The accompanying diagram will aid us in understanding this rather perplexing subject. Let A to L represent the species of a genus large in its own country; these species are supposed to resemble each other in unequal degrees, as is so generally the case in nature, and as is represented in the diagram by the letters standing at unequal distances. I have said a large genus, because we have seen in the second chapter, that on an average more of the species of large genera vary than of small genera; and the varying species of the large genera present a greater number of varieties. We have, also, seen that the species, which are the commonest and the most widely-diffused, vary more than rare species with restricted ranges. Let (A) be a common, widely-diffused, and varying species, belonging to a genus large in its own country. The little fan of diverging dotted lines of unequal lengths proceeding from (A), may represent its varying offspring. The variations are supposed to be extremely slight, but of the most diversified nature; they are not supposed all to appear simultaneously, but often after long intervals of time; nor are they all supposed to endure for equal periods. Only those variations which are in some way profitable will be preserved or naturally selected. And here the importance of the principle of benefit being derived from divergence of character comes in; for this will generally lead to the most different or divergent variations (represented by the outer dotted lines) being preserved and accumulated by natural selection. When a dotted line reaches one of the horizontal lines, and is there marked by a small numbered letter, a sufficient amount of variation is supposed to have been accumulated to have formed a fairly well-marked variety, such as would be thought worthy of record in a systematic work.The intervals between the horizontal lines in the diagram, may represent each a thousand generations; but it would have been better if each had represented ten thousand generations. After a thousand generations, species (A) is supposed to have produced two fairly well-marked varieties, namely a1 and m1. These two varieties will generally continue to be exposed to the same conditions which made their parents variable, and the tendency to variability is in itself hereditary, consequently they will tend to vary, and generally to vary in nearly the same manner as their parents varied. Moreover, these two varieties, being only slightly modified forms, will tend to inherit those advantages which made their common parent (A) more numerous than most of the other inhabitants of the same country; they will likewise partake of those more general advantages which made the genus to which the parent-species belonged, a large genus in its own country. And these circumstances we know to be favourable to the production of new varieties.
I must here introduce a short digression. In the case of animals and plants with separated sexes, it is of course obvious that two individuals must always unite for each birth; but in the case of hermaphrodites this is far from obvious. Nevertheless I am strongly inclined to believe that with all hermaphrodites two individuals, either occasionally or habitually, concur for the reproduction of their kind. This view, I may add, was first suggested by Andrew Knight. We shall presently see its importance; but I must here treat the subject with extreme brevity, though I have the materials prepared for an ample discussion. All vertebrate animals, all insects, and some other large groups of animals, pair for each birth. Modern research has much diminished the number of supposed hermaphrodites, and of real hermaphrodites a large number pair; that is, two individuals regularly unite for reproduction, which is all that concerns us. But still there are many hermaphrodite animals which certainly do not habitually pair, and a vast majority of plants are hermaphrodites. What reason, it may be asked, is there for supposing in these cases that two individuals ever concur in reproduction? As it is impossible here to enter on details, I must trust to some general considerations alone.In the first place, I have collected so large a body of facts, showing, in accordance with the almost universal belief of breeders, that with animals and plants a cross between different varieties, or between individuals of the same variety but of another strain, gives vigour and fertility to the offspring; and on the other hand, that close interbreeding diminishes vigour and fertility; that these facts alone incline me to believe that it is a general law of nature (utterly ignorant though we be of the meaning of the law) that no organic being self-fertilises itself for an eternity of generations; but that a cross with another individual is occasionally perhaps at very long intervals -- indispensable.
