We might as well attempt without any definition to decide whether a certain number of houses should be called a village, town, or city. We have a practical illustration of the difficulty in the never-ending doubts whether many closely-allied mammals, birds, insects, and plants, which represent each other respectively in North America and Europe, should be ranked as species or geographical races; and the like holds true of the productions of many islands situated at some little distance from the nearest continent.
Those naturalists, on the other hand, who admit the principle of evolution, and this is now admitted by the majority of rising men, will feel no doubt that all the races of man are descended from a single primitive stock; whether or not they may think fit to designate the races as distinct species, for the sake of expressing their amount of difference. (21. See Prof. Huxley to this effect in the 'Fortnightly Review,' 1865, p. 275.) With our domestic animals the question whether the various races have arisen from one or more species is somewhat different. Although it may be admitted that all the races, as well as all the natural species within the same genus, have sprung from the same primitive stock, yet it is a fit subject for discussion, whether all the domestic races of the dog, for instance, have acquired their present amount of difference since some one species was first domesticated by man; or whether they owe some of their characters to inheritance from distinct species, which had already been differentiated in a state of nature. With man no such question can arise, for he cannot be said to have been domesticated at any particular period.
During an early stage in the divergence of the races of man from a common stock, the differences between the races and their number must have been small; consequently as far as their distinguishing characters are concerned, they then had less claim to rank as distinct species than the existing so-called races. Nevertheless, so arbitrary is the term of species, that such early races would perhaps have been ranked by some naturalists as distinct species, if their differences, although extremely slight, had been more constant than they are at present, and had not graduated into each other.
It is however possible, though far from probable, that the early progenitors of man might formerly have diverged much in character, until they became more unlike each other than any now existing races; but that subsequently, as suggested by Vogt (22. 'Lectures on Man,' Eng. translat., 1864, p. 468.), they converged in character. When man selects the offspring of two distinct species for the same object, he sometimes induces a considerable amount of convergence, as far as general appearance is concerned. This is the case, as shewn by von Nathusius (23. 'Die Rassen des Schweines,' 1860, s. 46. 'Vorstudien fur Geschichte,' etc., Schweinesschadel, 1864, s. 104. With respect to cattle, see M. de Quatrefages, 'Unite de l'Espece Humaine,' 1861, p. 119.), with the improved breeds of the pig, which are descended from two distinct species; and in a less marked manner with the improved breeds of cattle. A great anatomist, Gratiolet, maintains that the anthropomorphous apes do not form a natural sub-group; but that the orang is a highly developed gibbon or semnopithecus, the chimpanzee a highly developed macacus, and the gorilla a highly developed mandrill. If this conclusion, which rests almost exclusively on brain-characters, be admitted, we should have a case of convergence at least in external characters, for the anthropomorphous apes are certainly more like each other in many points, than they are to other apes. All analogical resemblances, as of a whale to a fish, may indeed be said to be cases of convergence; but this term has never been applied to superficial and adaptive resemblances. It would, however, be extremely rash to attribute to convergence close similarity of character in many points of structure amongst the modified descendants of widely distinct beings.