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Variations in Organisms
The Principle of Divergence
Evolution by Natural Selection
Evidence of Intermediate Forms
The Grandeur of Evolution
Evolution and Migration
Evolution of Instincts and Mental Phenomena
Evolution of Man
Development of the Brain
Evolution of Intellect
Evolution of Moral Qualities
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was born at Shrewsbury, England, the son of Dr. Robert Darwin and grandson of Erasmus Darwin. His mother was a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood. He was educated at Shrewsbury School under Dr. Samuel Butler. He started to prepare for the medical profession at Edinburgh but abandoned this and went to Cambridge to be educated as a clergyman. There he became interested in entomology and the emerging science of geology. When an opening occurred for a naturalist (self-financed) on the Beagle, commissioned for a world-wide coastal survey, Darwin seized the opportunity for biological and geological exploration. This voyage on a 90-foot three-masted bark from 1831 to 1836 gave the initial impetus to Darwin’s development of a theory of the evolution.
Before Darwin's theory, the conventional European wisdom was that species were immutable and were individually created. Having observed progressive changes in species in the fossil record and in geographical distribution during his voyage, Darwin developed an opposite view. In 1837 he started a scientific notebook in which he wrote, "Had been greatly struck from about the month of previous March [during voyage] on character of South American fossils, and species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts origins of all my views." By October 1838 Darwin had read Malthus on population, which presented a mathematical approach complementing his own views on the struggle for existence. He wrote in his notebook, "under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be formation of a new species."
There had in fact been advocates for evolutionary theory since Lamarck put forward his views in 1801. Darwin approached the problem with an immense fund of knowledge from his own travels, his research, and from personal contacts in England and abroad. He recognized that the difficulty was to describe how the struggle for existence led to species that were exquisitely adapted to their environment. In 1939 he started to sketch out his own theory in an Essay. This was expanded in 1842 in a new draft (35 pages), expanded again in 1844 (230 pages), and then put aside.
Darwin was busy at this time in writing accounts of the biology and geology observed in his voyage, carrying out research, and also functioning as secretary of the Geological Society. He felt keenly the conflict between his emerging views on evolution and the creationist doctrine of the church, of the academic establishment, and of many of his family, particularly his wife, Emma. He was also debilitated by illness most of his life. Furthermore, people suggesting evolution as an alternative to the origin of species by creation were ostracized by the society in which Darwin—an independently wealthy squire and naturalist—moved. Thus he showed his essay to only a few close friends.
Later, as information supporting his theory grew, Darwin mentioned some of its details in letters. In 1857 he wrote to Professor Asa Gray of Harvard ( who had supplied him with plant specimens) describing his twenty years of theorizing, swearing him to secrecy. At the same time, but without similar disclosure, Darwin encouraged a young specimen-collector in Malaya, Alfred Russell Wallace, to develop his own theory of evolution. Later in that year, Wallace sent his theory to Darwin. It matched Darwin’s theory on many points. A decision was made for joint publication at the Linnean Society, with extracts from Darwin’s Essay and letter to Gray to be read together with Wallace’s own paper.
Darwin then wrote his theory out in detail in the On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859.This was actually an abstract of a much larger book he was working on. Later he enlarged his theory to account for the origin of man, because this became a contentious topic as the evolution of species began to be accepted. Darwin’s new work, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, was published in 1871.
In these books, a rational alternative was offered to centuries of conflicting accounts by different tribes and races of their divine origins. Darwin opened the way for an understanding of the position of humanity in nature. A position, Darwin suggested, that was the result of divine laws operating throughout the universe rather than capricious individual acts of creation. Scientifically, Darwin revolutionized biology and related sciences in a manner that was as profound as the revolution effected by Newton.
The following extracts are from the books mentioned, the Essay, and the letter to Gray.
1 . . .most, if not all, organic beings, when taken by man out of their natural condition, and bred during several generations, vary; that is variation is partly due to the direct effect of the new external influences, and partly to the indirect effect on the reproductive system rendering the organization of the offspring in some degree plastic.
