On our knowledge of the causes of the phenomena of organic nature, by T.H. Huxley

The Conditions of Existence as Affecting the Perpetuation of Living Beings

IN the last Lecture I endeavoured to prove to you that, while, as a general rule, organic beings tend to reproduce their kind, there is in them, also, a constantly recurring tendency to vary — to vary to a greater or to a less extent. Such a variety, I pointed out to you, might arise from causes which we do not understand; we therefore called it spontaneous; and it might come into existence as a definite and marked thing, without any gradations between itself and the form which preceded it. I further pointed out, that such a variety having once arisen, might be perpetuated to some extent, and indeed to a very marked extent, without any direct interference, or without any exercise of that process which we called selection. And then I stated further, that by such selection, when exercised artificially — if you took care to breed only from those forms which presented the same peculiarities of any variety which had arisen in this manner — the variation might be perpetuated, as far as we can see, indefinitely.

The next question, and it is an important one for us, is this: Is there any limit to the amount of variation from the primitive stock which can be produced by this process of selective breeding? In considering this question, it will be useful to class the characteristics, in respect of which organic beings vary, under two heads: we may consider structural characteristics, and we may consider physiological characteristics.

In the first place, as regards structural characteristics, I endeavoured to show you, by the skeletons which I had upon the table, and by reference to a great many well-ascertained facts, that the different breeds of Pigeons, the Carriers, Pouters, and Tumblers, might vary in any of their internal and important structural characters to a very great degree; not only might there be changes in the proportions of the skull, and the characters of the feet and beaks, and so on; but that there might be an absolute difference in the number of the vertebrae of the back, as in the sacral vertebrae of the Pouter; and so great is the extent of the variation in these and similar characters that I pointed out to you, by reference to the skeletons and the diagrams, that these extreme varieties may absolutely differ more from one another in their structural characters than do what naturalists call distinct SPECIES of pigeons; that is to say, that they differ so much in structure that there is a greater difference between the Pouter and the Tumbler than there is between such wild and distinct forms as the Rock Pigeon or the Ring Pigeon, or the Ring Pigeon and the Stock Dove; and indeed the differences are of greater value than this, for the structural differences between these domesticated pigeons are such as would be admitted by a naturalist, supposing he knew nothing at all about their origin, to entitle them to constitute even distinct genera.

As I have used this term SPECIES, and shall probably use it a good deal, I had better perhaps devote a word or two to explaining what I mean by it.

Animals and plants are divided into groups, which become gradually smaller, beginning with a KINGDOM, which is divided into SUB-KINGDOMS; then come the smaller divisions called PROVINCES; and so on from a PROVINCE to a CLASS from a CLASS to an ORDER, from ORDERS to FAMILIES, and from these to GENERA, until we come at length to the smallest groups of animals which can be defined one from the other by constant characters, which are not sexual; and these are what naturalists call SPECIES in practice, whatever they may do in theory.

If, in a state of nature, you find any two groups of living beings, which are separated one from the other by some constantly-recurring characteristic, I don’t care how slight and trivial, so long as it is defined and constant, and does not depend on sexual peculiarities, then all naturalists agree in calling them two species; that is what is meant by the use of the word species — that is to say, it is, for the practical naturalist, a mere question of structural differences.3

3 I lay stress here on the ‘practical’ signification of “Species.” Whether a physiological test between species exist or not, it is hardly ever applicable by the practical naturalist.

We have seen now — to repeat this point once more, and it is very essential that we should rightly understand it — we have seen that breeds, known to have been derived from a common stock by selection, may be as different in their structure from the original stock as species may be distinct from each other.

But is the like true of the physiological characteristics of animals? Do the physiological differences of varieties amount in degree to those observed between forms which naturalists call distinct species? This is a most important point for us to consider.

As regards the great majority of physiological characteristics, there is no doubt that they are capable of being developed, increased, and modified by selection.