These propositions will be most readily understood by looking to our domestic races. The most distinct breeds of pigeons, in countries most widely apart, present sub-varieties with reversed feathers on the head and feathers on the feet, characters not possessed by the aboriginal rock-pigeon; these then are analogous variations in two or more distinct races. The frequent presence of fourteen or even sixteen tail-feathers in the pouter, may be considered as a variation representing the normal structure of another race, the fantail. I presume that no one will doubt that all such analogous variations are due to the several races of the pigeon having inherited from a common parent the same constitution and tendency to variation, when acted on by similar unknown influences. In the vegetable kingdom we have a case of analogous variation, in the enlarged stems, or roots as commonly called, of the Swedish turnip and Ruta baga, plants which several botanists rank as varieties produced by cultivation from a common parent: if this be not so, the case will then be one of analogous variation in two so-called distinct species; and to these a third may be added, namely, the common turnip. According to the ordinary view of each species having been independently created, we should have to attribute this similarity in the enlarged stems of these three plants, not to the vera causa of community of descent, and a consequent tendency to vary in a like manner, but to three separate yet closely related acts of creation.With pigeons, however, we have another case, namely, the occasional appearance in all the breeds, of slaty-blue birds with two black bars on the wings, a white rump, a bar at the end of the tail, with the outer feathers externally edged near their bases with white. As all these marks are characteristic of the parent rock-pigeon, I presume that no one will doubt that this is a case of reversion, and not of a new yet analogous variation appearing in the several breeds. We may I think confidently come to this conclusion, because, as we have seen, these coloured marks are eminently liable to appear in the crossed offspring of two distinct and differently coloured breeds; and in this case there is nothing in the external conditions of life to cause the reappearance of the slaty-blue, with the several marks, beyond the influence of the mere act of crossing on the laws of inheritance.
When a variation is of the slightest use to a being, we cannot tell how much of it to attribute to the accumulative action of natural selection, and how much to the conditions of life. Thus, it is well known to furriers that animals of the same species have thicker and better fur the more severe the climate is under which they have lived; but who can tell how much of this difference may be due to the warmest-clad individuals having been favoured and preserved during many generations, and how much to the direct action of the severe climate? for it would appear that climate has some direct action on the hair of our domestic quadrupeds.}
That varieties of this doubtful nature are far from uncommon cannot be disputed. Compare the several floras of Great Britain, of France or of the United States, drawn up by different botanists, and see what a surprising number of forms have been ranked by one botanist as good species, and by another as mere varieties. Mr H. C. Watson, to whom I lie under deep obligation for assistance of all kinds, has marked for me 182 British plants, which are generally considered as varieties, but which have all been ranked by botanists as species; and in making this list he has omitted many trifling varieties, but which nevertheless have been ranked by some botanists as species, and he has entirely omitted several highly polymorphic genera. Under genera, including the most polymorphic forms, Mr Babington gives 251 species, whereas Mr Bentham gives only 112, a difference of 139 doubtful forms! Amongst animals which unite for each birth, and which are highly locomotive, doubtful forms, ranked by one zoologist as a species and by another as a variety, can rarely be found within the same country, but are common in separated areas. How many of those birds and insects in North America and Europe, which differ very slightly from each other, have been ranked by one eminent naturalist as undoubted species, and by another as varieties, or, as they are often called, as geographical races! Many years ago, when comparing, and seeing others compare, the birds from the separate islands of the Galapagos Archipelago, both one with another, and with those from the American mainland, I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties. On the islets of the little Madeira group there are many insects which are characterized as varieties in Mr Wollaston's admirable work, but which it cannot be doubted would be ranked as distinct species by many entomologists. Even Ireland has a few animals, now generally regarded as varieties, but which have been ranked as species by some zoologists. Several most experienced ornithologists consider our British red grouse as only a strongly-marked race of a Norwegian species, whereas the greater number rank it as an undoubted species peculiar to Great Britain. A wide distance between the homes of two doubtful forms leads many naturalists to rank both as distinct species; but what distance, it has been well asked, will