As soon as any strain or family became slightly improved or better adapted to alter circumstances, it would tend to supplant the older and less improved strains. For instance, as soon as the old foxhound was improved by a cross with the greyhound, or by simple selection, and assumed its present character--and the change was probably desired owing to the increased fleetness of our hunters--it rapidly spread throughout the country, and is now everywhere nearly uniform. But the process of improvement is still going on for every one tries to improve his strain by occasionally procuring dogs from the best kennels. Through this process of gradual substitution the old English hound has been lost; and so it has been with the Irish wolf-dog, the old English bulldog, and several other breeds, such as the alaunt, as I am informed by Mr. Jesse. But the extinction of former breeds is apparently aided by another cause; for whenever a breed is kept in scanty numbers, as at present with the bloodhound, it is reared with some difficulty, apparently from the evil effects of long-continued close interbreeding. As several breeds of the dog have been slightly but sensibly modified within so short a period as the last one or two centuries, by the selection of the best individuals, modified in many cases by crosses with other breeds; and as we shall hereafter see that the breeding of dogs was attended to in ancient times, as it still is by savages, we may conclude that we have in selection, even if only occasionally practised, a potent means of modification.

DOMESTIC CATS.

Cats have been domesticated in the East from an ancient period; Mr. Blyth informs me that they are mentioned in a Sanskrit writing 2000 years old, and in Egypt their antiquity is known to be even greater, as shown by monumental drawings and their mummied bodies. These mummies, according to De Blainville (1/88. De Blainville 'Osteographie, Felis' page 65 on the character of F. caligulata; pages 85, 89, 90, 175, on the other mummied species. He quotes Ehrenberg on F. maniculata being mummied.), who has particularly studied the subject, belong to no less than three species, namely, F. caligulata, bubastes, and chaus. The two former species are said to be still found, both wild and domesticated, in parts of Egypt. F. caligulata presents a difference in the first inferior milk molar tooth, as compared with the domestic cats of Europe, which makes De Blainville conclude that it is not one of the parent-forms of our cats. Several naturalists, as Pallas, Temminck, Blyth, believe that domestic cats are the descendants of several species commingled: it is certain that cats cross readily with various wild species, and it would appear that the character of the domestic breeds has, at least in some cases, been thus affected. Sir W. Jardine has no doubt that, "in the north of Scotland, there has been occasional crossing with our native species (F. sylvestris), and that the result of these crosses has been kept in our houses. I have seen," he adds, "many cats very closely resembling the wild cat, and one or two that could scarcely be distinguished from it." Mr. Blyth (1/89. Asiatic Soc. of Calcutta; Curator's Report, August 1856. The passage from Sir W. Jardine is quoted from this Report. Mr. Blyth, who has especially attended to the wild and domestic cats of India, has given in this Report a very interesting discussion on their origin.) remarks on this passage, "but such cats are never seen in the southern parts of England; still, as compared with any Indian tame cat, the affinity of the ordinary British cat to F. sylvestris is manifest; and due I suspect to frequent intermixture at a time when the tame cat was first introduced into Britain and continued rare, while the wild species was far more abundant than at present." In Hungary, Jeitteles (1/90. 'Fauna Hungariae Sup.' 1862 s. 12.) was assured on trustworthy authority that a wild male cat crossed with a female domestic cat, and that the hybrids long lived in a domesticated state.

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication V1 Page 31

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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