Evolution, Old & New - Or, the Theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, - as compared with that of Charles Darwin
by Samuel Butler
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Here again the direct cause of modification is given as being the inner feelings of the animal modified, change of conditions being the indirect cause as with Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck.

"Other circumstances, however, concur to produce these results. The dog is short-lived: he breeds often and freely: he is perpetually under the eye of man; hence when—by some chance common enough with Nature—a variation or special feature has made its appearance, man has tried to perpetuate it by uniting together the individuals in which it has appeared, as people do now who wish to form new breeds of dogs and other animals. Moreover, though species were all formed at the same time, yet the number of generations since the creation has been much greater in the short-lived than in the long-lived species: hence variations, alterations, and departure from the original type, may be expected to have become more perceptible in the case of animals which are so much farther removed from their original stock.

"Man is now eight times nearer Adam than the dog is to the first dog—for man lives eighty years, while the dog lives but ten. If, then, these species have an equal tendency to depart from their original type, the departure should be eight times more apparent with the dog than with man."[86]

Here follow remarks upon the great variability of ephemeral insects and of animal plants, on the impossibility of discovering the parent-stock of our wheat and of others of our domesticated plants,[87] and on the tendency of both plants and animals to resume feral characteristics on becoming wild again after domestication.[88]

The Hare—Geometrical Ratio of Increase.

We have already seen that it was Buffon's pleasure to consider the hare a rabbit for the time being, and to make it the text for a discourse upon fecundity. I have no doubt he enjoyed doing this, and would have found comparatively little pleasure in preaching the same discourse upon the rabbit. Speaking of the way in which even the races of mankind have struggled and crowded each other out, Buffon says:—

"These great events—these well-marked epochs in the history of the human race—are yet but ripples, as it were, on the current of life; which, as a general rule, flows onward evenly and in equal volume.

"It may be said that the movement of Nature turns upon two immovable pivots—one, the illimitable fecundity which she has given to all species; the other, the innumerable difficulties which reduce the results of that fecundity, and leave throughout time nearly the same quantity of individuals in every species.[89]... Taking the earth as a whole, and the human race in its entirety, the numbers of mankind, like those of animals, should remain nearly constant throughout time; for they depend upon an equilibrium of physical causes which has long since been reached, and which neither man's moral nor his physical efforts can disturb, inasmuch as these moral efforts do but spring from physical causes, of which they are the special effects. No matter what care man may take of his own species, he can only make it more abundant in one place by destroying it or diminishing its numbers in another. When one part of the globe is overpeopled, men emigrate, spread themselves over other countries, destroy one another, and establish laws and customs which sometimes only too surely prevent excess of population. In those climates where fecundity is greatest, as in China, Egypt, and Guinea, they banish, mutilate, sell, or drown infants. Here, we condemn them to a perpetual celibacy. Those who are in being find it easy to assert rights over the unborn. Regarding themselves as the necessary, they annihilate the contingent, and suppress future generations for their own pleasure and advantage. Man does for his own race, without perceiving it, what he does also for the inferior animals: that is to say, he protects it and encourages it to increase, or neglects it according to his sense of need—according as advantage or inconvenience is expected as the consequence of either course. And since all these moral effects themselves depend upon physical causes, which have been in permanent equilibrium ever since the world was formed, it follows that the numbers of mankind, like those of animals, should remain constant.

"Nevertheless, this fixed state, this constant number, is not absolute, all physical and moral causes, and all the results which spring from them, balance themselves, as though, upon a see-saw, which has a certain play, but never so much as that equilibrium should be altogether lost. As everything in the universe is in movement, and as all the forces which are contained in matter act one against the other and counterbalance one another, all is done by a kind of oscillation; of which the mean points are those to which we refer as being the ordinary course of nature, while the extremes are the periods which deviate from that course most widely. And, as a matter of fact, with animals as much as with plants, a time of unusual fecundity is commonly followed by one of sterility; abundance and dearth come alternately, and often at such short intervals that we may foretell the production of a coming year by our knowledge of the past one. Our apples, pears, oaks, beeches, and the greater number of our fruit and forest trees, bear freely but about one year in two. Caterpillars, cockchafers, woodlice, which in one year may multiply with great abundance, will appear but sparsely in the next. What indeed would become of all the good things of the earth, what would become of the useful animals, and indeed of man himself, if each individual in these years of excess was to leave its quotum of offspring? This, however, does not happen, for destruction and sterility follow closely upon excessive fecundity, and, independently of the contagion which follows inevitably upon overcrowding, each species has its own special sources of death and destruction, which are of themselves sufficient to compensate for excess in any past generation.

"Nevertheless the foregoing should not be taken in an absolute sense, nor yet too strictly,—especially in the case of those races which are not left entirely to the care of Nature. Those which man takes care of—commencing with his own—are more abundant than they would be without his care, yet, as his power of taking this care is limited, the increase which has taken place is also fixed, and has long been restrained within impassable boundaries. Again, though in civilized countries man, and all the animals useful to him, are more numerous than in other places, yet their numbers never become excessive, for the same power which brings them into being destroys them as soon as they are found inconvenient."[90]

The Carnivora—Sensation.

Buffon begins his seventh volume with some remarks on the carnivora in general, which I would gladly quote at fuller length than my space will allow. He dwells on the fact that the number, as well as the fecundity of the insect races is greater than that of the mammalia, and even than of plants; and he points out that "violent death is almost as necessary an usage as is the law that we must all, in one way or another, die." This leads him to the question whether animals can feel. "To speak seriously," (au reel) he says (and why this, if he had always spoken seriously?[91]), "can we doubt that those animals whose organization resembles our own, feel the same sensations as we do? They must feel, for they have senses, and they must feel more and more in proportion as their senses are more active and more perfect." Those whose organ of any sense is imperfect, have but imperfect perception in respect of that sense; and those that are entirely without the organ want also all corresponding sensation. "Movement is the necessary consequence of acts of perception. I have already shown that in whatever manner a living being is organized, if it has perceptions at all, it cannot fail to show that it has them by some kind of movement of its body. Hence plants, though highly organized, have no feeling, any more than have those animals which, like plants, manifest no power of motion. Among animals there are those which, like the sensitive plant, have but a certain power of movement about their own parts, and which have no power of locomotion; such animals have as yet but little perception. Those, again, which have power of locomotion, but which, like automata, do but a small number of things, and always after the same fashion, can have only small powers of perception, and these limited to a small number of objects. But in the case of man, what automata, indeed, have we not here! How much do not education and the intercommunication of ideas increase our powers and vivacity of perception. What difference can we not see in this respect between civilized and uncivilized races, between the peasant girl, and the woman of the world? And in like manner among animals, those which live with us have their perceptions increased in range, while those that are wild have but their natural instinct, which is often more certain but always more limited in range than is the intelligence of domesticated animals."[92]

. . . . . .

"For perception to exist in its fullest development in any animal body, that body must form a whole—an ensemble, which shall not only be capable of feeling in all its parts, but shall be so arranged that all these feeling parts shall have a close correspondence with one another, and that no one of them can be disturbed without communicating a portion of that disturbance to every other part. There must also be a single chief centre, with which all these different disturbances may be connected, and from which, as from a common point d'appui, the reactions against them may take their rise. Hence man, and those animals whose organization most resembles man's, will be the most capable of perceptions, while those whose unity is less complete, whose parts have a less close correspondence with each other—which have several centres of sensation, and which seem, in consequence, less to envelope a single existence in a single body than to contain many centres of existence separated and different from one another—these will have fewer and duller perceptions. The polypus, which can be reproduced by fission; the wasp, whose head even after separation from the body still moves, lives, acts, and even eats as heretofore; the lizard which we deprive neither of sensation nor movement by cutting off part of its body; the lobster which can restore its amputated limbs; the turtle whose heart beats long after it has been plucked out, in a word all the animals whose organization differs from our own, have but small powers of perception, and the smaller the more they differ from us."[93]

This is Buffon's way of satirizing our inability to bear in mind that we are compelled to judge all things by our own standards. He also wishes to reassure those who might be alarmed at the tendency of some of his foregoing remarks, and who he knew would find comfort in being told that a thing which does not express itself as they do does not feel at all.

The diaphragm according to Buffon appears to be the centre of the powers of sensation; the slightest injury "even to the attachments of the diaphragm is followed by strong convulsions, and even by death. The brain which has been called the seat of 'sensations' is yet not the centre of 'perception,' since we can wound it, and even take considerable parts of it away, without death's ensuing, and without preventing an animal from living, moving and feeling in all its parts."