There is no doubt that breeds may be made as different as species in many physiological characters. I have already pointed out to you very briefly the different habits of the breeds of Pigeons, all of which depend upon their physiological peculiarities — as the peculiar habit of tumbling, in the Tumbler — the peculiarities of flight, in the “homing” birds — the strange habit of spreading out the tail, and walking in a peculiar fashion, in the Fantail — and, lastly, the habit of blowing out the gullet, so characteristic of the Pouter. These are all due to physiological modifications, and in all these respects these birds differ as much from each other as any two ordinary species do.

So with Dogs in their habits and instincts. It is a physiological peculiarity which leads the Greyhound to chase its prey by sight — that enables the Beagle to track it by the scent — that impels the Terrier to its rat-hunting propensity — and that leads the Retriever to its habit of retrieving. These habits and instincts are all the results of physiological differences and peculiarities, which have been developed from a common stock, at least there is every reason to believe so. But it is a most singular circumstance, that while you may run through almost the whole series of physiological processes, without finding a check to your argument, you come at last to a point where you do find a check, and that is in the reproductive processes. For there is a most singular circumstance in respect to natural species — at least about some of them — and it would be sufficient for the purposes of this argument if it were true of only one of them, but there is, in fact, a great number of such cases — and that is, that, similar as they may appear to be to mere races or breeds, they present a marked peculiarity in the reproductive process. If you breed from the male and female of the same race, you of course have offspring of the like kind, and if you make the offspring breed together, you obtain the same result, and if you breed from these again, you will still have the same kind of offspring; there is no check. But if you take members of two distinct species, however similar they may be to each other and make them breed together, you will find a check, with some modifications and exceptions, however, which I shall speak of presently. If you cross two such species with each other, then — although you may get offspring in the case of the first cross, yet, if you attempt to breed from the products of that crossing, which are what are called HYBRIDS— that is, if you couple a male and a female hybrid — then the result is that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred you will get no offspring at all; there will be no result whatsoever.

The reason of this is quite obvious in some cases; the male hybrids, although possessing all the external appearances and characteristics of perfect animals, are physiologically imperfect and deficient in the structural parts of the reproductive elements necessary to generation. It is said to be invariably the case with the male mule, the cross between the Ass and the Mare; and hence it is, that, although crossing the Horse with the Ass is easy enough, and is constantly done, as far as I am aware, if you take two mules, a male and a female, and endeavour to breed from them, you get no offspring whatever; no generation will take place. This is what is called the sterility of the hybrids between two distinct species.

You see that this is a very extraordinary circumstance; one does not see why it should be. The common teleological explanation is, that it is to prevent the impurity of the blood resulting from the crossing of one species with another, but you see it does not in reality do anything of the kind. There is nothing in this fact that hybrids cannot breed with each other, to establish such a theory; there is nothing to prevent the Horse breeding with the Ass, or the Ass with the Horse. So that this explanation breaks down, as a great many explanations of this kind do, that are only founded on mere assumptions.

Thus you see that there is a great difference between “mongrels,” which are crosses between distinct races, and “hybrids,” which are crosses between distinct species. The mongrels are, so far as we know, fertile with one another. But between species, in many cases, you cannot succeed in obtaining even the first cross: at any rate it is quite certain that the hybrids are often absolutely infertile one with another.

Here is a feature, then, great or small as it may be, which distinguishes natural species of animals. Can we find any approximation to this in the different races known to be produced by selective breeding from a common stock? Up to the present time the answer to that question is absolutely a negative one. As far as we know at present, there is nothing approximating to this check. In crossing the breeds between the Fantail and the Pouter, the Carrier and the Tumbler, or any other variety or race you may name — so far as we know at present — there is no difficulty in breeding together the mongrels. Take the Carrier and the Fantail, for instance, and let them represent the Horse and the Ass in the case of distinct species; then you have, as the result of their breeding, the Carrier–Fantail mongrel — we will say the male and female mongrel — and, as far as we know, these two when crossed would not be less fertile than the original cross, or than Carrier with Carrier. Here, you see, is a physiological contrast between the races produced by selective modification and natural species. I shall inquire into the value of this fact, and of some modifying circumstances by and by; for the present I merely put it broadly before you.

