new sub-breed will
be a slow process. As soon as the points of value of the new sub-breed
are once fully acknowledged, the principle, as I have called it, of
unconscious selection will always tend,--perhaps more at one period
than at another, as the breed rises or falls in fashion,--perhaps more
in one district than in another, according to the state of
civilisation of the inhabitants--slowly to add to the characteristic
features of the breed, whatever they may be. But the chance will be
infinitely small of any record having been preserved of such slow,
varying, and insensible changes.

I must now say a few words on the circumstances, favourable, or the
reverse, to man's power of selection. A high degree of variability is
obviously favourable, as freely giving the materials for selection to
work on; not that mere individual differences are not amply
sufficient, with extreme care, to allow of the accumulation of a large
amount of modification in almost any desired direction. But as
variations manifestly useful or pleasing to man appear only
occasionally, the chance of their appearance will be much increased by
a large number of individuals being kept; and hence this comes to be
of the highest importance to success. On this principle Marshall has
remarked, with respect to the sheep of parts of Yorkshire, that "as
they generally belong to poor people, and are mostly IN SMALL LOTS,
they never can be improved." On the other hand, nurserymen, from
raising large stocks of the same plants, are generally far more
successful than amateurs in getting new and valuable varieties. The
keeping of a large number of individuals of a species in any country
requires that the species should be placed under favourable conditions
of life, so as to breed freely in that country. When the individuals
of any species are scanty, all the individuals, whatever their quality
may be, will generally be allowed to breed, and this will effectually
prevent selection. But probably the most important point of all, is,
that the animal or plant should be so highly useful to man, or so much
valued by him, that the closest attention should be paid to even the
slightest deviation in the qualities or structure of each individual.
Unless such attention be paid nothing can be effected. I have seen it
gravely remarked, that it was most fortunate that the strawberry began
to vary just when gardeners began to attend closely to this plant. No
doubt the strawberry had always varied since it was cultivated, but
the slight varieties had been neglected. As soon, however, as
gardeners picked out individual plants with slightly larger, earlier,
or better fruit, and raised seedlings from them, and again picked out
the best seedlings and bred from them, then, there appeared (aided by
some crossing with distinct species) those many admirable varieties of
the strawberry which have been raised during the last thirty or forty

In the case of animals with separate sexes, facility in preventing
crosses is an important element of success in the formation of new
races,--at least, in a country which is already stocked with other
races. In this respect enclosure of the land plays a part. Wandering
savages or the inhabitants of open plains rarely possess more than one
breed of the same species. Pigeons can be mated for life, and this is
a great convenience to the fancier, for thus many races may be kept
true, though mingled in the same aviary; and this circumstance must
have largely favoured the improvement and formation of new breeds.
Pigeons, I may add, can be propagated in great numbers and at a very
quick rate, and inferior birds may be freely rejected, as when killed
they serve for food. On the other hand, cats, from their nocturnal
rambling habits, cannot be matched, and, although so much valued by
women and children, we hardly ever see a distinct breed kept up; such
breeds as we do sometimes see are almost always imported from some
other country, often from islands. Although I do not doubt that some
domestic animals vary less than others, yet the rarity or absence of
distinct breeds of the cat, the donkey, peacock, goose, etc., may be
attributed in main part to selection not having been brought into
play: in cats, from the difficulty in pairing them; in donkeys, from
only a few being kept by poor people, and little attention paid to
their breeding; in peacocks, from not being very easily reared and a
large stock not kept; in geese, from being valuable only for two
purposes, food and feathers, and more especially from no pleasure
having been felt in the display of distinct breeds.

