With animals, facility in preventing crosses is an important element in the formation of new races--at least, in a country which is already stocked with other races. In this respect enclosure of the land plays a part. Wandering savages or the inhabitants of open plains rarely possess more than one breed of the same species. Pigeons can be mated for life, and this is a great convenience to the fancier, for thus many races may be improved and kept true, though mingled in the same aviary; and this circumstance must have largely favoured the formation of new breeds. Pigeons, I may add, can be propagated in great numbers and at a very quick rate, and inferior birds may be freely rejected, as when killed they serve for food. On the other hand, cats, from their nocturnal rambling habits, can not be easily matched, and, although so much valued by women and children, we rarely see a distinct breed long kept up; such breeds as we do sometimes see are almost always imported from some other country. Although I do not doubt that some domestic animals vary less than others, yet the rarity or absence of distinct breeds of the cat, the donkey, peacock, goose, etc., may be attributed in main part to selection not having been brought into play: in cats, from the difficulty in pairing them; in donkeys, from only a few being kept by poor people, and little attention paid to their breeding; for recently in certain parts of Spain and of the United States this animal has been surprisingly modified and improved by careful selection; in peacocks, from not being very easily reared and a large stock not kept; in geese, from being valuable only for two purposes, food and feathers, and more especially from no pleasure having been felt in the display of distinct breeds; but the goose, under the conditions to which it is exposed when domesticated, seems to have a singularly inflexible organisation, though it has varied to a slight extent, as I have elsewhere described.

Some authors have maintained that the amount of variation in our domestic productions is soon reached, and can never afterward be exceeded. It would be somewhat rash to assert that the limit has been attained in any one case; for almost all our animals and plants have been greatly improved in many ways within a recent period; and this implies variation. It would be equally rash to assert that characters now increased to their utmost limit, could not, after remaining fixed for many centuries, again vary under new conditions of life. No doubt, as Mr. Wallace has remarked with much truth, a limit will be at last reached. For instance, there must be a limit to the fleetness of any terrestrial animal, as this will be determined by the friction to be overcome, the weight of the body to be carried, and the power of contraction in the muscular fibres. But what concerns us is that the domestic varieties of the same species differ from each other in almost every character, which man has attended to and selected, more than do the distinct species of the same genera. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire has proved this in regard to size, and so it is with colour, and probably with the length of hair. With respect to fleetness, which depends on many bodily characters, Eclipse was far fleeter, and a dray-horse is comparably stronger, than any two natural species belonging to the same genus. So with plants, the seeds of the different varieties of the bean or maize probably differ more in size than do the seeds of the distinct species in any one genus in the same two families. The same remark holds good in regard to the fruit of the several varieties of the plum, and still more strongly with the melon, as well as in many other analogous cases.

The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection Page 32

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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