But while considering this question of the limitations of species, a word must be said about what is called RECURRENCE— the tendency of races which have been developed by selective breeding from varieties to return to their primitive type. This is supposed by many to put an absolute limit to the extent of selective and all other variations. People say, “It is all very well to talk about producing these different races, but you know very well that if you turned all these birds wild, these Pouters, and Carriers, and so on, they would all return to their primitive stock.” This is very commonly assumed to be a fact, and it is an argument that is commonly brought forward as conclusive; but if you will take the trouble to inquire into it rather closely, I think you will find that it is not worth very much. The first question of course is, Do they thus return to the primitive stock? And commonly as the thing is assumed and accepted, it is extremely difficult to get anything like good evidence of it. It is constantly said, for example, that if domesticated Horses are turned wild, as they have been in some parts of Asia Minor and South America, that they return at once to the primitive stock from which they were bred. But the first answer that you make to this assumption is, to ask who knows what the primitive stock was; and the second answer is, that in that case the wild Horses of Asia Minor ought to be exactly like the wild Horses of South America. If they are both like the same thing, they ought manifestly to be like each other! The best authorities, however, tell you that it is quite different. The wild Horse of Asia is said to be of a dun colour, with a largish head, and a great many other peculiarities; while the best authorities on the wild Horses of South America tell you that there is no similarity between their wild Horses and those of Asia Minor; the cut of their heads is very different, and they are commonly chestnut or bay-coloured. It is quite clear, therefore, that as by these facts there ought to have been two primitive stocks, they go for nothing in support of the assumption that races recur to one primitive stock, and so far as this evidence is concerned, it falls to the ground.

Suppose for a moment that it were so, and that domesticated races, when turned wild, did return to some common condition, I cannot see that this would prove much more than that similar conditions are likely to produce similar results; and that when you take back domesticated animals into what we call natural conditions, you do exactly the same thing as if you carefully undid all the work you had gone through, for the purpose of bringing the animal from its wild to its domesticated state. I do not see anything very wonderful in the fact, if it took all that trouble to get it from a wild state, that it should go back into its original state as soon as you removed the conditions which produced the variation to the domesticated form. There is an important fact, however, forcibly brought forward by Mr. Darwin, which has been noticed in connection with the breeding of domesticated pigeons; and it is, that however different these breeds of pigeons may be from each other, and we have already noticed the great differences in these breeds, that if, among any of those variations, you chance to have a blue pigeon turn up, it will be sure to have the black bars across the wings, which are characteristic of the original wild stock, the Rock Pigeon.

Now, this is certainly a very remarkable circumstance; but I do not see myself how it tells very strongly either one way or the other. I think, in fact, that this argument in favour of recurrence to the primitive type might prove a great deal too much for those who so constantly bring it forward. For example, Mr. Darwin has very forcibly urged, that nothing is commoner than if you examine a dun horse — and I had an opportunity of verifying this illustration lately, while in the islands of the West Highlands, where there are a great many dun horses — to find that horse exhibit a long black stripe down his back, very often stripes on his shoulder, and very often stripes on his legs. I, myself, saw a pony of this description a short time ago, in a baker’s cart, near Rothesay, in Bute: it had the long stripe down the back, and stripes on the shoulders and legs, just like those of the Ass, the Quagga, and the Zebra. Now, if we interpret the theory of recurrence as applied to this case, might it not be said that here was a case of a variation exhibiting the characters and conditions of an animal occupying something like an intermediate position between the Horse, the Ass, the Quagga, and the Zebra, and from which these had been developed? In the same way with regard even to Man. Every anatomist will tell you that there is nothing commoner, in dissecting the human body, than to meet with what are called muscular variations — that is, if you dissect two bodies very carefully, you will probably find that the modes of attachment and insertion of the muscles are not exactly the same in both, there being great peculiarities in the mode in which the muscles are arranged; and it is very singular, that in some dissections of the human body you will come upon arrangements of the muscles very similar indeed to the same parts in the Apes. Is the conclusion in that case to be, that this is like the black bars in the case of the Pigeon, and that it indicates a recurrence to the primitive type from which the animals have been probably developed? Truly, I think that the opponents of modification and variation had better leave the argument of recurrence alone, or it may prove altogether too strong for them.