Buffon thus distinguishes between "sensation" and "perception." "Sensation," he says, "is simply the activity of a sense, but perception is the pleasantness or unpleasantness of this sensation," "perceived by its being propagated and becoming active throughout the entire system." I have therefore several times, when translating from Buffon, rendered the word "sentiment" by "perception," and shall continue to do so. "I say," writes Buffon, "the pleasantness or unpleasantness, because this is the very essence of perception; the one feature of perception consists in perceiving either pain or pleasure; and though movements which do not affect us in either one or the other of these two ways may indeed take place within us, yet we are indifferent to them, and do not perceive that we are affected by them. All external movement, and all exercise of the animal powers, spring from perception; its action is proportionate to the extent of its excitation, to the extent of the feeling which is being felt.[94] And this same part, which we regard as the centre of sensation, will also be that of all the animal powers; or, if it is preferred to call it so, it will be the common point d'appui from which they all take rise. The diaphragm is to the animal what the 'stock' is to the plant; both divide an organism transversely, both serve as the point d'appui of opposing forces; for the forces which push upward those parts of a tree which should form its trunk and branches, bear upon and are supported by the 'stock,' as do those opposing forces, which drive the roots downwards.

. . . . . .

"Even on a cursory examination we can see that all our innermost affections, our most lively emotions, our most expansive moments of delight, and, on the other hand, our sudden starts, pains, sicknesses, and swoons—in fact, all our strong impressions concerning the pleasure or pain of any sensation—make themselves felt within the body, and about the region of the diaphragm. The brain, on the contrary, shows no sign of being a seat of perception. In the head there are pure sensations and nothing else, or rather, there are but the representations of sensations stripped of the character of perception; that is to say, we can remember and call to mind whether such and such a sensation was pleasant to us or otherwise, and if this operation, which goes on in the head, is followed by a vivid perception, then the impression made is perceived in the interior of the body, and always in the region of the diaphragm. Hence, in the foetus where this membrane is without use, there is no perception, or so little that nothing comes of it, the movements of the foetus, such as they are, being rather mechanical than dependent on sensation and will.

"Whatever the matter may be which serves as the vehicle of perception, and produces muscular movement, it is certain that it is propagated through the nerves, and that it communicates itself instantaneously from one extremity of the system to the other. In whatever manner this operation is conducted, whether by the vibrations, as it were, of elastic cords or by a subtle fire, or by a matter resembling electricity, which not only resides in animal as in all other bodies, but is being continually renewed in them by the movements of the heart and lungs, by the friction of the blood within the arteries, and also by the action of exterior causes upon our organs of sense—in whatever manner, I say, the operation is conducted, it is nevertheless certain that the nerves and membranes are the only parts in an animal body that can feel. The blood, lymphs, and all other fluids, the fats, bone, flesh, and all other solids, are of themselves void of sensation. And so also is the brain; it is a soft and inelastic substance, incapable therefore of producing or of propagating the movement, vibrations, or concussions which, result in perception. The meninges, on the other hand, are exceedingly sensitive, and are the envelopes of all the nerves; like the nerves, they take rise in the head; and, dividing themselves like the branches of the nerves, they extend even to their smallest ramifications: they are, so to speak, flattened nerves; they are of the same substance as the nerves, are nearly of the same degree of elasticity, and form a necessary part of the system of sensation. If, then, the seat of the sensations must be placed in the head, let it be placed in the meninges, and not in the medullary part of the brain, which is of an entirely different substance."[95]

If this is so, it appears from what will follow as though the meninges must be the "stock" rather than the diaphragm.

"What perhaps has given rise to the opinion that the seat of all sensations and the centre of all sensibility is in the brain, is the fact that the nerves, which are the organs of perception, all attach themselves to the brain, which has hence come to be regarded as the one common centre which can receive all their vibrations and impressions. This fact alone has sufficed to indicate the brain as the origin of perceptions—as the essential organ of sensations; in a word, as the common sensorium. This supposition has appeared so simple and natural that its physical impossibility has been overlooked, an impossibility, however, which should be sufficiently apparent. For how can a part which cannot feel—a soft inactive substance like the brain—be the very organ of perception and movement? How can this soft and perceptionless part not only receive impressions, but preserve them for a length of time, and transmit their undulatory movements (en propage les ebranlements) throughout all the solid and feeling parts of the body? It may perhaps be maintained with Descartes and M. de Peyronie that the principle of sensation does not reside in the brain, but in the pineal gland or in the corpus callosum; but a glance at the conformation of the brain itself will suffice to show that these parts do not join on to the nerves, but that they are entirely surrounded by those parts of the brain which do not feel, and are so separated from the nerves that they cannot receive any movement from them; whence it follows that this second supposition is as groundless as the first."[96]

What, then, asks Buffon, is the use of the brain? Man, the quadrupeds, and birds all have larger brains, and at the same time more extended perceptions, than fishes, insects, and those other living beings whose brains are smaller in proportion. "When the brain is compressed, there is suspension of all power of movement. If this part is not the source of our powers of motion, why is it so necessary and so essential? Why, again, does it seem so proportionate in each animal to the amount of perceiving power which that animal possesses?

"I think I can answer this question in a satisfactory manner, difficult though it seems; but in order that I may do so, I would ask the reader to lend me his attention for a few moments while we regard the brain simply as brain, and have no other idea concerning it than we can derive from inspection and reflection. The brain, as well as the medulla oblongata and the spinal marrow, which are but prolongations of the brain itself, is only a kind of hardly organized mucilage; we find in it nothing but the extremities of small arteries, which run into it in very great numbers, but which convey a white and nourishing lymph instead of blood. When the parts of the brain are disunited by maceration, these same small arteries, or lymphatic vessels, appear as very delicate threads throughout their whole length. The nerves, on the contrary, do not penetrate the substance of the brain; they abut upon its surface only; before reaching it they lose their elasticity and solidity, and the extremities of the nerves which are nearest to the brain are soft, and nearly mucilaginous. From this exposition, in which there is nothing hypothetical, it appears that the brain, which is nourished by the lymphatic arteries, does in its turn provide nourishment for the nerves, and that we must regard these as a kind of vegetation which rises as trunks and branches from the brain, and become subsequently subdivided into an infinite number, as it were, of twigs. The brain is to the nerves what the earth is to plants: the last extremities of the nerves are the roots, which with every vegetable are more soft and tender than the trunk or branches; they contain a ductile matter fit for the growth and nourishment of the nervous tree or fibre; they draw the ductile matter from the substance of the brain itself, to which the arteries are continually bringing the lymph that is necessary to supply it. The brain, then, instead of being the seat of the sensations, and the originator of perception, is an organ of secretion and nutrition only, though a very essential organ, without which the nerves could neither grow nor be maintained.

"This organ is greater in man, in quadrupeds, and in birds, because the number or bulk of the nerves is greater in these animals than in fishes or insects, whose power of perception is more feeble, for this very reason, that they have but a small brain; one, in fact, that is proportioned to the small quantity of nerves which that brain must support. Nor can I omit to state here that man has not, as has been pretended by some, a larger brain than has any other animal; for there are apes and cetacea which have more brain than man in proportion to the volume of their bodies—another fact which proves that the brain is neither the seat of sensations nor the originator of perception, since in that case these animals would have more sensations and perception than man.

"If we consider the manner in which plants derive their nourishment, we shall find that they do not draw up the grosser parts either of earth or water; these parts must be reduced by warmth into subtle vapours before the roots can suck them up into the plant. In like manner the nutrition of the nerves is only effected by means of the more subtle parts of the humidity of the brain, which are sucked up by the roots or extremities of the nerves, and are carried thence through all the branches of the sensory system. This system forms, as we have said, a whole, all whose parts are interconnected by so close a union that we cannot wound one without communicating a violent shock to all the others; the wounding or simply pulling of the smallest nerve is sufficient to cause lively irritation to all the others, and to put the body in convulsion; nor can we ease this pain and convulsion except by cutting the nerve higher up than the injured part; but on this all the parts abutting on this nerve become thenceforward senseless and immovable for ever. The brain should not be considered as of the same character, nor as an organic portion of the nervous system, for it has not the same properties nor the same substance, being neither solid nor elastic, nor yet capable of feeling. I admit that on its compression perception ceases, but this very fact shows it to be a body foreign to the nervous system itself, which, acting by its weight, or pressure, against the extremities of the nerves, oppresses them and stupefies them in the same way as a weight placed upon the arm, leg, or any other part of the body, stupefies the nerves and deadens the perceptions of that part. And it is evident that this cessation of sensation on compression is but a suspension and temporary stupefaction, for the moment the compression of the brain ceases, perception and the power of movement returns. Again, I admit that on tearing the medullary substance, and on wounding the brain till the corpus callosum is reached, convulsion, loss of sensation, and death ensue; but this is because the nerves are so entirely deranged that they are, so to speak, torn up by the roots and wounded all together, and at their source.

"In further proof that the brain is neither the centre of perception nor the seat of the sensations, I may remind the reader that animals and even children have been born without heads and brains, and have yet had feeling, movement, and life. There are also whole classes of animals, like insects and worms, with a brain that is by no means a distinct mass nor of sensible volume, but with only something which corresponds with the medulla oblongata and the spinal marrow. There would be more reason, then, in placing the seat of the feelings and perceptions in the spinal marrow, which no animal is without, than in the brain which is not an organ common to all creatures that can feel."