To sum up on the origin of our Domestic Races of animals and plants. I
believe that the conditions of life, from their action on the
reproductive system, are so far of the highest importance as causing
variability. I do not believe that variability is an inherent and
necessary contingency, under all circumstances, with all organic
beings, as some authors have thought. The effects of variability are
modified by various degrees of inheritance and of reversion.
Variability is governed by many unknown laws, more especially by that
of correlation of growth. Something may be attributed to the direct
action of the conditions of life. Something must be attributed to use
and disuse. The final result is thus rendered infinitely complex. In
some cases, I do not doubt that the intercrossing of species,
aboriginally distinct, has played an important part in the origin of
our domestic productions. When in any country several domestic breeds
have once been established, their occasional intercrossing, with the
aid of selection, has, no doubt, largely aided in the formation of new
sub-breeds; but the importance of the crossing of varieties has, I
believe, been greatly exaggerated, both in regard to animals and to
those plants which are propagated by seed. In plants which are
temporarily propagated by cuttings, buds, etc., the importance of the
crossing both of distinct species and of varieties is immense; for the
cultivator here quite disregards the extreme variability both of
hybrids and mongrels, and the frequent sterility of hybrids; but the
cases of plants not propagated by seed are of little importance to us,
for their endurance is only temporary. Over all these causes of Change
I am convinced that the accumulative action of Selection, whether
applied methodically and more quickly, or unconsciously and more
slowly, but more efficiently, is by far the predominant Power.


Individual differences.
Doubtful species.
Wide ranging, much diffused, and common species vary most.
Species of the larger genera in any country vary more than the species
of the smaller genera.
Many of the species of the larger genera resemble varieties in being
very closely, but unequally, related to each other, and in having
restricted ranges.

Before applying the principles arrived at in the last chapter to
organic beings in a state of nature, we must briefly discuss whether
these latter are subject to any variation. To treat this subject at
all properly, a long catalogue of dry facts should be given; but these
I shall reserve for my future work. Nor shall I here discuss the
various definitions which have been given of the term species. No one
definition has as yet satisfied all naturalists; yet every naturalist
knows vaguely what he means when he speaks of a species. Generally the
term includes the unknown element of a distinct act of creation. The
term "variety" is almost equally difficult to define; but here
community of descent is almost universally implied, though it can
rarely be proved. We have also what are called monstrosities; but they
graduate into varieties. By a monstrosity I presume is meant some
considerable deviation of structure in one part, either injurious to
or not useful to the species, and not generally propagated. Some
authors use the term "variation" in a technical sense, as implying a
modification directly due to the physical conditions of life; and
"variations" in this sense are supposed not to be inherited: but who
can say that the dwarfed condition of shells in the brackish waters of
the Baltic, or dwarfed plants on Alpine summits, or the thicker fur of
an animal from far northwards, would not in some cases be inherited
for at least some few generations? and in this case I presume that the
form would be called a variety.

Again, we have many slight differences which may be called individual
differences, such as are known frequently to appear in the offspring
from the same parents, or which may be presumed to have thus arisen,
from being frequently observed in the individuals of the same species
inhabiting the same confined locality. No one supposes that all the
individuals of the same species are cast in the very same mould. These
individual differences are highly important for us, as they afford
materials for natural selection to accumulate, in the same manner as
man can accumulate in any given direction individual differences in
his domesticated productions. These individual differences generally
affect what naturalists consider unimportant parts; but I could show
by a long catalogue of facts, that parts which must be called
important, whether viewed under a physiological or classificatory
point of view, sometimes vary in the individuals of the same species.
I am convinced that the most experienced naturalist would be surprised
at the number of the cases of variability, even in important parts of
structure, which he could collect on good authority, as I have
collected, during a course of years. It should be remembered that
systematists are far from pleased at finding variability in important
characters, and that there are not many men who will laboriously
examine internal and important organs, and compare them in many
specimens of the same species. I should never have expected that the
branching of the main nerves close to the great central ganglion of an
insect would have been variable in the same species; I should have
expected that changes of this nature could have been effected only by
slow degrees: yet quite recently Mr. Lubbock has shown a degree of
variability in these main nerves in Coccus, which may almost be
compared to the irregular branching of the stem of a tree. This
philosophical naturalist, I may add, has also quite recently shown
that the muscles in the larvae of certain insects are very far from
uniform. Authors sometimes argue in a circle when they state that
important organs never vary; for these same authors practically rank
that character as important (as some few naturalists have honestly
confessed) which does not vary; and, under this point of view, no
instance of an important part varying will ever be found: but under
any other point of view many instances assuredly can be given.

