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 invariably 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 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 DEFINITE 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, while kept under the same conditions and while kept in a considerable body, so that free intercrossing might check, by blending together, any slight deviations in their 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 unlimited number of generations, would be opposed to all experience.
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 characters 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.