The gain in constitutional vigour, derived from an occasional cross between individuals of the same variety, but belonging to distinct families, or between distinct varieties, has not been so largely or so frequently discussed, as have the evil effects of too close interbreeding. But the former point is the more important of the two, inasmuch as the evidence is more decisive. The evil results from close interbreeding are difficult to detect, for they accumulate slowly, and differ much in degree with different species; whilst the good effects which almost invariably follow a cross are from the first manifest. It should, however, be clearly understood that the advantage of close interbreeding, as far as the retention of character is concerned, is indisputable, and often outweighs the evil of a slight loss of constitutional vigour. In relation to the subject of domestication, the whole question is of some importance, as too close interbreeding interferes with the improvement of old races. It is important as indirectly bearing on Hybridism; and possibly on the extinction of species, when any form has become so rare that only a few individuals remain within a confined area. It bears in an important manner on the influence of free intercrossing, in obliterating individual differences, and thus giving uniformity of character to the individuals of the same race or species; for if additional vigour and fertility be thus gained, the crossed offspring will multiply and prevail, and the ultimate result will be far greater than otherwise would have occurred. Lastly, the question is of high interest, as bearing on mankind. I shall therefore discuss this subject at full length. As the facts which prove the evil effects of close interbreeding are more copious, though less decisive, than those on the good effects of crossing, I shall, under each group of beings, begin with the former.

There is no difficulty in defining what is meant by a cross; but this is by no means easy in regard to "breeding in and in" or "too close interbreeding," because, as we shall see, different species of animals are differently affected by the same degree of interbreeding. The pairing of a father and daughter, or mother and son, or brothers and sisters, if carried on during several generations, is the closest possible form of interbreeding. But some good judges, for instance Sir J. Sebright, believe that the pairing of a brother and sister is much closer than that of parents and children; for when the father is matched with his daughter he crosses, as is said, with only half his own blood. The consequences of close interbreeding carried on for too long a time, are, as is generally believed, loss of size, constitutional vigour, and fertility, sometimes accompanied by a tendency to malformation. Manifest evil does not usually follow from pairing the nearest relations for two, three, or even four generations; but several causes interfere with our detecting the evil--such as the deterioration being very gradual, and the difficulty of distinguishing between such direct evil and the inevitable augmentation of any morbid tendencies which may be latent or apparent in the related parents. On the other hand, the benefit from a cross, even when there has not been any very close interbreeding, is almost invariably at once conspicuous. There is good reason to believe, and this was the opinion of that most experienced observer Sir J. Sebright (17/1. 'The Art of Improving the Breed, etc.' 1809 page 16.), that the evil effects of close interbreeding may be checked or quite prevented by the related individuals being separated for a few generations and exposed to different conditions of life. This conclusion is now held by many breeders; for instance Mr. Carr (17/2. 'The History of the Rise and Progress of the Killerby, etc. Herds' page 41.) remarks, it is a well-known "fact that a change of soil and climate effects perhaps almost as great a change in the constitution as would result from an infusion of fresh blood." I hope to show in a future work that consanguinity by itself counts for nothing, but acts solely from related organisms generally having a similar constitution, and having been exposed in most cases to similar conditions.

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication V2 Page 61

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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