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The Origin of Speciesby Charles Darwin
Synopses & Reviews
When we compare the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us is, that they generally differ more from each other than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature. And if we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, we are driven to conclude that this great variability is due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent species had been exposed under nature. There is, also, some probability in the view propounded by Andrew Knight, that this variability may be partly connected with excess of food. It seems clear that organic beings must be exposed during several generations to new conditions to cause any great amount of variation; and that, when the organisation has once begun to vary, it generally continues varying for many generations. No case is on record of a variable organism ceasing to vary under cultivation. Our oldest cultivated plants, such as wheat, still yield new varieties: our oldest domesticated animals are still capable of rapid improvement or modification.
As far as I am able to judge, after long attending to the subject, the conditions of life appear to act in two ways, -directly on the whole organisation or on certain parts alone, and indirectly by affecting the reproductive system. With respect to the direct action, we must bear in mind that in every case, as Professor Weismann has lately insisted, and as I have incidentally shown in my work on 'Variation under Domestication, ' there are two factors: namely, the nature of the organism, and the nature of the conditions. The former seems to be much the more important; for nearly similar variations sometimes arise under, as far as we can judge, dissimilar conditions; and, on the other hand, dissimilar variations arise under conditions which appear to be nearly uniform. The effects on the offspring are either definite or indefinite. They may be considered as definite when all or nearly all the offspring of individuals exposed to certain conditions during several generations are modified in the same manner. It is extremely difficult to come to any conclusion in regard to the extent of the changes which have been thus definitely induced. There can, however, be little doubt about many slight changes, -such as size from the amount of food, colour from the nature of the food, thickness of the skin and hair from climate, &c. Each of the endless variations which we see in the plumage of our fowls must have had some efficient cause; and if the same cause were to act uniformly during a long series of generations on many individuals, all probably would be modified in the same manner. Such facts as the complex and extraordinary out-growths which variably follow from the insertion of a minute drop of poison by a gall-producing insect, show us what singular modifications might result in the case of plants from a chemical change in the nature of the sap.
Indefinite variability is a much more common result of changed conditions than definite variability, and has probably played a more important part in the formation of our domestic races. We see indefinite variability in the endless slight peculiarities which distingu
States the evidence for a theory of evolution, explains how evolution takes place, and discusses instinct, hybrids, fossils, distribution, and classification.
When we compare the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us is, that they generally differ more from each other than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature. And if we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, we are driven to conclude that this great variability is due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent species had been exposed under nature. There is, also, some probability in the view propounded by Andrew Knight, that this variability may be partly connected with excess of food. It seems clear that organic beings must be exposed during several generations to new conditions to cause any great amount of variation; and that, when t
About the Author
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809--the same day that witnessed the birth of Abraham Lincoln--into a prominent middle-class family. His mother, who died when Darwin was eight, was the daughter of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. His father was a wealthy doctor, and his grandfather Erasmus Darwin had been a celebrated physician and writer whose books about nature, written in heroic couplets, are often read as harbingers of his grandson's views. Yet for someone whose revolutionary writings would turn the scientific world upside down, Darwin's own youth was unmarked by the slightest trace of genius. 'I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my Father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect,' he later said. Darwin was an indifferent student and abandoned his medical studies at Edinburgh University. For years his one all-consuming passion was collecting beetles. ('I am dying by inches, from not having any body to talk to about insects,' he once wrote to a cousin who was likewise obsessed. In 1831 Darwin graduated with a B.A. from Christ's College, Cambridge, seemingly destined to pursue the one career his father had deemed appropriate--that of country parson.
But a quirk of fate soon intervened. John Henslow, a Cambridge botanist, recommended Darwin for an appointment (without pay) as naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, a scientific vessel commissioned by the Admiralty to survey the east and west coasts of South America. Among the few belongings Darwin carried with him were two books that had greatly influenced him at Cambridge: Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, which posited radical changes in the possible estimates of the earth's age, and an edition of the travel writings of the early nineteenth-century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. The Beagle sailed from Plymouth on December 27, 1831, and returned to England on October 2, 1836; the around-the-world voyage was the formative experience of Darwin's life and consolidated the young man's 'burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science.'
Darwin devoted the next few years to preparing his 'Transmutation Notebooks' and writing Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by the H.M.S. Beagle, 1832-1836 (1839) in which his beliefs about evolution and natural selection first began to take shape. In 1839 he married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood. They lived in London until 1842, when Darwin's chronic ill health forced the couple to move to Down House in Sussex, where he would spend virtually the rest of his life working in seclusion. There he soon completed the five-volume work Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle (1840-1843) and outlined from his hoard of notes an early draft of what was eventually to become The Origin of Species. Over the next decade he also produced a monograph on coral reefs, as well as extensive studies of variations in living and fossil barnacles.
In 1856 Sir Charles Lyell persuaded Darwin to write out his theory of evolution by natural selection, which he had recently buttressed with ingenious experiments in breeding pigeons. Halfway through the project, Darwin received an essay from naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace that presented an identical theory, though one unsupported by anything comparable to Darwin's massive accumulation of data. Wracked by doubts and indecision, and fearful of the controversy his theories might unleash, Darwin nevertheless pushed forward to finish The Origin of Species. Published on November 24, 1859, the book forever demolished the premise that God had created the earth precisely at 9:00 A.M. on October 23, 4004 B.C.--and that all species of living creatures had been immutably produced during the following six days--as seventeenth-century churchmen had so carefully formulated.
Although he did write one sequel and amplification of his theory of evolution, The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin dedicated most of his remaining years to botanical studies. Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882, following a series of heart attacks. He had wished to be interred in the quiet churchyard close to the house in which he had lived and worked for so long, but the sentiment of educated men demanded a place in Westminster Abbey, where Darwin lies buried a few feet away from the grave of Isaac Newton.
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