2 . . . wild organisms undoubtedly vary in some slight degree: and that the kind of variation, though much less in degree, is similar to that of domestic organisms. It is highly probable that every organic being, if subjected during several generations to new and varying conditions, would vary. It is certain that organisms, living in an isolated country which is undergoing geological changes, must in the course of time be so subjected to new conditions; moreover an organism, when by chance transported into a new station, for instance into an island, will often be exposed to new conditions, and be surrounded by a new series of organic beings. . . If there were any selective agency at work, it seems impossible to assign any limit to the complexity and beauty of the adaptive structures, which might thus be produced: for certainly the limit of possible variation of organic beings, either in a wild or domestic state, is not known.
3 Man does not actually produce variability; he only unintentionally exposes organic beings to new conditions of life, and then nature acts on the organization, and causes variability. But man can and does select the variations given to him by nature, and thus accumulate them in any desired manner. He thus adapts animals and plants for his own benefit or pleasure. He may do this methodically, or he may do it unconsciously by preserving the individuals most useful to him at the time, without any thought of altering the breed. It is certain that he can largely influence the character of a breed by selecting, in each successive generation, individual differences so slight as to be quite inappreciable by an uneducated eye. This process of selection has been the great agency in the production of the most distinct and useful domestic breeds. That many of the breeds produced by man have to a large extent the character of natural species, is shown by the inextricable doubts whether very many of them are varieties or aboriginal species.
There is no obvious reason why the principles which have acted so efficiently under domestication should not have acted under nature.
4 It cannot be asserted that organic beings in a state of nature are subject to no variation; it cannot be proved that the amount of variation in the course of long ages is a limited quantity; no clear distinction has been, or can be, drawn between species and well-marked varieties. It cannot be maintained that species when intercrossed are invariably sterile, and varieties invariably fertile; or that sterility is a special endowment and sign of creation. The belief that species were immutable productions was almost unavoidable as long as the history of the world was thought to be of short duration; and now that we have acquired some idea of the lapse of time, we are too apt to assume, without proof, that the geological record is so perfect that it would have afforded us plain evidence of the mutation of species, if they had undergone mutation.
But the chief cause of our natural unwillingness to admit that one species has given birth to other and distinct species, is that we are always slow in admitting any great change of which we do not see the intermediate steps. The difficulty is the same as that felt by so many geologists, when Lyell first insisted that long lines of inland cliffs had been formed, and great valleys excavated, by the slow action of the coast-waves. The mind cannot possibly grasp the full meaning of the term of a hundred million years; it cannot add up and perceive the full effects of many slight variations, accumulated during an almost infinite number of generations.
5 . . . from the geometrically increasing tendency of each species to multiply (as evidenced from what we know of mankind and of other animals when favoured by circumstances), and from the means of subsistence of each species on an average remaining constant. . .during some part of the life of each, or during every few generations, there must be a severe struggle for existence; and that less than a grain in the balance will determine which individuals shall live and which perish. In a country, therefore, undergoing changes, and cut off from the free immigration of species better adapted to the new station and conditions, it cannot be doubted that there is a most powerful means of selection, tending to preserve even the slightest variation, which aided the subsistence or defence of those organic beings, during any part of their whole existence, whose organization had been rendered plastic. Moreover, in animals in which the sexes are distinct, there is a sexual struggle, by which the most vigorous, and consequently the best adapted, will oftener procreate their kind. . . A new race thus formed by natural selection would be undistinguishable from a species.
6 Reflect that every being (even the elephant) breeds at such a rate, that in a few years, or at most a few centuries, the surface of the earth would not hold the progeny of one pair. I have found it hard constantly to bear in mind that the increase of every single species is checked during some part of its life, or during some shortly recurrent generation. Only a few of those annually born can live to propagate their kind. What a trifling difference must often determine which shall survive, and which perish!