If Buffon's ideas concerning the brain are as just as they appear to be, the resemblance between plants and animals is more close than is apparent, even to a superficial observer, on a first inspection of the phenomena. Such an observer, however, on looking but a little more intently, will see the higher vertebrata as perambulating vegetables planted upside down. So the man who had been born blind, on being made to see, and on looking at the objects before him with unsophisticated eyes, said without hesitation that he saw "men as trees walking," thus seeing with more prophetic insight than either he or the bystanders could interpret. For our skull is as a kind of flower-pot, and holds the soil from which we spring, that is to say the brain; our mouth and stomach are roots, in two stories or stages; our bones are the trellis-work to which we cling while going about in search of sustenance for our roots; or they are as the woody trunk of a tree; we are the nerves which are rooted in the brain, and which draw thence the sustenance which is supplied it by the stomach; our lungs are leaves which are folded up within us, as the blossom of a fig is hidden within the fruit itself.

This is what should follow if Buffon's theory of the brain is allowed to stand, which I hope will prove to be the case, for it is the only comfortable thought concerning the brain that I have met with in any writer. I have given it here at some length on account of its importance, and for the illustration it affords of Buffon's hatred of mystery, rather than for its bearing upon evolution. The fact that our leading men of science have adopted other theories will weigh little with those who have watched scientific orthodoxy with any closeness. What Buffon thought of that orthodoxy may be gathered from the following:—

"The greatest obstacles to the advancement of human knowledge lie less in things themselves than in man's manner of considering them. However complicated a machine the human body may be, it is still less complicated than are our own ideas concerning it. It is less difficult to see Nature as she is, than as she is presented to us. She carries a veil only, while we would put a mask over her face; we load her with our own prejudices, and suppose her to act and to conduct her operations even after the same fashion as ourselves.[97]

. . . . . .

"I am by no means speaking of those purely arbitrary systems which we are able at a glance to detect as chimeras that are being pretended to us as realities, but I refer to the methods whereby people have set themselves seriously to study nature. Even the experimental method itself has been more fertile of error than of truth, for though it is indeed the surest, yet is it no surer than the hand of him who uses it. No matter how little we incline out of the straight path, we soon find ourselves wandering in a sterile wilderness, where we can see but a few obscure objects scattered sparsely; nevertheless we do violence to these facts and to ourselves, and resemble them together on a conceit of analogies and common properties amongst them. Then, passing and repassing complaisantly over the tortuous path which we have ourselves beaten, we deem the road a worn one, and though it leads no whither, the world follows it, adopts it, and accepts its supposed consequences as first principles. I could show this by laying bare the origin of that which goes by the name of 'principle' in all the sciences, whether abstract or natural. In the case of the former, the basis of principle is abstraction—that is to say, one or more suppositions: in that of the second, principles are but the consequences, better or worse, of the methods which may have been followed. And to speak here of anatomy only, did not he who first surmounted his natural repugnance and set himself to work to open a human body—did he not believe that through going all over it, dissecting it, dividing it into all its parts, he would soon learn its structure, mechanism, and functions? But he found the task greater than he had expected, and renouncing such pretensions, was fain to content himself with a method—not for seeing and judging, but for seeing after an orderly fashion. This method ... is still the sole business of our ablest anatomists, but it is not science. It is the road which should lead scienceward, and might perhaps have reached science itself, if instead of walking ever on a single narrow path men had set the anatomy of man and that of animals face to face with one another. For, what real knowledge can be drawn from an isolated pursuit? Is not the foundation of all science seen to consist in the comparison which the human mind can draw between different objects in the matter of their resemblances and differences—of their analogous or conflicting properties, and of all the relations in which they stand to one another? The absolute, if it exist at all, is but of the concurrence of man's own knowledge; we judge and can judge of things only by their bearings one upon another; hence whenever a method limits us to only a single subject, whenever we consider it in its solitude and without regard to its resemblances or to its differences from other objects, we can attain to no real knowledge, nor yet, much less, reach any general principle. We do but give names, and make descriptions of a thing, and of all its parts. Hence comes it that, after three thousand years of dissection, anatomy is still but a nomenclature, and has hardly advanced a step towards its true object, which is the science of animal economy. Furthermore, what defects are there not in the method itself, which should above all things else be simple and easy to be understood, depending as it does upon inspection and having denominations only for its end! For seeing that nomenclature has been mistaken for knowledge, men have made it their chief business to multiply names, instead of limiting things; they have crushed themselves under the burden of details, and been on the look out for differences where there was no distinction. When they had given a new name they conceived of it as a new thing, and described the smallest parts with the most minutious exactness, while the description of some still smaller part, forgotten or neglected by previous anatomists, has been straightway hailed as a discovery. The denominations themselves being often taken from things which had no relation to the object that it was desired to denominate, have served but to confound confusion. The part of the brain, for example, which is called testes and nates, wherein does it so differ from the rest of the brain that it should deserve a name? These names, taken at haphazard or springing from some preconceived opinion, have themselves become the parents of new prejudices and speculations; other names given to parts which have been ill observed, or which are even non-existent, have been sources of new errors. What functions and uses has it not been attempted to foist upon the pineal gland, and on the alleged empty space in the brain which is called the arch, the first of which is but a gland, while the very existence of the other is doubtful,—the empty space being perhaps produced by the hand of the anatomist and the method of dissection."[98]

The Genus felis.

In his preliminary remarks upon the lion, Buffon while still professing to believe in some considerable mutability of species, seems very far from admitting that all living forms are capable of modification. But he has shown us long since how clearly he saw the impossibility of limiting mutability, if he once admitted so much of the thin end of the wedge as that a horse and an ass might be related. It is plain, therefore, that he is not speaking "au reel" here, and we accordingly find him talking clap-trap about the nobleness of the lion in having no species immediately allied to it. A few lines lower on he reminds us in a casual way that the ass and horse are related.

He writes:—

"Added to all these noble individual features the lion has also what may be called a specific nobility. For I call those species noble which are constant, invariable, and which are above suspicion of having degenerated. These species are commonly isolated, and the only ones of their genus. They are distinguished by such well-marked features that they cannot be mistaken, nor confounded with any other species. To begin for example with man, the noblest of created beings; he is but of a single species, inasmuch as men and women will breed freely inter se in spite of all existing differences of race, climate and colour; and also inasmuch as there is no other animal which can claim either a distant or near relationship with him. The horse, on the other hand, is more noble as an individual than as a species, for he has the ass as his near neighbour, and seems himself to be nearly enough related to it; ... the dog is perhaps of even less noble species, approaching as he does to the wolf, fox, and jackal, which we can only consider to be the degenerated species of a single family"[99]—all which may seem very natural opinions for a French aristocrat in the days before the Revolution, but which cannot for a moment be believed to have been Buffon's own. I have not ascertained the date of Buffon's little quarrel with the Sorbonne, but I cannot doubt that if we knew the inner history of the work we are considering, we should find this passage and others like it explained by the necessity of quieting orthodox adversaries. He concludes the paragraph from which I have just been quoting by saying, "To class man and the ape together, or the lion with the cat, and to say that the lion is a cat with a mane and a long tail—this were to degrade and disfigure nature instead of describing her and denominating her species." Buffon very rarely uses italics, but those last given are his, not mine; could words be better chosen to make us see the lion and the cat as members of the same genus? No wonder the Sorbonne considered him an infelicitous writer; why could he not have said "cat," and have done with it, instead of giving a couple of sly but telling touches, which make the cat as like a lion as possible, and then telling us that we must not call her one? Sorbonnes never do like people who write in this way.

"The lion, then, belongs to a most noble species, standing as he does alone, and incapable of being confounded with the tiger, leopard, ounce, &c., while, on the contrary, those species, which appear to be least distant from the lion, are very sufficiently indistinguishable, so that travellers and nomenclators are continually confounding them."[100]

If this is not pure malice, never was a writer more persistently unfortunate in little ways. Why remind us here that the species which come nearest to the lion are so hard to distinguish? Why not have said nothing about it? As it is, the case stands thus: we are required to admit close resemblance between the leopard and the tiger, while we are to deny it between the tiger and the lion, in spite of there being no greater outward difference between the first than between the second pair, and in spite of the hurried whisper "cat with a mane and a long tail" still haunting our ears. Isidore Geoffroy and his followers may consent to this arrangement, but I hope the majority of my readers will not do so.

I went on to the account of the tiger with some interest to see the line which Buffon would take concerning it. I anticipated that we should find cats, pumas, lynxes, &c., to be really very like tigers, and was surprised to learn that the "true" tiger, though certainly not unlike these animals, was still to be distinguished from "many others which had since been called tigers." He is on no account to be confounded with these, in spite of the obvious temptation to confound him. He is "a rare animal, little known to the ancients, and badly described by the moderns." He is a beast "of great ferocity, of terrible swiftness, and surpassing even the proportions of the lion." The effect of the description is that we no longer find the lion standing alone, but with the tiger on a par with him if not above him; but at the same time we fall easy victims to the temptation to confound the tiger with "the many other animals which are also called tigers." A surface stream has swept the members of the cat family in different directions, but a stealthy undercurrent has seized them from beneath, and they are now happily reunited.

Animals of the Old and New World—Changed Geographical Distribution.