There is one point connected with individual differences, which seems
to me extremely perplexing: I refer to those genera which have
sometimes been called "protean" or "polymorphic," in which the species
present an inordinate amount of variation; and hardly two naturalists
can agree which forms to rank as species and which as varieties. We
may instance Rubus, Rosa, and Hieracium amongst plants, several genera
of insects, and several genera of Brachiopod shells. In most
polymorphic genera some of the species have fixed and definite
characters. Genera which are polymorphic in one country seem to be,
with some few exceptions, polymorphic in other countries, and
likewise, judging from Brachiopod shells, at former periods of time.
These facts seem to be very perplexing, for they seem to show that
this kind of variability is independent of the conditions of life. I
am inclined to suspect that we see in these polymorphic genera
variations in points of structure which are of no service or
disservice to the species, and which consequently have not been seized
on and rendered definite by natural selection, as hereafter will be

Those forms which possess in some considerable degree the character of
species, but which are so closely similar to some other forms, or are
so closely linked to them by intermediate gradations, that naturalists
do not like to rank them as distinct species, are in several respects
the most important for us. We have every reason to believe that many
of these doubtful and closely-allied forms have permanently retained
their characters in their own country for a long time; for as long, as
far as we know, as have good and true species. Practically, when a
naturalist can unite two forms together by others having intermediate
characters, he treats the one as a variety of the other, ranking the
most common, but sometimes the one first described, as the species,
and the other as the variety. But cases of great difficulty, which I
will not here enumerate, sometimes occur in deciding whether or not to
rank one form as a variety of another, even when they are closely
connected by intermediate links; nor will the commonly-assumed hybrid
nature of the intermediate links always remove the difficulty. In very
many cases, however, one form is ranked as a variety of another, not
because the intermediate links have actually been found, but because
analogy leads the observer to suppose either that they do now
somewhere exist, or may formerly have existed; and here a wide door
for the entry of doubt and conjecture is opened.

Hence, in determining whether a form should be ranked as a species or
a variety, the opinion of naturalists having sound judgment and wide
experience seems the only guide to follow. We must, however, in many
cases, decide by a majority of naturalists, for few well-marked and
well-known varieties can be named which have not been ranked as
species by at least some competent judges.

That varieties of this doubtful nature are far from uncommon cannot be
disputed. Compare the several floras of Great Britain, of France or of
the United States, drawn up by different botanists, and see what a
surprising number of forms have been ranked by one botanist as good
species, and by another as mere varieties. Mr. H. C. Watson, to whom I
lie under deep obligation for assistance of all kinds, has marked for
me 182 British plants, which are generally considered as varieties,
but which have all been ranked by botanists as species; and in making
this list he has omitted many trifling varieties, but which
nevertheless have been ranked by some botanists as species, and he has
entirely omitted several highly polymorphic genera. Under genera,
including the most polymorphic forms, Mr. Babington gives 251 species,
whereas Mr. Bentham gives only 112,--a difference of 139 doubtful
forms! Amongst animals which unite for each birth, and which are
highly locomotive, doubtful forms, ranked by one zoologist as a
species and by another as a variety, can rarely be found within the
same country, but are common in separated areas. How many of those
birds and insects in North America and Europe, which differ very
slightly from each other, have been ranked by one eminent naturalist
as undoubted species, and by another as varieties, or, as they are
often called, as geographical races! Many years ago, when comparing,
and seeing others compare, the birds from the separate islands of the
Galapagos Archipelago, both one with another, and with those from the
American mainland, I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary
is the distinction between species and varieties. On the islets of the
little Madeira group there are many insects which are characterized as
varieties in Mr. Wollaston's admirable work, but which it cannot be
doubted would be ranked as distinct species by many entomologists.
Even Ireland has a few animals, now generally regarded as varieties,
but which have been ranked as species by some zoologists. Several most
experienced ornithologists consider our British red grouse as only a
strongly-marked race of a Norwegian species, whereas the greater
number rank it as an undoubted species peculiar to Great Britain. A
wide distance between the homes of two doubtful forms leads many
naturalists to rank both as distinct species; but what distance, it
has been well asked, will suffice? if that between America and Europe
is ample, will that between the Continent and the Azores, or Madeira,
or the Canaries, or Ireland, be sufficient? It must be admitted that
many forms, considered by highly-competent judges as varieties, have
so perfectly the character of species that they are ranked by other
highly-competent judges as good and true species. But to discuss
whether they are rightly called species or varieties, before any
definition of these terms has been generally accepted, is vainly to
beat the air.

