Under such circumstances, scarcely a plant can be named, though cultivated in the rudest manner, which has not given birth to several varieties. It can hardly be maintained that during the many changes which this earth has undergone, and during the natural migrations of plants from one land or island to another, tenanted by different species, that such plants will not often have been subjected to changes in their conditions analogous to those which almost inevitably cause cultivated plants to vary. No doubt man selects varying individuals, sows their seeds, and again selects their varying offspring. But the initial variation on which man works, and without which he can do nothing, is caused by slight changes in the conditions of life, which must often have occurred under nature. Man, therefore, may be said to have been trying an experiment on a gigantic scale; and it is an experiment which nature during the long lapse of time has incessantly tried. Hence it follows that the principles of domestication are important for us. The main result is that organic beings thus treated have varied largely, and the variations have been inherited. This has apparently been one chief cause of the belief long held by some few naturalists that species in a state of nature undergo change.
I shall in this volume treat, as fully as my materials permit, the whole subject of variation under domestication. We may thus hope to obtain some light, little though it be, on the causes of variability,--on the laws which govern it, such as the direct action of climate and food, the effects of use and disuse, and of correlation of growth,--and on the amount of change to which domesticated organisms are liable. We shall learn something of the laws of inheritance, of the effects of crossing different breeds, and on that sterility which often supervenes when organic beings are removed from their natural conditions of life, and likewise when they are too closely interbred. During this investigation we shall see that the principle of Selection is highly important. Although man does not cause variability and cannot even prevent it, he can select, preserve, and accumulate the variations given to him by the hand of nature almost in any way which he chooses; and thus he can certainly produce a great result. Selection may be followed either methodically and intentionally, or unconsciously and unintentionally. Man may select and preserve each successive variation, with the distinct intention of improving and altering a breed, in accordance with a preconceived idea; and by thus adding up variations, often so slight as to be imperceptible by an uneducated eye, he has effected wonderful changes and improvements. It can, also, be clearly shown that man, without any intention or thought of improving the breed, by preserving in each successive generation the individuals which he prizes most, and by destroying the worthless individuals, slowly, though surely, induces great changes. As the will of man thus comes into play, we can understand how it is that domesticated breeds show adaptation to his wants and pleasures. We can further understand how it is that domestic races of animals and cultivated races of plants often exhibit an abnormal character, as compared with natural species; for they have been modified not for their own benefit, but for that of man.
In another work I shall discuss, if time and health permit, the variability of organic beings in a state of nature; namely, the individual differences presented by animals and plants, and those slightly greater and generally inherited differences which are ranked by naturalists as varieties or geographical races. We shall see how difficult, or rather how impossible it often is, to distinguish between races and sub-species, as the less well- marked forms have sometimes been denominated; and again between sub-species and true species. I shall further attempt to show that it is the common and widely ranging, or, as they may be called, the dominant species, which most frequently vary; and that it is the large and flourishing genera which include the greatest number of varying species.