When an individual having some recognisable peculiarity unites with another of the same sub-variety, not having the peculiarity in question, it often reappears in the descendants after an interval of several generations. Every one must have noticed, or heard from old people of children closely resembling in appearance or mental disposition, or in so small and complex a character as expression, one of their grandparents, or some more distant collateral relation. Very many anomalies of structure and diseases (13/16. Mr. Sedgwick gives many instances in the 'British and Foreign Med.-Chirurg. Review' April and July 1863 pages 448, 188.) of which instances have been given in the last chapter, have come into a family from one parent, and have reappeared in the progeny after passing over two or three generations. The following case has been communicated to me on good authority, and may, I believe, be fully trusted: a pointer-bitch produced seven puppies; four were marked with blue and white, which is so unusual a colour with pointers that she was thought to have played false with one of the greyhounds, and the whole litter was condemned; but the gamekeeper was permitted to save one as a curiosity. Two years afterwards a friend of the owner saw the young dog, and declared that he was the image of his old pointer-bitch Sappho, the only blue and white pointer of pure descent which he had ever seen. This led to close inquiry, and it was proved that he was the great-great-grandson of Sappho; so that, according to the common expression, he had only 1/16th of her blood in his veins. I may give one other instance, on the authority of Mr. R. Walker, a large cattle- breeder in Kincardineshire. He bought a black bull, the son of a black cow with white legs, white belly and part of the tail white; and in 1870 a calf the gr.-gr.-gr.-gr.-grandchild of this cow was born coloured in the same very peculiar manner; all the intermediate offspring having been black. In these cases there can hardly be a doubt that a character derived from a cross with an individual of the same variety reappeared after passing over three generations in the one case, and five in the other.

When two distinct races are crossed, it is notorious that the tendency in the offspring to revert to one or both parent-forms is strong, and endures for many generations. I have myself seen the clearest evidence of this in crossed pigeons and with various plants. Mr. Sidney (13/17. In his edition of 'Youatt on the Pig' 1860 page 27.) states that, in a litter of Essex pigs, two young ones appeared which were the image of the Berkshire boar that had been used twenty-eight years before in giving size and constitution to the breed. I observed in the farmyard at Betley Hall some fowls showing a strong likeness to the Malay breed, and was told by Mr. Tollet that he had forty years before crossed his birds with Malays; and that, though he had at first attempted to get rid of this strain, he had subsequently given up the attempt in despair, as the Malay character would reappear.

This strong tendency in crossed breeds to revert has given rise to endless discussions in how many generations after a single cross, either with a distinct breed or merely with an inferior animal, the breed may be considered as pure, and free from all danger of reversion. No one supposes that less than three generations suffices, and most breeders think that six, seven, or eight are necessary, and some go to still greater lengths. (13/18. Dr. P. Lucas, 'Hered. Nat.' tome 2 pages 314, 892: see a good practical article on the subject in 'Gardener's Chronicle' 1856 page 620. I could add a vast number of references, but they would be superfluous.) But neither in the case of a breed which has been contaminated by a single cross, nor when, in the attempt to form an intermediate breed, half-bred animals have been matched together during many generations, can any rule be laid down how soon the tendency to reversion will be obliterated. It depends on the difference in the strength or prepotency of transmission in the two parent-forms, on their actual amount of difference, and on the nature of the conditions of life to which the crossed offspring are exposed.

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication V2 Page 11

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book