suffice? if that between America and Europe is ample, will that between the Continent and the Azores, or Madeira, or the Canaries, or Ireland, be sufficient? It must be admitted that many forms, considered by highly-competent judges as varieties, have so perfectly the character of species that they are ranked by other highly-competent judges as good and true species. But to discuss whether they are rightly called species or varieties, before any definition of these terms has been generally accepted, is vainly to beat the air.Many of the cases of strongly-marked varieties or doubtful species well deserve consideration; for several interesting lines of argument, from geographical distribution, analogical variation, hybridism, &c., have been brought to bear on the attempt to determine their rank. I will here give only a single instance, the well-known one of the primrose and cowslip, or Primula veris and elatior. These plants differ considerably in appearance; they have a different flavour and emit a different odour; they flower at slightly different periods; they grow in somewhat different stations; they ascend mountains to different heights; they have different geographical ranges; and lastly, according to very numerous experiments made during several years by that most careful observer G?rtner, they can be crossed only with much difficulty. We could hardly wish for better evidence of the two forms being specifically distinct. On the other hand, they are united by many intermediate links, and it is very doubtful whether these links are hybrids; and there is, as it seems to me, an overwhelming amount of experimental evidence, showing that they descend from common parents, and consequently must be ranked as varieties.Close investigation, in most cases, will bring naturalists to an agreement how to rank doubtful forms. Yet it must be confessed, that it is in the best-known countries that we find the greatest number of forms of doubtful value. I have been struck with the fact, that if any animal or plant in a state of nature be highly useful to man, or from any cause closely attract his attention, varieties of it will almost universally be found recorded. These varieties, moreover, will be often ranked by some authors as species. Look at the common oak, how closely it has been studied; yet a German author makes more than a dozen species out of forms, which are very generally considered as varieties; and in this country the highest botanical authorities and practical men can be quoted to show that the sessile and pedunculated oaks are either good and distinct species or mere varieties.
Youatt gives an excellent illustration of the effects of a course of selection, which may be considered as unconsciously followed, in so far that the breeders could never have expected or even have wished to have produced the result which ensued namely, the production of two distinct strains. The two flocks of Leicester sheep kept by Mr Buckley and Mr Burgess, as Mr Youatt remarks, 'have been purely bred from the original stock of Mr Bakewell for upwards of fifty years. There is not a suspicion existing in the mind of any one at all acquainted with the subject that the owner of either of them has deviated in any one instance from the pure blood of Mr Bakewell's flock, and yet the difference between the sheep possessed by these two gentlemen is so great that they have the appearance of being quite different varieties.'
There are many laws regulating variation, some few of which can be dimly seen, and will be hereafter briefly mentioned. I will here only allude to what may be called correlation of growth. Any change in the embryo or larva will almost certainly entail changes in the mature animal. In monstrosities, the correlations between quite distinct parts are very curious; and many instances are given in Isidore Geoffroy St Hilaire's great work on this subject. Breeders believe that long limbs are almost always accompanied by an elongated head. Some instances of correlation are quite whimsical; thus cats with blue eyes are invariably deaf; colour and constitutional peculiarities go together, of which many remarkable cases could be given amongst animals and plants. From the facts collected by Heusinger, it appears that white sheep and pigs are differently affected from coloured individuals by certain vegetable poisons. Hairless dogs have imperfect teeth; long-haired and coarse-haired animals are apt to have, as is asserted, long or many horns; pigeons with feathered feet have skin between their outer toes; pigeons with short beaks have small feet, and those with long beaks large feet. Hence, if man goes on selecting, and thus augmenting, any peculiarity, he will almost certainly unconsciously modify other parts of the structure, owing to the mysterious laws of the correlation of growth.The result of the various, quite unknown, or dimly seen laws of variation is infinitely complex and diversified. It is well worth while carefully to study the several treatises published on some of our old cultivated plants, as on the hyacinth, potato, even the dahlia, &c.; and it is really surprising to note the endless points in structure and constitution in which the varieties and sub varieties differ slightly from each other. The whole organization seems to have become plastic, and tends to depart in some small degree from that of the parental type.