Writing upon the animals of the old world,[101] and referring to the humps of the camel and the bison, Buffon shows that very considerable modification may be effected in some animals within even a few generations, but he attributes the effect produced to the direct influence of climate. Buffon concludes his sketch of the animals of the new world by pointing out that the larger animals of the African torrid zone have been hindered by sea and desert from finding their way to America, and by claiming to be the first "even to have suspected" that there was not a single denizen of the torrid zone of one continent which was common also to the other.[102]

The animals common to both continents are those which can stand the cold and which are generally suited for a temperate climate. These, Buffon believes, to have travelled either over some land still unknown, or "more probably," over territory which has long since been submerged. The species of the old and new world are never without some well-marked difference, which however should not be held sufficient for us to refuse to admit their practical identity. But he maintains, I imagine wilfully, that there is a tendency in all the mammalia to become smaller on being transported to the new world, and refers the fact to the quality of the earth, the condition of the climate, the degrees of heat and humidity, to the height of mountains, amounts of running or stagnant waters, extent of forest, and above all to the brutal condition of nature in a new country, which he evidently regards with true aristocratic abhorrence.[103]

Then follows a passage which I had better perhaps give in full:—

The mammoth "was certainly the greatest and strongest of all quadrupeds; but it has disappeared; and if so, how many smaller, feebler, and less remarkable species must have also perished without leaving us any traces or even hints of their having existed? How many other species have changed their nature, that is to say, become perfected or degraded, through great changes in the distribution of land and ocean, through the cultivation or neglect of the country which they inhabit, through the long-continued effects of climatic changes, so that they are no longer the same animals that they once were? Yet of all living beings after man, the quadrupeds are the ones whose nature is most fixed and form most constant: birds and fishes vary much more easily; insects still more again than these, and if we descend to plants, which certainly cannot be excluded from animated nature, we shall be surprised at the readiness with which species are seen to vary, and at the ease with which they change their forms and adopt new natures.

"It is probable then that all the animals of the new world are derived from congeners in the old, without any deviation from the ordinary course of nature. We may believe that having become separated in the lapse of ages, by vast oceans and countries which they could not traverse, they have gradually been affected by, and derived impressions from, a climate which has itself been modified so as to become a new one through the operation of those same causes which dissociated the individuals of the old and new world from one another; thus in the course of time they have grown smaller and changed their characters. This, however, should not prevent our classifying them as different species now, for the difference is no less real whether it is caused by time, climate and soil, or whether it dates from the creation. Nature I maintain is in a state of continual flux and movement. It is enough for man if he can grasp her as she is in his own time, and throw but a glance or two upon the past and future, so as to try and perceive what she may have been in former times and what one day she may attain to."[104]

The Buffalo—Animals under Domestication.

"The bison and the aurochs," says Buffon, "differ only in unessential characteristics, and are, by consequence, of the same species as our domestic cattle, so that I believe all the pretended species of the ox, whether ancient or modern, may be reduced to three—the bull, the buffalo, and the bubalus.

"The case of animals under domestication is in many respects different from that of wild ones; they vary much more in disposition, size and shape, especially as regards the exterior parts of their bodies: the effects of climate, so powerful throughout nature, act with far greater effect upon captive animals than upon wild ones. Food prepared by man, and often ill chosen, combined with the inclemency of an uncongenial climate—these eventuate in modifications sufficiently profound to become constant and hereditary in successive generations. I do not pretend to say that this general cause of modification is so powerful as to change radically the nature of beings which have had their impress stamped upon them in that surest of moulds—heredity; but it nevertheless changes them in not a few respects; it masks and transforms their outward appearance; it suppresses some of their parts, and gives them new ones; it paints them with various colours, and by its action on bodily habits influences also their natures, instincts, and most inward qualities" (and what is this but "radically changing their nature"?). "The modification of but a single part, moreover, in a whole as perfect as an animal body, will necessitate a correlative modification in every other part, and it is from this cause that our domestic animals differ almost as much in nature and instinct, as in form, from those from which they originally sprung."[105]

Buffon confirms this last assertion by quoting the sheep as an example—an animal which can now no longer exist in a wild state. Then returning to cattle, he repeats that many varieties have been formed by the effects—"diverse in themselves, and diverse in their combinations—of climate, food, and treatment, whether under domestication or in their wild state." These are the main causes of variation ("causes generales de variete"),[106] among our domesticated animals, but by far the greatest is changed climate in consequence of their accompanying man in his migrations. The effects of the foregoing causes of modification, especially the last of them, are repeatedly insisted on in the course of the forty pages which complete the preliminary account of the buffalo.

What holds good for the buffalo does so also for the mouflon or wild sheep. This, Buffon declares to be the source of all our domesticated breeds: of these there are in all some four or five, "all of them being but degenerations from a single stock, produced by man's agency, and propagated for his convenience."[107] At the same time that man has protected them he has hunted out the original race which was "less useful to him,"[108] so that it is now to be found only in a few secluded spots, such as the mountains of Greece, Cyprus, and Sardinia. Buffon does not consider even the differences between sheep and goats to be sufficiently characteristic to warrant their being classed as different species.

"I shall never tire," he continues, "of repeating—seeing how important the matter is—that we must not form our opinions concerning nature, nor differentiate (differencier) her species, by a reference to minor special characteristics. And, again, that systems, far from having illustrated the history of animals, have, on the contrary, served rather to obscure it ... leading, as they do, to the creation of arbitrary species which nature knows nothing about; perpetually confounding real and hypothetical existences; giving us false ideas as to the very essence of species; uniting them and separating them without foundation or knowledge, and often without our having seen the animal with which we are dealing."[109]

First and Second Views of Nature.

The twelfth volume begins with a preface, entitled "A First View of Nature," from which I take the following:—

"What cannot Nature effect with such means at her disposal? She can do all except either create matter or destroy it. These two extremes of power the deity has reserved for himself only; creation and destruction are the attributes of his omnipotence. To alter and undo, to develop and to renew—these are powers which he has handed over to the charge of Nature."[110]

The thirteenth volume opens with a second view of nature. After describing what a man would have observed if he could have lived during many continuous ages, Buffon goes on to say:—

"And as the number, sustenance, and balance of power among species is constant, Nature would present ever the same appearance, and would be in all times and under all climates absolutely and relatively the same, if it were not her fashion to vary her individual forms as much as possible. The type of each species is founded in a mould of which the principal features have been cut in characters that are ineffaceable and eternally permanent, but all the accessory touches vary; no one individual is the exact facsimile of any other, and no species exists without a large number of varieties. In the human race on which the divine seal has been set most firmly, there are yet varieties of black and white, large and small races, the Patagonian, Hottentot, European, American, Negro, which, though all descended from a common father, nevertheless exhibit no very brotherly resemblance to one another."[111]

On an earlier page there is a passage which I may quote as showing Buffon to have not been without some—though very imperfect—perception of the fact which evidently made so deep an impression upon his successor, Dr. Erasmus Darwin. I refer to that continuity of life in successive generations, and that oneness of personality between parents and offspring, which is the only key that will make the phenomena of heredity intelligible.

"Man," he says, "and especially educated man, is no longer a single individual, but represents no small part of the human race in its entirety. He was the first to receive from his fathers the knowledge which their own ancestors had handed down to them. These, having discovered the divine art of fixing their thoughts so that they can transmit them to their posterity, become, as it were, one and the same people with their descendants (se sont, pour ainsi dire, identifies avec leur neveux); while our descendants will in their turn be one and the same people with ourselves (s'identifieront avec nous). This reunion in a single person of the experience of many ages, throws back the boundaries of man's existence to the utmost limits of the past; he is no longer a single individual, limited as other beings are to the sensations and experiences of to-day. In place of the individual we have to deal, as it were, with the whole species."[112]

"Differences in exterior are nothing in comparison with those in interior parts. These last must be regarded as the causes, while the others are but the effects. The interior parts of living beings are the foundation of the plan of their design; this is their essential form, their real shape, their exterior is only the surface, or rather the drapery in which their true figure is enveloped. How often does not the study of comparative anatomy show us that two exteriors which differ widely conceal interiors absolutely like each other, and, on the contrary, that the smallest internal difference is accompanied by the most marked differences of outward appearance, changing as it does even the natural habits, faculties and attributes of the animal?"[113]

Apes and Monkeys.

The fourteenth volume is devoted to apes and monkeys, and to the chapter with which the volumes on quadrupeds are brought to a conclusion—a chapter for which perhaps the most important position in the whole work is thus assigned. It is very long, and is headed "On Descent with Modification" ("De la Degeneration des Animaux"). This is the chapter in which Buffon enters more fully into the "causes or means" of the transformation of species.

At the opening of the chapter on the nomenclature of monkeys, the theory is broached that there is a certain fixed amount of life-substance as of matter in nature; and that neither can be either augmented or diminished. Buffon maintains this organic and living substance to be as real and durable as inanimate matter; as permanent in its state of life as the other in that of death; it is spread over the whole of nature, and passes from vegetables to animals by way of nutrition, and from animals back to vegetables through putrefaction, thus circulating incessantly to the animation of all that lives.