Many of the cases of strongly-marked varieties or doubtful species
well deserve consideration; for several interesting lines of argument,
from geographical distribution, analogical variation, hybridism, etc.,
have been brought to bear on the attempt to determine their rank. I
will here give only a single instance,--the well-known one of the
primrose and cowslip, or Primula veris and elatior. These plants
differ considerably in appearance; they have a different flavour and
emit a different odour; they flower at slightly different periods;
they grow in somewhat different stations; they ascend mountains to
different heights; they have different geographical ranges; and
lastly, according to very numerous experiments made during several
years by that most careful observer Gartner, they can be crossed only
with much difficulty. We could hardly wish for better evidence of the
two forms being specifically distinct. On the other hand, they are
united by many intermediate links, and it is very doubtful whether
these links are hybrids; and there is, as it seems to me, an
overwhelming amount of experimental evidence, showing that they
descend from common parents, and consequently must be ranked as

Close investigation, in most cases, will bring naturalists to an
agreement how to rank doubtful forms. Yet it must be confessed, that
it is in the best-known countries that we find the greatest number of
forms of doubtful value. I have been struck with the fact, that if any
animal or plant in a state of nature be highly useful to man, or from
any cause closely attract his attention, varieties of it will almost
universally be found recorded. These varieties, moreover, will be
often ranked by some authors as species. Look at the common oak, how
closely it has been studied; yet a German author makes more than a
dozen species out of forms, which are very generally considered as
varieties; and in this country the highest botanical authorities and
practical men can be quoted to show that the sessile and pedunculated
oaks are either good and distinct species or mere varieties.

When a young naturalist commences the study of a group of organisms
quite unknown to him, he is at first much perplexed to determine what
differences to consider as specific, and what as varieties; for he
knows nothing of the amount and kind of variation to which the group
is subject; and this shows, at least, how very generally there is some
variation. But if he confine his attention to one class within one
country, he will soon make up his mind how to rank most of the
doubtful forms. His general tendency will be to make many species, for
he will become impressed, just like the pigeon or poultry-fancier
before alluded to, with the amount of difference in the forms which he
is continually studying; and he has little general knowledge of
analogical variation in other groups and in other countries, by which
to correct his first impressions. As he extends the range of his
observations, he will meet with more cases of difficulty; for he will
encounter a greater number of closely-allied forms. But if his
observations be widely extended, he will in the end generally be
enabled to make up his own mind which to call varieties and which
species; but he will succeed in this at the expense of admitting much
variation,--and the truth of this admission will often be disputed by
other naturalists. When, moreover, he comes to study allied forms
brought from countries not now continuous, in which case he can hardly
hope to find the intermediate links between his doubtful forms, he
will have to trust almost entirely to analogy, and his difficulties
will rise to a climax.

Certainly no clear line of demarcation has as yet been drawn between
species and sub-species--that is, the forms which in the opinion of
some naturalists come very near to, but do not quite arrive at the
rank of species; or, again, between sub-species and well-marked
varieties, or between lesser varieties and individual differences.
These differences blend into each other in an insensible series; and a
series impresses the mind with the idea of an actual passage.

Hence I look at individual differences, though of small interest to
the systematist, as of high importance for us, as being the first step
towards such slight varieties as are barely thought worth recording in
works on natural history. And I look at varieties which are in any
degree more distinct and permanent, as steps leading to more strongly
marked and more permanent varieties; and at these latter, as leading
to sub-species, and to species. The passage from one stage of
difference to another and higher stage may be, in some cases, due
merely to the long-continued action of different physical conditions
in two different regions; but I have not much faith in this view; and
I attribute the passage of a variety, from a state in which it differs
very slightly from its parent to one in which it differs more, to the
action of natural selection in accumulating (as will hereafter be more
fully explained) differences of structure in certain definite
directions. Hence I believe a well-marked variety may be justly called
an incipient species; but whether this belief be justifiable must be
judged of by the general weight of the several facts and views given
throughout this work.