To sum up — the evidence as far as we have gone is against the argument as to any limit to divergences, so far as structure is concerned; and in favour of a physiological limitation. By selective breeding we can produce structural divergences as great as those of species, but we cannot produce equal physiological divergences. For the present I leave the question there.

Now, the next problem that lies before us — and it is an extremely important one — is this: Does this selective breeding occur in nature? Because, if there is no proof of it, all that I have been telling you goes for nothing in accounting for the origin of species. Are natural causes competent to play the part of selection in perpetuating varieties? Here we labour under very great difficulties. In the last lecture I had occasion to point out to you the extreme difficulty of obtaining evidence even of the first origin of those varieties which we know to have occurred in domesticated animals. I told you, that almost always the origin of these varieties is overlooked, so that I could only produce two of three cases, as that of Gratio Kelleia and of the Ancon sheep. People forget, or do not take notice of them until they come to have a prominence; and if that is true of artificial cases, under our own eyes, and in animals in our own care, how much more difficult it must be to have at first hand good evidence of the origin of varieties in nature! Indeed, I do not know that it is possible by direct evidence to prove the origin of a variety in nature, or to prove selective breeding; but I will tell you what we can prove — and this comes to the same thing — that varieties exist in nature within the limits of species, and, what is more, that when a variety has come into existence in nature, there are natural causes and conditions, which are amply competent to play the part of a selective breeder; and although that is not quite the evidence that one would like to have — though it is not direct testimony — yet it is exceeding good and exceedingly powerful evidence in its way.

As to the first point, of varieties existing among natural species, I might appeal to the universal experience of every naturalist, and of any person who has ever turned any attention at all to the characteristics of plants and animals in a state of nature; but I may as well take a few definite cases, and I will begin with Man himself.

I am one of those who believe that, at present, there is no evidence whatever for saying, that mankind sprang originally from any more than a single pair; I must say, that I cannot see any good ground whatever, or even any tenable sort of evidence, for believing that there is more than one species of Man. Nevertheless, as you know, just as there are numbers of varieties in animals, so there are remarkable varieties of men. I speak not merely of those broad and distinct variations which you see at a glance. Everybody, of course, knows the difference between a Negro and a white man, and can tell a Chinaman from an Englishman. They each have peculiar characteristics of colour and physiognomy; but you must recollect that the characters of these races go very far deeper — they extend to the bony structure, and to the characters of that most important of all organs to us — the brain; so that, among men belonging to different races, or even within the same race, one man shall have a brain a third, or half, or even seventy per cent. bigger than another; and if you take the whole range of human brains, you will find a variation in some cases of a hundred per cent. Apart from these variations in the size of the brain, the characters of the skull vary. Thus if I draw the figures of a Mongul and of a Negro head on the blackboard, in the case of the last the breadth would be about seven-tenths, and in the other it would be nine-tenths of the total length. So that you see there is abundant evidence of variation among men in their natural condition. And if you turn to other animals there is just the same thing. The fox, for example, which has a very large geographical distribution all over Europe, and parts of Asia, and on the American Continent, varies greatly. There are mostly large foxes in the North, and smaller ones in the South. In Germany alone, the foresters reckon some eight different sorts.