As might be expected, Buffon is loud in his protest against any real similarity between man and the apes—man has had the spirit of the Deity breathed into his nostrils, and the lowest creature with this is higher than the highest without it. Having settled this point, he makes it his business to show how little difference in other respects there is between the apes and man.

"One who could view," he writes, "Nature in her entirety, from first to last, and then reflect upon the manner in which these two substances—the living and the inanimate—act and react upon one another, would see that every living being is a mould which casts into its own shape those substances upon which it feeds; that it is this assimilation which constitutes the growth of the body, whose development is not simply an augmentation of volume, but an extension in all its dimensions, a penetration of new matter into all parts of its mass: he would see that these parts augment proportionately with the whole, and the whole proportionately with these parts, while general configuration remains the same until the full development is accomplished.... He would see that man, the quadruped, the cetacean, the bird, reptile, insect, tree, plant, herb, all are nourished, grow, and reproduce themselves on this same system, and that though their manner of feeding and of reproducing themselves may appear so different, this is only because the general and common cause upon which these operations depend can only operate in the individual agreeably with the form of each species. Travelling onward (for it has taken the human mind ages to arrive at these great truths, from which all others are derived), he would compare living forms, give them names to distinguish them, and other names to connect them with each other. Taking his own body as the model with which all living forms should be compared, and having measured them, explained them thoroughly, and compared them in all their parts, he would see that there is but small difference between the forms of living beings; that by dissecting the ape he could arrive at the anatomy of man, and that taking some other animal we find always the same ultimate plan of organization, the same senses, the same viscera, the same bones, the same flesh, the same movements of the fluids, the same play and action of the solids; he would find all of them with a heart, veins, arteries, in all the same organs of circulation, respiration, digestion, nutrition, secretion; in all of them a solid frame, composed of pieces put together in nearly the same manner; and he would find this system always the same, from man to the ape, from the ape to the quadrupeds, from the quadrupeds to the cetacea, birds, fishes, reptiles; this system or plan then, I say, if firmly laid hold of and comprehended by the human mind, is a true copy of nature; it is the simplest and most general point of view from which we can consider her, and if we extend our view, and go on from what lives to what vegetates, we may see this plan—which originally did but vary almost imperceptibly—change its scope and descend gradually from reptiles to insects, from insects to worms, from worms to zoophytes, from zoophytes to plants, and yet keeping ever the same fundamental unity in spite of differences of detail, insomuch that nutrition, development, and reproduction remain the common traits of all organic bodies; traits eternally essential and divinely implanted; which time, far from effacing or destroying, does but make plainer and plainer continually."

This is the writer who can see nothing in common between the horse and the zebra except that each has a solid hoof.[114] He continues:—

"If from this grand tableau of resemblances, in which the living universe presents itself to our eyes as though it were a single family, we pass to a tableau rather of the differences between living forms, we shall see that, with the exception of some of the greater species, such as the elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, tiger, lion, which must each have their separate place, the other races seem all to blend with neighbouring forms, and to fall into groups of likenesses, greater or lesser, and of genera which our nomenclators represent to us by a network of shapes, of which some are held together by the feet, others by the teeth, horns, and skin, and others by points of still minor importance. And even those whose form strikes us as most perfect, as approaching most nearly to our own—even the apes—require some attention before they can be distinguished from one another, for the privilege of being an isolated species has been assigned less to form than to size; and man himself, though of a separate species and differing infinitely from all or any others, has but a medium size, and is less isolated and has nearer neighbours than have the greater animals. If we study the Orang-outang with regard only to his configuration, we might regard him, with equal justice, as either the highest of the apes or as the lowest of mankind, because, with the exception of the soul, he wants nothing of what we have ourselves, and because, as regards his body, he differs less from man than he does from other animals which are still called apes."[115]

The want of a soul Buffon maintains to be the only essential difference between the Orang-outang and man—"his body, limbs, senses, brain and tongue are the same as ours. He can execute whatever movements man can execute; yet he can neither think nor speak, nor do any action of a distinctly human character. Is this merely through want of training? or may it not be through wrong comparison on our own parts? We compare the wild ape in the woods to the civilized citizen of our great towns. No wonder the ape shows to disadvantage. He should be compared with the hideous Hottentot rather, who is himself almost as much above the lowest man, as the lowest man is above the Orang-outang."[116]

The passage is a much stronger one than I have thought it fit to quote. The reader can refer to it for himself. After reading it I entertain no further doubt that Buffon intended to convey the impression that men and apes are descended from common ancestors. He was not, however, going to avow this conclusion openly.

"I admit," he continues, "that if we go by mere structure the ape might be taken for a variety of the human race; the Creator did not choose to model mankind upon an entirely distinct system from the other animals: He comprised their form and man's under a plan which is in the main uniform."[117] Buffon then dwells upon the possession of a soul by man; "even the lowest creature," he avers, "which had this, would have become man's rival."

"The ape then is purely an animal, far from being a variety of our own species, he does not even come first in the order of animals, since he is not the most intelligent: the high opinion which men have of the intelligence of apes is a prejudice based only upon the resemblance between their outward appearance and our own."[118] But the undiscerning were not only to be kept quiet, they were to be made happy. With this end, if I am not much mistaken, Buffon brings his chapter on the nomenclature of apes to the following conclusion:—

"The ape, which the philosopher and the uneducated have alike regarded as difficult to define, and as being at best equivocal, and midway between man and the lower animals, proves in fact to be an animal and nothing more; he is masked externally in the shape of man, but internally he is found incapable of thought, and of all that constitutes man; apes are below several of the other animals in respect of qualities corresponding to their own, and differ essentially from man, in nature, temperament, the time which must be spent upon their gestation and education, in their period of growth, duration of life, and in fact in all those profounder habits which constitute what is called the 'nature' of any individual existence."[119] This is handsome, and leaves the more timorous reader in full possession of the field.

Buffon is accordingly at liberty in the following chapter to bring together every fact he can lay his hands on which may point the resemblance between man and the Orang-outang most strongly; but he is careful to use inverted commas here much more freely than is his wont. Having thus made out a strong case for the near affinity between man and the Orang-outang, and having thrown the responsibility on the original authors of the passages he quotes, he excuses himself for having quoted them on the ground that "everything may seem important in the history of a brute which resembles man so nearly," and then insists upon the points of difference between the Orang-outang and ourselves. They do not, however, in Buffon's hands come to much, until the end of the chapter, when, after a resume dwelling on the points of resemblance, the differences are again emphatically declared to have the best of it.

I need not follow Buffon through his description of the remaining monkeys. It comprises 250 pp., and is confined to details with which we have no concern; but the last chapter—"De la Degeneration des Animaux"—deserves much fuller quotation than my space will allow me to make from it. The chapter is very long, comprising, as I have said, over sixty quarto pages. It is impossible, therefore, for me to give more than an outline of its contents.

Causes or Means of the Transformation of Species.

The human race is declared to be the one most capable of modification, all its different varieties being descended from a common stock, and owing their more superficial differences to changes of climate, while their profounder ones, such as woolly hair, flat noses, and thick lips, are due to differences of diet, which again will vary with the nature of the country inhabited by any race. Changes will be exceedingly gradual; it will take centuries of unbroken habit to bring about modifications which can be transmitted with certainty so as to eventuate in national characteristics.[120] It is a pleasure to find that here, too, habit is assigned as the main cause which underlies heredity.

Modification will be much prompter with animals. When compelled to abandon their native land, they undergo such rapid and profound modification, that at first sight they can hardly be recognized as the same race, and cannot be detected in their disguise till after the most careful inspection, and on grounds of analogy only. Domestication will produce still more surprising results; the stigmata of their captivity, the marks of their chains, can be seen upon all those animals which man has enslaved; the older and more confirmed the servitude, the deeper will be its scars, until at length it will be found impossible to rehabilitate the creature and restore to it its lost attributes.

"Temperature of climate, quality of food, and the ills of slavery—here are the three main causes of the alteration and degeneration of animals. The consequences of each of these should be particularly considered, so that by examining Nature as she is to-day we may thus perceive what she was in her original condition."[121]

I have more than once admitted that there is a wide difference between this opinion, which assigns modification to the direct influence of climate, food, and other changed conditions of life, and that of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, which assigns only an indirect effect to these, while the direct effect is given to changed actions in consequence of changed desires; but it is surprising how nearly Buffon has approached the later and truer theory, which may perhaps have been suggested to Dr. Darwin by the following pregnant passage—as pregnant, probably, to Buffon himself as to another:—

"The camel is the animal which seems to me to have felt the weight of slavery most profoundly. He is born with wens upon his back and callosities upon his knees and chest; these callosities are the unmistakable results of rubbing, for they are full of pus and of corrupted blood. The camel never walks without carrying a heavy burden, and the pressure of this has hindered, for generations, the free extension and uniform growth of the muscular parts of the back; whenever he reposes or sleeps his driver compels him to do so upon his folded legs, so that little by little this position becomes habitual with him. All the weight of his body bears, during several hours of the day continuously, upon his chest and knees, so that the skin of these parts, pressed and rubbed against the earth, loses its hair, becomes bruised, hardened, and disorganized.