It need not be supposed that all varieties or incipient species
necessarily attain the rank of species. They may whilst in this
incipient state become extinct, or they may endure as varieties for
very long periods, as has been shown to be the case by Mr. Wollaston
with the varieties of certain fossil land-shells in Madeira. If a
variety were to flourish so as to exceed in numbers the parent
species, it would then rank as the species, and the species as the
variety; or it might come to supplant and exterminate the parent
species; or both might co-exist, and both rank as independent species.
But we shall hereafter have to return to this subject.

From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term species, as
one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of
individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not
essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less
distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in
comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied
arbitrarily, and for mere convenience sake.

Guided by theoretical considerations, I thought that some interesting
results might be obtained in regard to the nature and relations of the
species which vary most, by tabulating all the varieties in several
well-worked floras. At first this seemed a simple task; but Mr. H. C.
Watson, to whom I am much indebted for valuable advice and assistance
on this subject, soon convinced me that there were many difficulties,
as did subsequently Dr. Hooker, even in stronger terms. I shall
reserve for my future work the discussion of these difficulties, and
the tables themselves of the proportional numbers of the varying
species. Dr. Hooker permits me to add, that after having carefully
read my manuscript, and examined the tables, he thinks that the
following statements are fairly well established. The whole subject,
however, treated as it necessarily here is with much brevity, is
rather perplexing, and allusions cannot be avoided to the "struggle
for existence," "divergence of character," and other questions,
hereafter to be discussed.

Alph. De Candolle and others have shown that plants which have very
wide ranges generally present varieties; and this might have been
expected, as they become exposed to diverse physical conditions, and
as they come into competition (which, as we shall hereafter see, is a
far more important circumstance) with different sets of organic
beings. But my tables further show that, in any limited country, the
species which are most common, that is abound most in individuals, and
the species which are most widely diffused within their own country
(and this is a different consideration from wide range, and to a
certain extent from commonness), often give rise to varieties
sufficiently well-marked to have been recorded in botanical works.
Hence it is the most flourishing, or, as they may be called, the
dominant species,--those which range widely over the world, are the
most diffused in their own country, and are the most numerous in
individuals,--which oftenest produce well-marked varieties, or, as I
consider them, incipient species. And this, perhaps, might have been
anticipated; for, as varieties, in order to become in any degree
permanent, necessarily have to struggle with the other inhabitants of
the country, the species which are already dominant will be the most
likely to yield offspring which, though in some slight degree
modified, will still inherit those advantages that enabled their
parents to become dominant over their compatriots.

If the plants inhabiting a country and described in any Flora be
divided into two equal masses, all those in the larger genera being
placed on one side, and all those in the smaller genera on the other
side, a somewhat larger number of the very common and much diffused or
dominant species will be found on the side of the larger genera. This,
again, might have been anticipated; for the mere fact of many species
of the same genus inhabiting any country, shows that there is
something in the organic or inorganic conditions of that country
favourable to the genus; and, consequently, we might have expected to
have found in the larger genera, or those including many species, a
large proportional number of dominant species. But so many causes tend
to obscure this result, that I am surprised that my tables show even a
small majority on the side of the larger genera. I will here allude to
only two causes of obscurity. Fresh-water and salt-loving plants have
generally very wide ranges and are much diffused, but this seems to be
connected with the nature of the stations inhabited by them, and has
little or no relation to the size of the genera to which the species
belong. Again, plants low in the scale of organisation are generally
much more widely diffused than plants higher in the scale; and here
again there is no close relation to the size of the genera. The cause
of lowly-organised plants ranging widely will be discussed in our
chapter on geographical distribution.