Of the tiger, no one supposes that there is more than one species; they extend from the hottest parts of Bengal, into the dry, cold, bitter steppes of Siberia, into a latitude of 50 degrees — so that they may even prey upon the reindeer. These tigers have exceedingly different characteristics, but still they all keep their general features, so that there is no doubt as to their being tigers. The Siberian tiger has a thick fur, a small mane, and a longitudinal stripe down the back, while the tigers of Java and Sumatra differ in many important respects from the tigers of Northern Asia. So lions vary; so birds vary; and so, if you go further back and lower down in creation, you find that fishes vary. In different streams, in the same country even, you will find the trout to be quite different to each other and easily recognisable by those who fish in the particular streams. There is the same differences in leeches; leech collectors can easily point out to you the differences and the peculiarities which you yourself would probably pass by; so with fresh-water mussels; so, in fact, with every animal you can mention.

In plants there is the same kind of variation. Take such a case even as the common bramble. The botanists are all at war about it; some of them wanting to make out that there are many species of it, and others maintaining that they are but many varieties of one species; and they cannot settle to this day which is a species and which is a variety!

So that there can be no doubt whatsoever that any plant and any animal may vary in nature; that varieties may arise in the way I have described — as spontaneous varieties — and that those varieties may be perpetuated in the same way that I have shown you spontaneous varieties are perpetuated; I say, therefore, that there can be no doubt as to the origin and perpetuation of varieties in nature.

But the question now is:— Does selection take place in nature? is there anything like the operation of man in exercising selective breeding, taking place in nature? You will observe that, at present, I say nothing about species; I wish to confine myself to the consideration of the production of those natural races which everybody admits to exist. The question is, whether in nature there are causes competent to produce races, just in the same way as man is able to produce by selection, such races of animals as we have already noticed.

When a variety has arisen, the CONDITIONS OF EXISTENCE are such as to exercise an influence which is exactly comparable to that of artificial selection. By Conditions of Existence I mean two things — there are conditions which are furnished by the physical, the inorganic world, and there are conditions of existence which are furnished by the organic world. There is, in the first place, CLIMATE; under that head I include only temperature and the varied amount of moisture of particular places. In the next place there is what is technically called STATION, which means — given the climate, the particular kind of place in which an animal or a plant lives or grows; for example, the station of a fish is in the water, of a fresh-water fish in fresh water; the station of a marine fish is in the sea, and a marine animal may have a station higher or deeper. So again with land animals: the differences in their stations are those of different soils and neighbourhoods; some being best adapted to a calcareous, and others to an arenaceous soil. The third condition of existence is FOOD, by which I mean food in the broadest sense, the supply of the materials necessary to the existence of an organic being; in the case of a plant the inorganic matters, such as carbonic acid, water, ammonia, and the earthy salts or salines; in the case of the animal the inorganic and organic matters, which we have seen they require; then these are all, at least the two first, what we may call the inorganic or physical conditions of existence. Food takes a mid-place, and then come the organic conditions; by which I mean the conditions which depend upon the state of the rest of the organic creation, upon the number and kind of living beings, with which an animal is surrounded. You may class these under two heads: there are organic beings, which operate as ‘opponents’, and there are organic beings which operate as ‘helpers’ to any given organic creature. The opponents may be of two kinds: there are the ‘indirect opponents’, which are what we may call ‘rivals’; and there are the ‘direct opponents’, those which strive to destroy the creature; and these we call ‘enemies’. By rivals I mean, of course, in the case of plants, those which require for their support the same kind of soil and station, and, among animals, those which require the same kind of station, or food, or climate; those are the indirect opponents; the direct opponents are, of course, those which prey upon an animal or vegetable. The ‘helpers’ may also be regarded as direct and indirect: in the case of a carnivorous animal, for example, a particular herbaceous plant may in multiplying be an indirect helper, by enabling the herbivora on which the carnivore preys to get more food, and thus to nourish the carnivore more abundantly; the direct helper may be best illustrated by reference to some parasitic creature, such as the tape-worm. The tape-worm exists in the human intestines, so that the fewer there are of men the fewer there will be of tape-worms, other things being alike. It is a humiliating reflection, perhaps, that we may be classed as direct helpers to the tape-worm, but the fact is so: we can all see that if there were no men there would be no tape-worms.

It is extremely difficult to estimate, in a proper way, the importance and the working of the Conditions of Existence. I do not think there were any of us who had the remotest notion of properly estimating them until the publication of Mr. Darwin’s work, which has placed them before us with remarkable clearness; and I must endeavour, as far as I can in my own fashion, to give you some notion of how they work. We shall find it easiest to take a simple case, and one as free as possible from every kind of complication.

I will suppose, therefore, that all the habitable part of this globe — the dry land, amounting to about 51,000,000 square miles — I will suppose that the whole of that dry land has the same climate, and that it is composed of the same kind of rock or soil, so that there will be the same station everywhere; we thus get rid of the peculiar influence of different climates and stations. I will then imagine that there shall be but one organic being in the world, and that shall be a plant. In this we start fair. Its food is to be carbonic acid, water and ammonia, and the saline matters in the soil, which are, by the supposition, everywhere alike. We take one single plant, with no opponents, no helpers, and no rivals; it is to be a “fair field, and no favour”. Now, I will ask you to imagine further that it shall be a plant which shall produce every year fifty seeds, which is a very moderate number for a plant to produce; and that, by the action of the winds and currents, these seeds shall be equally and gradually distributed over the whole surface of the land. I want you now to trace out what will occur, and you will observe that I am not talking fallaciously any more than a mathematician does when he expounds his problem. If you show that the conditions of your problem are such as may actually occur in nature and do not transgress any of the known laws of nature in working out your proposition, then you are as safe in the conclusion you arrive at as is the mathematician in arriving at the solution of his problem. In science, the only way of getting rid of the complications with which a subject of this kind is environed, is to work in this deductive method. What will be the result, then? I will suppose that every plant requires one square foot of ground to live upon; and the result will be that, in the course of nine years, the plant will have occupied every single available spot in the whole globe! I have chalked upon the blackboard the figures by which I arrive at the result:—

Plants. Plants

1 x 50 in 1st year = 50
50 x 50 “ 2nd “ = 2,500
2,500 x 50 “ 3rd “ = 125,000
125,000 x 50 “ 4th “ = 6,250,000
6,250,000 x 50 “ 5th “ = 312,500,000
312,500,000 x 50 “ 6th “ = 15,625,000,000
15,625,000,000 x 50 “ 7th “ = 781,250,000,000
781,250,000,000 x 50 “ 8th “ = 39,062,500,000,000
39,062,500,000,000 x 50& “ 9th “ = 1,953,125,000,000,000

51,000,000 sq. miles — the dry surface of the earth x 27,878,400 — the number of sq. ft. in 1 sq. mile = sq. ft. 1,421,798,400,000,000 being 531,326,600,000,000 square feet less than would be required at the end of the ninth year.

You will see from this that, at the end of the first year the single plant will have produced fifty more of its kind; by the end of the second year these will have increased to 2,500; and so on, in succeeding years, you get beyond even trillions; and I am not at all sure that I could tell you what the proper arithmetical denomination of the total number really is; but, at any rate, you will understand the meaning of all those noughts. Then you see that, at the bottom, I have taken the 51,000,000 of square miles, constituting the surface of the dry land; and as the number of square feet are placed under and subtracted from the number of seeds that would be produced in the ninth year, you can see at once that there would be an immense number more of plants than there would be square feet of ground for their accommodation. This is certainly quite enough to prove my point; that between the eighth and ninth year after being planted the single plant would have stocked the whole available surface of the earth.

This is a thing which is hardly conceivable — it seems hardly imaginable — yet it is so. It is indeed simply the law of Malthus exemplified. Mr. Malthus was a clergyman, who worked out this subject most minutely and truthfully some years ago; he showed quite clearly — and although he was much abused for his conclusions at the time, they have never yet been disproved and never will be — he showed that in consequence of the increase in the number of organic beings in a geometrical ratio, while the means of existence cannot be made to increase in the same ratio, that there must come a time when the number of organic beings will be in excess of the power of production of nutriment, and that thus some check must arise to the further increase of those organic beings. At the end of the ninth year we have seen that each plant would not be able to get its full square foot of ground, and at the end of another year it would have to share that space with fifty others the produce of the seeds which it would give off.

