On the other hand, if man is descended from some ape-like creature, no valid reason can be assigned why certain muscles should not suddenly reappear after an interval of many thousand generations, in the same manner as with horses, asses, and mules, dark- coloured stripes suddenly reappear on the legs, and shoulders, after an interval of hundreds, or more probably of thousands of generations.

These various cases of reversion are so closely related to those of rudimentary organs given in the first chapter, that many of them might have been indifferently introduced either there or here. Thus a human uterus furnished with cornua may be said to represent, in a rudimentary condition, the same organ in its normal state in certain mammals. Some parts which are rudimentary in man, as the os coccyx in both sexes, and the mammae in the male sex, are always present; whilst others, such as the supracondyloid foramen, only occasionally appear, and therefore might have been introduced under the head of reversion. These several reversionary structures, as well as the strictly rudimentary ones, reveal the descent of man from some lower form in an unmistakable manner.


In man, as in the lower animals, many structures are so intimately related, that when one part varies so does another, without our being able, in most cases, to assign any reason. We cannot say whether the one part governs the other, or whether both are governed by some earlier developed part. Various monstrosities, as I. Geoffroy repeatedly insists, are thus intimately connected. Homologous structures are particularly liable to change together, as we see on the opposite sides of the body, and in the upper and lower extremities. Meckel long ago remarked, that when the muscles of the arm depart from their proper type, they almost always imitate those of the leg; and so, conversely, with the muscles of the legs. The organs of sight and hearing, the teeth and hair, the colour of the skin and of the hair, colour and constitution, are more or less correlated. (55. The authorities for these several statements are given in my 'Variation of Animals under Domestication,' vol. ii. pp. 320-335.) Professor Schaaffhausen first drew attention to the relation apparently existing between a muscular frame and the strongly-pronounced supra-orbital ridges, which are so characteristic of the lower races of man.

Besides the variations which can be grouped with more or less probability under the foregoing heads, there is a large class of variations which may be provisionally called spontaneous, for to our ignorance they appear to arise without any exciting cause. It can, however, be shewn that such variations, whether consisting of slight individual differences, or of strongly-marked and abrupt deviations of structure, depend much more on the constitution of the organism than on the nature of the conditions to which it has been subjected. (56. This whole subject has been discussed in chap. xxiii. vol. ii. of my 'Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.')


Civilised populations have been known under favourable conditions, as in the United States, to double their numbers in twenty-five years; and, according to a calculation, by Euler, this might occur in a little over twelve years. (57. See the ever memorable 'Essay on the Principle of Population,' by the Rev. T. Malthus, vol. i. 1826. pp. 6, 517.) At the former rate, the present population of the United States (thirty millions), would in 657 years cover the whole terraqueous globe so thickly, that four men would have to stand on each square yard of surface. The primary or fundamental check to the continued increase of man is the difficulty of gaining subsistence, and of living in comfort. We may infer that this is the case from what we see, for instance, in the United States, where subsistence is easy, and there is plenty of room. If such means were suddenly doubled in Great Britain, our number would be quickly doubled. With civilised nations this primary check acts chiefly by restraining marriages.

The Descent of Man Page 31

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book