Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

work in understanding one another ; but they could easily see that their sister tongues had each a mother in the Latin. So Latin and Greek may be likened to first cousins. And what if there be a more distant cousinhood between two such seemingly discordant forms of speech as Greek and Gaelic ? Yet so it is. From the same ancestral cradle, beyond all doubt, have these languages sprung—that which lent winged words to the wrath of Achilles, and that which greeted the pilgrims to the clachan of Aberfoyle; that which ministered to the rude requirements of Ranald of the Mist, and that which rolled sonorous, in golden periods, from the lips of Pericles, and from the pen of Plato.

6. If thus all languages are, or may be conceived of, as linked together, why not all living things ? If Gaelic and Greek could spring from one root, why not, far enough back, a moth and a marsupial, or a marsupial and a man? Take only the base-line of the pyramid of language, and what can be less like than the forms represented by the extreme points a and b? Yet run the eye up the two lines of ascent, and suppose you find that these-Gaelic and Greek-through a series of insensibly diminished divergences, converge at c the point of departure. May it not be so with the pyramid of life? Man and a moth, or even man and a marsupial, are, indeed, very far apart in the present; but may they not be brought to meet, and melt into one ancestry, along converging lines of minutely graduated transition produced into an indefinitely and almost infinitely remote past? The parallel looks plausible enough at first sight. Several months ago, in the course of a private conversation, I remarked that there could be no better illustration of Mr. Darwin's idea than what might be drawn from Mr. Max Müller's exposition, in his essay on Comparative Mythology, of the mutual though in part broken affinities of the entire group of Indo-European languages. I added that, while nothing could be more apt as an illustration, nothing could be more vicious as an analogy, or more feeble and faulty as an argument. To my no small surprise, in glancing next day at the then current number of a popular periodical,? I found the self-same comparison, suggested from the self-same source, in a paper styled “Studies in Animal Life.” But the writer has overlooked those things that vitiate the assumed parallel. Suppose the pyramid of universal language refuses to run up into a perfecting point. Greek and Gaelic have a common parentage ; but the same cannot be said of Gaelic and Chinese. If the Indo-European family of languages be likened to the highest division in the animal kingdom, and the Chinese and other groups be paired off with the lower, then, on this writer's own showing, the main divisions at least must have a distinct original. But it is more important to note, that, whereas languages are mere collections of words, animals are organized beings. The former are flexible in virtue of the boundless plasticity of the mental processes they portray. The latter are framed on anatomical principles, and endowed with physiological functions, which rise as invincible Barriers, at a certain limit of permitted divergence, and say, if universal experience is to be trusted, Hitherto, but no farther.

7. This, at least, is what our first authorities in Comparative Anatomy, such as Cuvier in the last generation, and Owen in this, have held, and do firmly hold and teach. And this is what Mr. Darwin, with great literary skill, and wide range of research and acquirement, is labouring with all his might to disprove and overturn. As others, indeed, have done before him ; notably Lamarck, and the author of the “ Vestiges.” But what is peculiar to Mr. Darwin is the attempt to substitute a scientific and intelligible principle of animal progression for what, in these writers, as is now allowed on all hands, is a mere fabric of visionary conjecture. He tries to slip a foundation under the Lamarckian scheme, and so to raise an unsubstantial hypothesis to the rank of a stable and fact-fortified theory. Species begets species, as individual begets individual ; and the lower species, step after step, have begotten the higher — this line of assertion is common to all these writers alike. But the third claims property in a new instrument of conviction, a new scientific method, alleged to be based on fresh observation of nature — of avail, its author thinks, to prove what his predecessors only dreamed. And this he calls the principle of “NATURAL SELECTION, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

8. Artificial Selection is as old as the patriarchs. Man has been, in rough fashion, a cattle-breeder from the days of Jacob, who produced varieties in Laban's flock, 8 down to those of Seth Wright, of Massachussets, the rearer of the once celebrated otter-breed of sheep, and to those of the unsurpassed boviculturists of Aberdeenshire. To such perfection, moreover, has this art come within this century, that one authority, Lord Somerville, does not hesitate to say—“It would seem as if breeders had chalked out on a wall the most perfect form of a sheep, and then given it existence.” Selection,” Mr. Youatt tells us, with a like hyperbolical licence of expression, “is the magician's wand, by which he may summon into life whatever form and mould he pleases.” “In Saxony," Mr. Darwin himself adds, “the importance of selection in regard to merino sheep is so fully recognized that men follow it as a trade; the sheep are placed on a table, and are studied like a picture by a connoisseur. This is done three times at intervals of months, and the sheep are each time marked and classed, so that the very best may ultimately be selected for breeding.” 9

9. What holds of the various tribes of cattle applies more or less to the other creatures that have come under the immediate influence and control of man.

The ox and sheep are modelled to suit the market, but a whim has given us our fancy-breeds of pigeons; and whim blends with an eye to fitness for work or consumption in the multifarious experiments on dogs, horses, and poultry.

10. Archimedes needs his fulcrum; and the pigeon, of all domesticated animals, is the selected fulcrum of Mr. Darwin. By the help of this feathered Proteus, his picked animal paradigma, he believes himself able to subdue to his hypothesis the whole feathered and featherless world of living creatures. On the one hand,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »