Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Charles Robert Darwin > Origin of Species
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Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882).  Origin of Species.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
I. Variation under Domestication
 
Character of Domestic Varieties; Difficulty of Distinguishing between Varieties and Species; Origin of Domestic Varieties from One or More Species
 
 
WHEN we look to the hereditary varieties or races of our domestic animals and plants, and compare them with closely allied species, we generally perceive in each domestic race, as already remarked, less uniformity of character than in true species. Domestic races often have a somewhat monstrous character; by which I mean, that, although differing from each other, and from 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 the species under 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 do the closely-allied species of the same genus in a state of nature, but the differences in most cases are less in degree. This must be admitted as true, for the domestic races of many animals and plants have been ranked by some competent judges as the descendants of aboriginally distinct species, and by other competent judges as mere varieties. If any well marked distinction existed between a domestic race and a species, this source of doubt would not so perpetually recur. It has often been stated that domestic races do not differ from each other in character of generic value. It can be shown that this statement is not correct; but naturalists differ much in determining what characters are of generic value; all such valuations being at present empirical. When it is explained how genera originate under nature, it will be seen that we have no right to expect often to find a generic amount of difference in our domesticated races.  1
  In attempting to estimate the amount of structural difference between allied domestic races, we are soon involved in doubt, from not knowing whether they are 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 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 closely allied natural species—for instance, of the many foxes—inhabiting different quarters of the world. I do not believe, as we shall presently see, that the whole amount of difference between the several breeds of the dog has been produced under domestication; I believe that a small part of the difference is due to their being descended from distinct species. In the case of strongly marked races of some other domesticated species, there is presumptive or even strong evidence, that all are descended from a single wild stock.  2
  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 and goose, or the small power of endurance of warmth by the reindeer, 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 on an average vary as largely as the parent species of our existing domesticated productions have varied.  3
  In the case of most of our anciently domesticated animals and plants, it is not possible to come to any definite conclusion, whether they are descended from one or several wild 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 times, on the monuments of Egypt, and in the lake-habitations of Switzerland, much diversity in the breeds; and that some of these ancient breeds closely resemble, or are even identical with, those still existing. But this only throws far backwards the history of civilisation, and shows that animals were domesticated at a much earlier period than has hitherto been supposed. The lake-inhabitants of Switzerland cultivated several kinds of wheat and barley, the pea, the poppy for oil, and flax; and they possessed several domesticated animals. They also carried on commerce with other nations. All this clearly shows, as Reer has remarked, that they had at this early age progressed considerably in civilisation; and this again implies a long continued previous period of less advanced civilisation, during which the domesticated animals, kept by different tribes in different districts, might have varied and given rise to distinct races. Since the discovery of flint tools in the superficial formations of many parts of the world, all geologists believe that barbarian man existed at an enormously remote period; and we know that at the present day there is hardly a tribe so barbarous, as not to have domesticated at least the dog.  4
  The origin of most of our domestic animals will probably for ever remain vague. But I may here state, that, looking to the domestic dogs of the whole world, I have, after a laborious collection of all known facts, come to the conclusion that several wild species of Canidæ have been tamed, and that their blood, in some cases mingled together, flows in the veins of our domestic breeds. In regard to sheep and goats I can form no decided opinion. From facts communicated to me by Mr. Blyth, on the habits, voice, constitution, and structure of the humped Indian cattle, it is almost certain that they are descended from a different aboriginal stock from our European cattle; and some competent judges believe that these latter have had two or three wild progenitors,—whether or not these deserve to be called species. This conclusion, as well as that of the specific distinction between the humped and common cattle, may, indeed, be looked upon as established by the admirable researches of Professor Rutimeyer. With respect to horses, from reasons which I cannot here give, I am doubtfully inclined to believe, in opposition to several authors, that all the races belong to the same species. Having kept nearly all the English breeds of the fowl alive, having bred and crossed them, and examined their skeletons, it appears to me almost certain that all are the descendants of the wild Indian fowl, Gallus bankiva; and this is the conclusion of Mr. Blyth, and of others who have studied this bird in India. In regard to ducks and rabbits, some breeds of which differ much from each other, the evidence is clear that they are all descended from the common wild duck and rabbit.  5
  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 eleven wild species of sheep peculiar to Great Britain! When we bear in mind that Britain has now not one peculiar mammal, and France but few distinct from those of Germany, and so with Hungary, Spain, &c., but that each of these kingdoms possesses several peculiar breeds of cattle, sheep, &c., we must admit that many domestic breeds must have originated in Europe; for whence otherwise could they have been derived? So it is in India. Even in the case of the breeds of the domestic dog throughout the world, which I admit are descended from several wild species, it cannot be doubted that there has been an immense amount of inherited variation; for who will believe that animals closely resembling the Italian greyhound, the bloodhound, the bull-dog, pug-dog, or Blenheim spaniel, &c.—so unlike all wild Canidæ—ever existed 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 only get 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, bulldog, &c., in the wild state. Moreover, the possibility of making distinct races by crossing has been greatly exaggerated. Many cases are on record, showing that a race may be modified by occasional crosses, if aided by the careful selection of the individuals which present the desired character; but to obtain a race intermediate between two quite distinct races, would be very difficult. Sir J. Sebright expressly experimented with this object and failed. The offspring from the first cross between two pure breeds is tolerably and sometimes (as I have found with pigeons) quite uniform in character, and everything seems simple enough; but when these mongrels are crossed one with another for several generations, hardly two of them are alike and then the difficulty of the task becomes manifest.  6
 

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