"The llama, which like the camel passes its life beneath burdens, and also reposes only by resting its weight upon its chest, has similar callosities, which again are perpetuated in successive generations. Baboons, and pouched monkeys, whose ordinary position is a sitting one, whether waking or sleeping, have callosities under the region of the haunches, and this hard skin has even become inseparable from the bone against which it is being continually pressed by the weight of the body; in the case, however, of these animals the callosities are dry and healthy, for they do not come from the constraint of trammels, nor from the burden of a foreign weight, but are the effects only of the natural habits of the animal, which cause it to continue longer seated than in any other position. There are callosities of these pouched monkeys which resemble the double sole of skin which we have ourselves under our feet; this sole is a natural hardness which our continued habit of walking or standing upright will make thicker or thinner according to the greater or less degree of friction to which we subject our feet."[122]

This involves the whole theory of Dr. Darwin.

Wild animals would not change either their food or climate if left to themselves, and in this case they would not vary, but either man or some other enemies have harassed most of them into migrations; "those whose nature was sufficiently flexible to lend itself to the new situation spread far and wide, while others have had no resource but the deserts in the neighbourhood of their own countries."[123]

Since food and climate, and still less man's empire over them, can have but little effect upon wild animals, Buffon refers their principal varieties in great measure to their sexual habits, variations being much less frequent among animals that pair and breed slowly, than among those which do not mate and breed more freely. After running rapidly over several animals, and discussing the flexibility or inflexibility of their organizations, he declares the elephant to be the only one on which a state of domestication has produced no effect, inasmuch as "it refuses to breed under confinement, and cannot therefore transmit the badges of its servitude to its descendants."[124]

Here is an example of Buffon's covert manner, in the way he maintains that descent with modification may account not only for specific but for generic differences.

"But after having taken a rapid survey of the varieties which indicate to us the alterations that each species has undergone, there arises a broader and more important question, how far, namely, species themselves can change—how far there has been an older degeneration, immemorial from all antiquity, which has taken place in every family, or, if the term is preferred, in all the genera under which those species are comprehended which neighbour one another without presenting points of any very profound dissimilarity? We have only a few isolated species, such as man, which form at once the species and the whole genus; the elephant, the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, and the giraffe form genera, or simple species, which go down in a single line, with no collateral branches. All other races appear to form families, in which we may perceive a common source or stock from which the different branches seem to have sprung in greater or less numbers according as the individuals of each species are smaller and more fecund."[125]

I can see no explanation of the introduction of this passage unless that it is intended to raise the question whether modification may be not only specific but generic, the point of the paragraph lying in the words "dans chaque famille, ou si l'on veut, dans chacun des genres." We are told in the next paragraph, that if we choose to look at the matter in this light, well—in that case—we ought to see not only the ass and the horse, but the zebra too, as members of the same family; "the number of their points of resemblance being infinitely greater than those in respect of which they differ."[126] Thus, at the close of his work on the quadrupeds, he thinks it well, as at the commencement seventeen years earlier, to emphasize—in his own quiet way—his perception that the principles on which he has been insisting should be carried much farther than he has chosen to carry them.

His conclusion is, that "after comparing all the animals and bringing them each under their proper genus, we shall find the two hundred species we have already described to be reducible into a sufficiently small number of families or main stocks from which it is not impossible that all the others may be derived."[127]

The chapter closes thus:—

"To account for the origin of these animals" (certain of those peculiar to America), "we must go back to the time when the two continents were not yet separated, and call to mind the earliest geological changes. At the same time, we must consider the two hundred existing species of quadrupeds as reduced to thirty-eight families. And though this is not at all the state of Nature as she is in our time, and as she has been represented in this volume, and though, in fact, it is a condition which we can only arrive at by induction, and by analogies almost as difficult to lay hold of as is the time which has effaced the greater number of their traces, I shall, nevertheless, endeavour to ascend to these first ages of Nature by the aid of facts and monuments which yet remain to us, and to represent the epochs which these facts seem to indicate."[128]

The fifteenth volume contains a description of a few more monkeys, as also of some animals which Buffon had never actually seen, a great part being devoted to indices.


The first four volumes of the Supplement to Buffon's 'Natural History,' 1774-1789, contain little which throws additional light upon his opinions concerning the mutability of species. At the beginning, however, of the fifth volume I find the following:—

"On comparing these ancient records of the first ages of life [fossils] with the productions of to-day, we see with sufficient clearness that the essential form has been preserved without alteration in its principal parts: there has been no change whatever in the general type of each species; the plan of the inner parts has been preserved without variation. However long a time we may imagine for the succession of ages, whatever number of generations we may suppose, the individuals of to-day present to us in each genus the same forms as they did in the earliest ages; and this is more especially true of the greater species, whose characters are more invariable and nature more fixed; for the inferior species have, as we have said, experienced in a perceptible manner all the effects of different causes of degeneration. Only it should be remarked in regard to these greater species, such as the elephant and hippopotamus, that in comparing their fossil remains with the existing forms we find the earlier ones to have been larger. Nature was then in the full vigour of her youth, and the interior heat of the earth gave to her productions all the force and all the extent of which they were capable ... if there have been lost species, that is to say animals which existed once, but no longer do so, these can only have been animals which required a heat greater than that of our present torrid zone."[129]

The context proves Buffon to have been thinking of such huge creatures as the megatherium and mastodon, but his words seem to limit the extinction of species to the denizens of a hot climate which had turned colder. It is not at all likely that Buffon meant this, as the passage quoted at p. 146 of this work will suffice to show. The whole paragraph is ironical.

I can see nothing to justify the conclusion drawn from this passage by Isidore Geoffroy, that Buffon had modified his opinions, and was inclined to believe in a more limited mutability than he had done a few years earlier. His exoteric position is still identical with what it was in the outset, and his esoteric may be seen from the spirit which is hardly concealed under the following:—

"I shall be told that analogy points towards the belief that our own race has followed the same path, and dates from the same period as other species; that it has spread itself even more widely than they; and that if man's creation has a later date than that of the other animals, nothing shows that he has not been subjected to the same laws of nature, the same alterations, and the same changes as they. We will grant that the human species does not differ essentially from others in the matter of bodily organs, and that, in respect of these, our lot has been much the same as that of other animals."[130]

Plants under Domestication.

"If more modern and even recent examples are required in order to prove man's power over the vegetable kingdom, it is only necessary to compare our vegetables, flowers, and fruits with the same species such as they were a hundred and fifty years ago; this can be done with much ease and certainty by running the eye over the great collection of coloured drawings begun in the time of Gaston of Orleans, and continued to the present day at the Jardin du Roi. We find with surprise that the finest flowers of that date, as the ranunculuses, pinks, tulips, bear's ears, &c., would be rejected now, I do not say by our florists, but by our village gardeners. These flowers, though then already cultivated, were still not far above their wild condition. They had a single row of petals only, long pistils, colours hard and false; they had little velvety texture, variety, or gradation of tints, and, in fact, presented all the characteristics of untamed nature. Of herbs there was a single kind of endive, and two of lettuce—both bad—while we can now reckon more than fifty lettuces and endives, all excellent. We can even name the very recent dates of our best pippins and kernel fruits—all of them differing from those of our forefathers, which they resemble in name only. In most cases things remain while names change; here, on the contrary, it is the names that have been constant while the things have varied.[131]

. . . . . .

"It is not that every one of these good varieties did not arise from the same wild stock; but how many attempts has not man made on Nature before he succeeded in getting them. How many millions of germs has he not committed to the earth, before she has rewarded him by producing them? It was only by sowing, tending, and bringing to maturity an almost infinite number of plants of the same kind that he was able to recognize some individuals with fruits sweeter and better than others; and this first discovery, which itself involves so much care, would have remained for ever fruitless if he had not made a second, which required as much genius as the first required patience—I mean the art of grafting those precious individuals, which, unfortunately, cannot continue a line as noble as their own, nor themselves propagate their rare and admirable qualities? And this alone proves that these qualities are purely individual, and not specific, for the pips or stones of these excellent fruits bring forth the original wild stock, so that they do not form species essentially different from this. Man, however, by means of grafting, produces what may be called secondary species, which he can propagate at will; for the bud or small branch which he engrafts upon the stock contains within itself the individual quality which cannot be transmitted by seed, but which needs only to be developed in order to bring forth the same fruits as the individual from which it was taken in order to be grafted on to the wild stock. The wild stock imparts none of its bad qualities to the bud, for it did not contribute to the forming thereof, being, as it were, a wet nurse, and no true mother.

"In the case of animals, the greater number of those features which appear individual, do not fail to be transmitted to offspring, in the same way as specific characters. It was easier then for man to produce an effect upon the natures of animals than of plants. The different breeds in each animal species are variations that have become constant and hereditary, while vegetable species on the other hand present no variations that can be depended on to be transmitted with certainty.

