From these several facts it must be admitted that certain characters, capacities, and instincts, may lie latent in an individual, and even in a succession of individuals, without our being able to detect the least sign of their presence. When fowls, pigeons, or cattle of different colours are crossed, and their offspring change colour as they grow old, or when the crossed turbit acquired the characteristic frill after its third moult, or when rarely-bred bantams partially assume the red plumage of their prototype, we cannot doubt that these qualities were from the first present, though latent, in the individual animal, like the characters of a moth in the caterpillar. Now, if these animals had produced offspring before they had acquired with advancing age their new characters, nothing is more probable than that they would have transmitted them to some of their offspring, who in this case would in appearance have received such characters from their grand- parents or more distant progenitors. We should then have had a case of reversion, that is, of the reappearance in the child of an ancestral character, actually present, though during youth completely latent, in the parent; and this we may safely conclude is what occurs in all reversions to progenitors, however remote.

This view of the latency in each generation of all the characters which appear through reversion, is also supported by their actual presence in some cases during early youth alone, or by their more frequent appearance and greater distinctness at this age than during maturity. We have seen that this is often the case with the stripes on the legs and faces of the several species of the horse genus. The Himalayan rabbit, when crossed, sometimes produces offspring which revert to the parent silver-grey breed, and we have seen that in purely bred animals pale-grey fur occasionally reappears during early youth. Black cats, we may feel assured, would occasionally produce by reversion tabbies; and on young black kittens, with a pedigree (13/66. Carl Vogt 'Lectures on Man' English translation 1864 page 411.) known to have been long pure, faint traces of stripes may almost always be seen which afterwards disappear. Hornless Suffolk cattle occasionally produce by reversion horned animals; and Youatt (13/67. 'On Cattle' page 174.) asserts that even in hornless individuals "the rudiment of a horn may be often felt at an early age."

No doubt it appears at first sight in the highest degree improbable that in every horse of every generation there should be a latent capacity and tendency to produce stripes, though these may not appear once in a thousand generations; that in every white, black, or other coloured pigeon, which may have transmitted its proper colour during centuries, there should be a latent capacity in the plumage to become blue and to be marked with certain characteristic bars; that in every child in a six-fingered family there should be the capacity for the production of an additional digit; and so in other cases. Nevertheless, there is no more inherent improbability in this being the case than in a useless and rudimentary organ, or even in only a tendency to the production of a rudimentary organ, being inherited during millions of generations, as is well known to occur with a multitude of organic beings. There is no more inherent improbability in each domestic pig, during a thousand generations, retaining the capacity and tendency to develop great tusks under fitting conditions, than in the young calf having retained, for an indefinite number of generations rudimentary incisor teeth, which never protrude through the gums.

I shall give at the end of the next chapter a summary of the three preceding chapters; but as isolated and striking cases of reversion have here been chiefly insisted on, I wish to guard the reader against supposing that reversion is due to some rare or accidental combination of circumstances. When a character, lost during hundreds of generations, suddenly reappears, no doubt some such combination must occur; but reversions, to the immediately preceding generations may be constantly observed, at least, in the offspring of most unions.

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication V2 Page 24

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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