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 Egypt?
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.