"In the species of the fowl and the pigeon alone, a large number of breeds have been formed quite recently, which are all constant, and in other species we daily improve breeds by crossing them. From time to time we acclimatize and domesticate some foreign and wild species. All these examples of modern times prove that man has but tardily discovered the extent of his own power, and that he is not even yet sufficiently aware of it. It depends entirely upon the exercise of his intelligence; the more, therefore, he observes and cultivates nature the more means he will find of making her subservient to him, and of drawing new riches from her bosom without diminishing the treasures of her inexhaustible fecundity."[132]


In the preface to his volumes upon birds, Buffon says that these are not only much more numerous than quadrupeds, but that they also exhibit a far larger number of varieties, and individual variations.

"The diversities," he declares, "which arise from the effects of climate and food, of domestication, captivity, transportation, voluntary and compulsory migration—all the causes in fact of alteration and degeneration—unite to throw difficulties in the way of the ornithologist."[133]

He points out the infinitely keener vision of birds than that of man and quadrupeds, and connects it with their habits and requirements.[134] He does not appear to consider it as caused by those requirements, though it is quite conceivable that he saw this, but thought he had already said enough. He repeatedly refers to the effects of changed climate and of domestication, but I find nothing in the first volume which modifies the position already taken by him in regard to descent with modification: it is needless, therefore, to repeat the few passages which are to be found bearing at all upon the subject. The chapter on the birds that cannot fly, contains a sentence which seems to be the germ that has been developed, in the hands of Lamarck, into the comparison between nature and a tree. Buffon says that the chain of nature is not a single long chain, but is comparable rather to something woven, "which at certain intervals throws out a branch sideways that unites it with the strands of some other weft."[135] On the following page there is a passage which has been quoted as an example of Buffon's contempt for the men of science of his time. The writer maintains that the most lucid arrangement of birds, would have been to begin with those which most resembled quadrupeds. "The ostrich, which approaches the camel in the shape of its legs, and the porcupine in the quills with which its wings are armed, should have immediately followed the quadrupeds, but philosophy is often obliged to make a show of yielding to popular opinions, and the tribe of naturalists is both numerous and impatient of any disturbance of its methods. It would only, then, have regarded this arrangement as an unreasonable innovation caused by a desire to contradict and to be singular."[136]

It is, I believe, held not only by "le peuple des naturalistes," but by most sensible persons, that the proposed arrangement would not have been an improvement. I find, however, in the preface to the third volume on birds that M. Gueneau de Montbeillard described all the birds from the ostrich to the quail, so the foregoing passage is perhaps his and not Buffon's. If so, the imitation is fair, but when we reflect upon it we feel uncertain whether it is or is not beneath Buffon's dignity.

Here, as often with pictures and music, we cannot criticise justly without taking more into consideration than is actually before us. We feel almost inclined to say that if the passage is by Buffon it is probably right, and if by M. Gueneau de Montbeillard, probably wrong. It must also be remembered that, as we learn from the preface already referred to, Buffon was seized at this point in his work with a long and painful illness, which continued for two years; a single hasty passage in so great a writer may well be pardoned under such circumstances.

Looking through the third and remaining volumes on birds, the greater part of which was by Gueneau de Montbeillard, and bearing in mind that in point of date they are synchronous with some of those upon quadrupeds from which I have already extracted as much as my space will allow, and not seeing anything on a rapid survey which promises to throw new light upon the author's opinions, I forbear to quote further. I therefore leave Buffon with the hope that I have seen him more justly than some others have done, but with the certainty that the points I have caught and understood are few in comparison with those that I have missed.


[65] 'Hist. Nat.,' tom. i. p. 13, 1749.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid. p. 16.

[68] Tom. i. p. 21.

[69] Ibid. p. 23.

[70] Tom. ii. p. 9, 1749.

[71] Ibid. p. 10.

[72] Tom. iv. p. 31, 1753.

[73] Tom. iv. p. 55.

[74] Tom. iv. p. 98, 1753.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Tom. viii. p. 283, &c., 1760.

[77] Tom. iv. p. 102, 1760.

[78] Tom. iv. p. 103, 1753.

[79] Dr. Darwin, 'Zoonomia,' vol. i. p. 183, 1796.

[80] Ibid. p. 184.

[81] Dr. Darwin,'Zoonomia,' vol. i. p. 186.

[82] Tom. v. p. 63, 1755.

[83] Ibid. p. 64.

[84] Tom. v. p. 103, 1755.

[85] Tom. v. p. 104, 1755.

[86] Tom. v. pp. 192-195, 1755.

[87] Tom. v. p. 195.

[88] Tom. v. pp. 196, 197.

[89] This passage would seem to be the one which has suggested the following to the author of 'The Vestiges of Creation':—

"He [the Deity] has endowed the families which enjoy His bounty with an almost infinite fecundity, ... but the limitation of the results of this fecundity ... is accomplished in a befitting manner by His ordaining that certain other animals shall have endowments sure so to act as to bring the rest of animated beings to a proper balance" (p. 317, ed. 1853).

[90] Tom. vi. p. 252, 1756.

[91] 'Discours sur la Nature des Animaux,' vol. iv. and p. 113 of this vol.

[92] Tom. vii. p. 9, 1758.

[93] Tom. vii. p. 10, 1758.

[94] Tom. vii. p. 12, 1758.

[95] Tom. vii. p. 14, 1758

[96] Tom. vii. p. 15, 1758.

[97] Tom. vii. p. 19, 1758.

[98] Tom. vii. p. 23, 1758. See Stenon's Discourse upon this subject.

[99] Tom. ix. p. 10, 1761.

[100] Tom. ix. p. 11, 1761.

[101] Tom. ix. p. 68, 1761.

[102] Ibid. p. 96, 1761.

[103] Tom. ix. p. 107 and following pages (during which he rails at the new world generally), 1761.

[104] Tom. ix. p. 127, 1761.

[105] Tom. xi. p. 290, 1764 (misprinted on title-page 1754).

[106] Ibid. p. 296.

[107] Ibid. p. 363.

[108] Ibid. p. 363.

[109] Tom. xi. p. 370, 1764.

[110] Ibid. xii., preface, iv. 1764.

[111] Tom. xiii., preface, x. 1765.

[112] Tom. xiii., preface, iv. 1765.

[113] Ibid. xiii. p. 37.

[114] See p. 80 of this volume.

[115] Tom. xiv. p. 30, 1766.

[116] Tom. xiv. p. 31, 1766.

[117] Ibid. p. 32, 1766.

[118] Tom. xiv. p. 38, 1766.

[119] Ibid. p. 42, 1766.

[120] Tom. xiv. p. 316, 1766.

[121] Ibid. p. 317.

[122] Tom. xiv. p. 326, 1766.

[123] Ibid. p. 327.

[124] Tom. xiv. p. 333.

[125] Ibid. p. 335, 1766.

[126] See p. 80 of this volume.

[127] Tom. xiv. p. 358, 1766.

[128] Tom. xiv. p. 374, 1766.

[129] 'Hist. Nat.,' Sup. tom. v. p. 27, 1778.

[130] Sup. tom. v. p. 187, 1778.

[131] Sup. tom. v. p. 250, 1778.

[132] Sup. tom. v. p. 253, 1778.

[133] 'Oiseaux,' tom. i., preface, v. 1770.

[134] Ibid. pp. 9-11.

[135] 'Oiseaux,' tom. i. pp. 394, 395.

[136] Ibid. p. 396, 1771.



Proceeding now to the second of the three founders of the theory of evolution, I find, from a memoir by Dr. Dowson, that Dr. Erasmus Darwin was born at Elston, near Newark, in Nottinghamshire, on the 12th of December, 1731, being the seventh child and fourth son of Robert Darwin, "a private gentleman, who had a taste for literature and science, which he endeavoured to impart to his sons. Erasmus received his early education at Chesterfield School, and later on was entered at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he obtained a scholarship of about 16l. a year, and distinguished himself by his poetical exercises, which he composed with uncommon facility. He took the degree of M.B. there in 1755, and afterwards prepared himself for the practice of medicine by attendance on the lectures of Dr. Hunter in London, and a course of studies in Edinburgh.

"He first settled as a physician at Nottingham; but meeting with no success there, he removed in the autumn of 1756, his twenty-fifth year, to Lichfield, where he was more fortunate; for a few weeks after his arrival, to use the words of Miss Seward, 'he brilliantly opened his career of fame.' A young gentleman of family and fortune lay sick of a dangerous fever. A physician who had for many years possessed the confidence of Lichfield and the neighbourhood attended, but at length pronounced the case hopeless, and took his leave. Dr. Darwin was then called in, and by 'a reverse and entirely novel kind of treatment' the patient recovered."[137]

Of Dr. Darwin's personal appearance Miss Seward says:—

"He was somewhat above the middle size; his form athletic, and inclined to corpulence; his limbs were too heavy for exact proportion; the traces of a severe smallpox disfigured features and a countenance which, when they were not animated by social pleasure, were rather saturnine than sprightly; a stoop in the shoulders, and the then professional appendage—a large full-bottomed wig—gave at that early period of life an appearance of nearly twice the years he bore. Florid health and the earnest of good humour, a funny smile on entering a room and on first accosting his friends, rendered in his youth that exterior agreeable, to which beauty and symmetry had not been propitious.

