The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 125 of 188

“It would lead to closest examination of hybridity and generation, causes of change in order to know what we have come from and to what we tend–to what circumstances favour crossing and what prevents it–this, and direct examination of direct passages of structure in species, might lead to laws of change, which would then be [the] main object of study, to guide our speculations.”

The following two extracts have a similar interest; the second is especially interesting, as it contains the germ of concluding sentence of the ‘Origin of Species’: (‘Origin of Species’ (1st edition), page 490:– “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”)–

“Before the attraction of gravity discovered it might have been said it was as great a difficulty to account for the movement of all [planets] by one law, as to account for each separate one; so to say that all mammalia were born from one stock, and since distributed by such means as we can recognise, may be thought to explain nothing.

“Astronomers might formerly have said that God fore-ordered each planet to move in its particular destiny. In the same manner God orders each animal created with certain forms in certain countries, but how much more simple and sublime [a] power–let attraction act according to certain law, such are inevitable consequences–let animals be created, then by the fixed laws of generation, such will be their successors.

“Let the powers of transportal be such, and so will be the forms of one country to another–let geological changes go at such a rate, so will be the number and distribution of the species!!”

The three next extracts are of miscellaneous interest:–

“When one sees nipple on man’s breast, one does not say some use, but sex not having been determined–so with useless wings under elytra of beetles– born from beetles with wings, and modified–if simple creation merely, would have been born without them.”

“In a decreasing population at any one moment fewer closely related (few species of genera); ultimately few genera (for otherwise the relationship would converge sooner), and lastly, perhaps, some one single one. Will not this account for the odd genera with few species which stand between great groups, which we are bound to consider the increasing ones?”

The last extract which I shall quote gives the germ of his theory of the relation between alpine plants in various parts of the world, in the publication of which he was forestalled by E. Forbes (see volume i. page 72). He says, in the 1837 note-book, that alpine plants, “formerly descended lower, therefore [they are] species of lower genera altered, or northern plants.”

When we turn to the Sketch of his theory, written in 1844 (still therefore before the second edition of the ‘Journal’ was completed), we find an enormous advance made on the note-book of 1837. The Sketch is an fact a surprisingly complete presentation of the argument afterwards familiar to us in the ‘Origin of Species.’ There is some obscurity as to the date of the short Sketch which formed the basis of the 1844 Essay. We know from his own words (volume i., page 68), that it was in June 1842 that he first wrote out a short sketch of his views. (This version I cannot find, and it was probably destroyed, like so much of his MS., after it had been enlarged and re-copied in 1844.) This statement is given with so much circumstance that it is almost impossible to suppose that it contains an error of date. It agrees also with the following extract from his Diary.

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