What, then, takes place? Every plant grows up, flourishes, occupies its square foot of ground, and gives off its fifty seeds; but notice this, that out of this number only one can come to anything; there is thus, as it were, forty-nine chances to one against its growing up; it depends upon the most fortuitous circumstances whether any one of these fifty seeds shall grow up and flourish, or whether it shall die and perish. This is what Mr. Darwin has drawn attention to, and called the “STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE”; and I have taken this simple case of a plant because some people imagine that the phrase seems to imply a sort of fight.

I have taken this plant and shown you that this is the result of the ratio of the increase, the necessary result of the arrival of a time coming for every species when exactly as many members must be destroyed as are born; that is the inevitable ultimate result of the rate of production. Now, what is the result of all this? I have said that there are forty-nine struggling against every one; and it amounts to this, that the smallest possible start given to any one seed may give it an advantage which will enable it to get ahead of all the others; anything that will enable any one of these seeds to germinate six hours before any of the others will, other things being alike, enable it to choke them out altogether. I have shown you that there is no particular in which plants will not vary from each other; it is quite possible that one of our imaginary plants may vary in such a character as the thickness of the integument of its seeds; it might happen that one of the plants might produce seeds having a thinner integument, and that would enable the seeds of that plant to germinate a little quicker than those of any of the others, and those seeds would most inevitably extinguish the forty-nine times as many that were struggling with them.

I have put it in this way, but you see the practical result of the process is the same as if some person had nurtured the one and destroyed the other seeds. It does not matter how the variation is produced, so long as it is once allowed to occur. The variation in the plant once fairly started tends to become hereditary and reproduce itself; the seeds would spread themselves in the same way and take part in the struggle with the forty-nine hundred, or forty-nine thousand, with which they might be exposed. Thus, by degrees, this variety, with some slight organic change or modification, must spread itself over the whole surface of the habitable globe, and extirpate or replace the other kinds. That is what is meant by NATURAL SELECTION; that is the kind of argument by which it is perfectly demonstrable that the conditions of existence may play exactly the same part for natural varieties as man does for domesticated varieties. No one doubts at all that particular circumstances may be more favourable for one plant and less so for another, and the moment you admit that, you admit the selective power of nature. Now, although I have been putting a hypothetical case, you must not suppose that I have been reasoning hypothetically. There are plenty of direct experiments which bear out what we may call the theory of natural selection; there is extremely good authority for the statement that if you take the seed of mixed varieties of wheat and sow it, collecting the seed next year and sowing it again, at length you will find that out of all your varieties only two or three have lived, or perhaps even only one. There were one or two varieties which were best fitted to get on, and they have killed out the other kinds in just the same way and with just the same certainty as if you had taken the trouble to remove them. As I have already said, the operation of nature is exactly the same as the artificial operation of man.

But if this be true of that simple case, which I put before you, where there is nothing but the rivalry of one member of a species with others, what must be the operation of selective conditions, when you recollect as a matter of fact, that for every species of animal or plant there are fifty or a hundred species which might all, more or less, be comprehended in the same climate, food, and station; — that every plant has multitudinous animals which prey upon it, and which are its direct opponents; and that these have other animals preying upon them — that every plant has its indirect helpers in the birds that scatter abroad its seed, and the animals that manure it with their dung; — I say, when these things are considered, it seems impossible that any variation which may arise in a species in nature should not tend in some way or other either to be a little better or worse than the previous stock; if it is a little better it will have an advantage over and tend to extirpate the latter in this crush and struggle; and if it is a little worse it will itself be extirpated.

I know nothing that more appropriately expresses this, than the phrase, “the struggle for existence”; because it brings before your minds, in a vivid sort of way, some of the simplest possible circumstances connected with it. When a struggle is intense there must be some who are sure to be trodden down, crushed, and overpowered by others; and there will be some who just manage to get through only by the help of the slightest accident. I recollect reading an account of the famous retreat of the French troops, under Napoleon, from Moscow. Worn out, tired, and dejected, they at length came to a great river over which there was but one bridge for the passage of the vast army. Disorganised and demoralised as that army was, the struggle must certainly have been a terrible one — every one heeding only himself, and crushing through the ranks and treading down his fellows. The writer of the narrative, who was himself one of those who were fortunate enough to succeed in getting over, and not among the thousands who were left behind or forced into the river, ascribed his escape to the fact that he saw striding onward through the mass a great strong fellow — one of the French Cuirassiers, who had on a large blue cloak — and he had enough presence of mind to catch and retain a hold of this strong man’s cloak. He says, “I caught hold of his cloak, and although he swore at me and cut at and struck me by turns, and at last, when he found he could not shake me off, fell to entreating me to leave go or I should prevent him from escaping, besides not assisting myself, I still kept tight hold of him, and would not quit my grasp until he had at last dragged me through.” Here you see was a case of selective saving — if we may so term it — depending for its success on the strength of the cloth of the Cuirassier’s cloak. It is the same in nature; every species has its bridge of Beresina; it has to fight its way through and struggle with other species; and when well nigh overpowered, it may be that the smallest chance, something in its colour, perhaps — the minutest circumstance — will turn the scale one way or the other.

Suppose that by a variation of the black race it had produced the white man at any time — you know that the Negroes are said to believe this to have been the case, and to imagine that Cain was the first white man, and that we are his descendants — suppose that this had ever happened, and that the first residence of this human being was on the West Coast of Africa. There is no great structural difference between the white man and the Negro, and yet there is something so singularly different in the constitution of the two, that the malarias of that country, which do not hurt the black at all, cut off and destroy the white. Then you see there would have been a selective operation performed; if the white man had risen in that way, he would have been selected out and removed by means of the malaria. Now there really is a very curious case of selection of this sort among pigs, and it is a case of selection of colour too. In the woods of Florida there are a great many pigs, and it is a very curious thing that they are all black, every one of them. Professor Wyman was there some years ago, and on noticing no pigs but these black ones, he asked some of the people how it was that they had no white pigs, and the reply was that in the woods of Florida there was a root which they called the Paint Root, and that if the white pigs were to eat any of it, it had the effect of making their hoofs crack, and they died, but if the black pigs eat any of it, it did not hurt them at all. Here was a very simple case of natural selection. A skilful breeder could not more carefully develope the black breed of pigs, and weed out all the white pigs, than the Paint Root does.

To show you how remarkably indirect may be such natural selective agencies as I have referred to, I will conclude by noticing a case mentioned by Mr. Darwin, and which is certainly one of the most curious of its kind. It is that of the Humble Bee. It has been noticed that there are a great many more humble bees in the neighbourhood of towns, than out in the open country; and the explanation of the matter is this: the humble bees build nests, in which they store their honey and deposit the larvae and eggs. The field mice are amazingly fond of the honey and larvae; therefore, wherever there are plenty of field mice, as in the country, the humble bees are kept down; but in the neighbourhood of towns, the number of cats which prowl about the fields eat up the field mice, and of course the more mice they eat up the less there are to prey upon the larvae of the bees — the cats are therefore the INDIRECT HELPERS of the bees!4 Coming back a step farther we may say that the old maids are also indirect friends of the humble bees, and indirect enemies of the field mice, as they keep the cats which eat up the latter! This is an illustration somewhat beneath the dignity of the subject, perhaps, but it occurs to me in passing, and with it I will conclude this lecture.

4 The humble bees, on the other hand, are direct helpers of some plants, such as the heartsease and red clover, which are fertilized by the visits of the bees; and they are indirect helpers of the numerous insects which are more or less completely supported by the heartsease and red clover.

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