"He stammered extremely, but whatever he said, whether gravely or in jest, was always well worth waiting for, though the inevitable impression it made might not be always pleasant to individual self-love. Conscious of great native elevation above the general standard of intellect, he became early in life sore upon opposition, whether in argument or conduct, and always resented it by sarcasm of very keen edge. Nor was he less impatient of the sallies of egotism and vanity, even when they were in so slight a degree that strict politeness would rather tolerate than ridicule them. Dr. Darwin seldom failed to present their caricature in jocose but wounding irony. If these ingredients of colloquial despotism were discernible in unworn existence, they increased as it advanced, fed by an ever growing reputation within and without the pale of medicine."[138]

I imagine that this portrait is somewhat too harshly drawn. Dr. Darwin's taste for English wines is the worst trait which I have been able to discover in his character. On this head Miss Seward tells us that "he despised the prejudice which deems foreign wines more wholesome than the wines of the country. 'If you must drink wine,' said he, 'let it be home-made.'" "It is well known," she continues, "that Dr. Darwin's influence and example have sobered the county of Derby; that intemperance in fermented fluid of every species is almost unknown among its gentlemen,"[139] which, if he limited them to cowslip wine, is hardly to be wondered at.

Dr. Dowson, quoting Miss Edgeworth, says that Dr. Darwin attributed almost all the diseases of the upper classes to the too great use of fermented liquors. "This opinion he supported in his writings with the force of his eloquence and reason; and still more in conversation by all those powers of wit, satire, and peculiar humour, which never appeared fully to the public in his works, but which gained him strong ascendancy in private society.... When he heard that my father was bilious, he suspected that this must be the consequence of his having, since his residence in Ireland, and in compliance with the fashion of the country, indulged too freely in drinking. His letter, I remember, concluded with, 'Farewell, my dear friend; God keep you from whisky—if He can.'"[140]

On the other hand, Dr. Darwin seems to have been a very large eater. "Acid fruits with sugar, and all sorts of creams and butter were his luxuries; but he always ate plentifully of animal food. This liberal alimentary regimen he prescribed to people of every age where unvitiated appetite rendered them capable of following it; even to infants."

Dr. Dowson writes:—

"I have mentioned already that he had in his carriage a receptacle for paper and pencils, with which he wrote as he travelled, and in one corner a pile of books; but he had also a receptacle for a knife, fork, and spoon, and in the other corner a hamper, containing fruit and sweetmeats, cream and sugar. He provided also for his horses by having a large pail lashed to his carriage for watering them, as well as hay and oats to be eaten on the road. Mrs. Schimmelpenninck says that when he came on a professional visit to her father's house they had, as was the custom whenever he came, 'a luncheon-table set out with hothouse fruits and West India sweetmeats, clotted cream, stilton cheese, &c. While the conversation went on, the dishes in his vicinity were rapidly emptied, and what,' she adds, 'was my astonishment when, at the end of the three hours during which the meal had lasted, he expressed his joy at hearing the dressing bell, and hoped dinner would soon be announced.' This was not mere gluttony; he thought an abundance, or what most people would consider a superabundance of food, conducive to health. 'Eat or be eaten' is said to have been often his medical advice. He had especially a very high opinion of the nutritive value of sugar, and said 'that if ever our improved chemistry should discover the art of making sugar from fossil or aerial matter without the assistance of vegetation, food for animals would then become as plentiful as water, and mankind might live upon the earth as thick as blades of grass, with no restraint to their numbers but want of room.'—Botanic Garden, vol. i. p. 470."[141]

"Professional generosity," says Miss Seward, "distinguished Dr. Darwin's practice. Whilst resident in Lichfield he always cheerfully gave to the priest and lay vicars of its cathedral and their families his advice, but never took fees from any of them. Diligently also did he attend the health of the poor in that city, and afterwards at Derby, and supplied their necessities by food, and all sort of charitable assistance. In each of those towns his was the cheerful board of almost open-housed hospitality, without extravagance or parade; generosity, wit, and science were his household gods."[142]

Of his first marriage the following account is given:—

"In 1757 he married Miss Howard, of the Close of Lichfield, a blooming and lovely young lady of eighteen.... Mrs. Darwin's own mind, by nature so well endowed, strengthened and expanded in the friendship, conversation, and confidence of so beloved a preceptor. But alas! upon her too early youth, and too delicate constitution, the frequency of her maternal situation, during the first five years of her marriage, had probably a baneful effect. The potent skill and assiduous cares of him before whom disease daily vanished from the frame of others, could not expel it radically from that of her he loved. It was, however, kept at bay during thirteen years.

"Upon the distinguished happiness of those years she spoke with fervour to two intimate female friends in the last week of her existence, which closed at the latter end of the summer 1770. 'Do not weep for my impending fate,' said the dying angel with a smile of unaffected cheerfulness. 'In the short term of my life a great deal of happiness has been comprised. The maladies of my frame were peculiar; those of my head and stomach which no medicine could eradicate, were spasmodic and violent; and required stronger measures to render them supportable while they lasted than my constitution could sustain without injury. The periods of exemption from those pains were frequently of several days' duration, and in my intermissions I felt no indications of malady. Pain taught me the value of ease, and I enjoyed it with a glow of spirit, seldom, perhaps, felt by the habitually healthy. While Dr. Darwin combated and assuaged my disease from time to time, his indulgence to all my wishes, his active desire to see me amused and happy, proved incessant. His house, as you know, has ever been the resort of people of science and merit. If, from my husband's great and extensive practice, I had much less of his society than I wished, yet the conversation of his friends, and of my own, was ever ready to enliven the hours of his absence. As occasional malady made me doubly enjoy health, so did those frequent absences give a zest even to delight, when I could be indulged with his company. My three boys have ever been docile and affectionate. Children as they are, I could trust them with important secrets, so sacred do they hold every promise they make. They scorn deceit and falsehood of every kind, and have less selfishness than generally belongs to childhood. Married to any other man, I do not suppose I could have lived a third part of the years which I have passed with Dr. Darwin; he has prolonged my days, and he has blessed them.'

"Thus died this superior woman, in the bloom of life, sincerely regretted by all who knew how to value her excellence, and passionately regretted by the selected few whom she honoured with her personal and confidential friendship."[143]

I find Miss Seward's pages so fascinating, that I am in danger of following her even in those parts of her work which have no bearing on Dr. Darwin. I must, however, pass over her account of Mr. Edgeworth and of his friend Mr. Day, the author of 'Sandford and Merton,' "which, by wise parents, is put into every youthful hand," but the description of Mr. Day's portrait cannot be omitted.

"In the course of the year 1770, Mr. Day stood for a full-length picture to Mr. Wright, of Derby. A strong likeness and a dignified portrait were the result. Drawn in the open air, the surrounding sky is tempestuous, lurid, dark. He stands leaning his left arm against a column inscribed to Hambden (sic). Mr. Day looks upwards, as enthusiastically meditating on the contents of a book held in his dropped right hand. The open leaf is the oration of that virtuous patriot in the senate, against the grant of ship money, demanded by King Charles I. A flash of lightning plays in Mr. Day's hair, and illuminates the contents of the volume. The poetic fancy and what were then the politics of the original, appear in the choice of subject and attitude. Dr. Darwin sat to Mr. Wright about the same period. That was a simply contemplative portrait, of the most perfect resemblance."[144]

. . . . . .

"In the year 1768, Dr. Darwin met with an accident of irretrievable injury to the human frame. His propensity to mechanics had unfortunately led him to construct a very singular carriage. It was a platform with a seat fixed upon a very high pair of wheels, and supported in the front upon the back of the horse, by means of a kind of proboscis which, forming an arch, reached over the hind-quarters of the horse, and passed through a ring, placed on an upright piece of iron, which worked in a socket fixed in the saddle. The horse could thus move from one side of the road to the other, quartering, as it is called, at the will of the driver, whose constant attention was necessarily employed to regulate a piece of machinery contrived, but not well contrived, for that purpose."

I cannot help the reader to understand the foregoing description. "From this whimsical carriage, however, the doctor was several times thrown, and the last time he used it had the misfortune, from a similar accident, to break the patella of his right knee, which caused, as it must always cause, an incurable weakness in the fractured part, and a lameness not very discernible, indeed, when walking on even ground."[145]

Miss Seward presently tells a story which reads as though it might have been told by Plutarch of some Greek or Roman sage. Much as we must approve of Dr. Darwin's habitual sobriety, we shall most of us be agreed that a few more such stories would have been cheaply purchased by a corresponding number of lapses on the doctor's part.

Miss Seward writes:—

"Since these memoirs commenced, an odd anecdote of Dr. Darwin's early residence at Lichfield, was narrated to a friend of the author by a gentleman, who was of the party in which it happened. Mr. Sneyd, then of Bishton, and a few more gentlemen of Staffordshire, prevailed upon the doctor to join them in an expedition by water from Burton to Nottingham, and on to Newark. They had cold provisions on board, and plenty of wine. It was midsummer; the day ardent and sultry. The noon-tide meal had been made, and the glass had gone gaily round. It was one of those few instances in which the medical votary of the Naiads transgressed his general and strict sobriety," in which, in fact, he may be said to have—remembered himself.

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