From looking at species as only strongly-marked and well-defined
varieties, I was led to anticipate that the species of the larger
genera in each country would oftener present varieties, than the
species of the smaller genera; for wherever many closely related
species (i.e. species of the same genus) have been formed, many
varieties or incipient species ought, as a general rule, to be now
forming. Where many large trees grow, we expect to find saplings.
Where many species of a genus have been formed through variation,
circumstances have been favourable for variation; and hence we might
expect that the circumstances would generally be still favourable to
variation. On the other hand, if we look at each species as a special
act of creation, there is no apparent reason why more varieties should
occur in a group having many species, than in one having few.

To test the truth of this anticipation I have arranged the plants of
twelve countries, and the coleopterous insects of two districts, into
two nearly equal masses, the species of the larger genera on one side,
and those of the smaller genera on the other side, and it has
invariably proved to be the case that a larger proportion of the
species on the side of the larger genera present varieties, than on
the side of the smaller genera. Moreover, the species of the large
genera which present any varieties, invariably present a larger
average number of varieties than do the species of the small genera.
Both these results follow when another division is made, and when all
the smallest genera, with from only one to four species, are
absolutely excluded from the tables. These facts are of plain
signification on the view that species are only strongly marked and
permanent varieties; for wherever many species of the same genus have
been formed, or where, if we may use the expression, the manufactory
of species has been active, we ought generally to find the manufactory
still in action, more especially as we have every reason to believe
the process of manufacturing new species to be a slow one. And this
certainly is the case, if varieties be looked at as incipient species;
for my tables clearly show as a general rule that, wherever many
species of a genus have been formed, the species of that genus present
a number of varieties, that is of incipient species, beyond the
average. It is not that all large genera are now varying much, and are
thus increasing in the number of their species, or that no small
genera are now varying and increasing; for if this had been so, it
would have been fatal to my theory; inasmuch as geology plainly tells
us that small genera have in the lapse of time often increased greatly
in size; and that large genera have often come to their maxima,
declined, and disappeared. All that we want to show is, that where
many species of a genus have been formed, on an average many are still
forming; and this holds good.

There are other relations between the species of large genera and
their recorded varieties which deserve notice. We have seen that there
is no infallible criterion by which to distinguish species and
well-marked varieties; and in those cases in which intermediate links
have not been found between doubtful forms, naturalists are compelled
to come to a determination by the amount of difference between them,
judging by analogy whether or not the amount suffices to raise one or
both to the rank of species. Hence the amount of difference is one
very important criterion in settling whether two forms should be
ranked as species or varieties. Now Fries has remarked in regard to
plants, and Westwood in regard to insects, that in large genera the
amount of difference between the species is often exceedingly small. I
have endeavoured to test this numerically by averages, and, as far as
my imperfect results go, they always confirm the view. I have also
consulted some sagacious and most experienced observers, and, after
deliberation, they concur in this view. In this respect, therefore,
the species of the larger genera resemble varieties, more than do the
species of the smaller genera. Or the case may be put in another way,
and it may be said, that in the larger genera, in which a number of
varieties or incipient species greater than the average are now
manufacturing, many of the species already manufactured still to a
certain extent resemble varieties, for they differ from each other by
a less than usual amount of difference.

Moreover, the species of the large genera are related to each other,
in the same manner as the varieties of any one species are related to
each other. No naturalist pretends that all the species of a genus are
equally distinct from each other; they may generally be divided into
sub-genera, or sections, or lesser groups. As Fries has well remarked,
little groups of species are generally clustered like satellites
around certain other species. And what are varieties but groups of
forms, unequally related to each other, and clustered round certain
forms--that is, round their parent-species? Undoubtedly there is one
most important point of difference between varieties and species;
namely, that the amount of difference between varieties, when compared
with each other or with their parent-species, is much less than that
between the species of the same genus. But when we come to discuss the
principle, as I call it, of Divergence of Character, we shall see how
this may be explained, and how the lesser differences between
varieties will tend to increase into the greater differences between

There is one other point which seems to me worth notice. Varieties
generally have much restricted ranges: this statement is indeed

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