7 Another principle, which may be called the principle of divergence, plays, I believe, an important part in the origin of species. The same spot will support more life if occupied by very diverse forms. We see this in the many generic forms in a square yard of turf, and in the plants or insects on any little uniform islet, belonging almost invariably to as many genera and families as species. We can understand the meaning of this fact amongst the higher animals, whose habits we understand. We know that it has been experimentally shown that a plot of land will yield a greater weight if sown with several species and genera of grasses, than if sown with only two or three species.
Now, every organic being, by propagating so rapidly, may be said to be striving its utmost to increase in numbers. So it will be with the offspring of any species after it has become diversified into varieties, or subspecies, or true species. And it follows, I think, from the foregoing facts, that the varying offspring of each species will try (only few will succeed) to seize on as many and as diverse places in the economy of nature as possible. Each new variety or species, when formed, will generally take the place of, and thus exterminate its less well-fitted parent. This I believe to be the origin of the classification and affinities of organic beings at all times; for organic beings always seem to branch and sub-branch like the limbs of a tree from a common trunk, the flourishing and diverging twigs destroying the less vigorous—the dead and lost branches rudely representing extinct genera and families.
8 Now take the case of a country undergoing some change. This will tend to cause some of its inhabitants to vary slightly—not but that I believe most beings vary at all times enough for selection to act on them. Some of its inhabitants will be exterminated; and the remainder will be exposed to the mutual action of a different set of inhabitants, which I believe to be far more important to the life of each being than mere climate.
9 Considering the infinitely various methods which living beings follow to obtain food by struggling with other organisms, to escape danger at various times of life, to have their eggs or seeds disseminated, etc., etc., I cannot doubt that during millions of generations individuals of a species will be occasionally born with some slight variation, profitable to some part of their economy. Such individuals will have a better change of surviving, and of propagating their new and slightly different structure; and the modification may be slowly increased by the accumulative action of natural selection to any profitable extent. The variety thus formed will either coexist with, or, more commonly, will exterminate its parent form. An organic being, like the woodpecker or misseltoe, may thus come to be adapted to a score of contingences—natural selection accumulating those slight variations in all parts of its structure, which are in any way useful to it during any part of its life.
10 As geology plainly proclaims that each land has undergone great physical changes, we might have expected that organic beings would have varied under nature, in the same way as they generally have varied under the changed conditions of domestication. And if there be any variability under nature, it would be an unaccountable fact if natural selection had not come into play. . .
If then we have under nature variability and a powerful agent always ready to act and select, why should we doubt that variations in any way useful to beings, under their excessively complex relations of life, would be preserved, accumulated, and inherited? Why, if man can by patience select variations most useful to himself, should nature fail in selecting variations useful, under changing conditions of life, to her living products? What limit can be put to this power, acting during long ages and rigidly scrutinizing the whole constitution, structure, and habits of each creature—favoring the good and rejecting the bad? I can see no limit to this power, in slowly and beautifully adapting each form to the most complex relations of life.
11 If we admit that the geological record is imperfect in an extreme degree, then such facts as the record gives, support the theory of descent with modification. New species have come on the stage slowly and at successive intervals; and the amount of change, after equal intervals of time, is widely different in different groups. The extinction of species and of whole groups of species, which has played so conspicuous a part in the history of the organic world, almost inevitably follows on the principle of natural selection; for old forms will be supplanted by new and improved forms. Neither single species nor groups of species reappear when the chain of ordinary generation has once been broken. The gradual diffusion of dominant forms, with the slow modification of their descendants, causes the forms of life, after long intervals of time, to appear as if they had changed simultaneously throughout the world. The fact of the fossil remains of each formation being in some degree intermediate in character between the fossils in the formations above and below, is simply explained by their intermediate position in the chain of descent.
12 . . . this theory requires a long series of intermediate forms between the species and groups in the same classes—forms not directly intermediate between existing species, but intermediate with a common parent. It was admitted that if even all the preserved fossils and existing species were collected, such a series would be far from being formed; but it was shown that we have not good evidence that the oldest known deposits are contemporaneous with the first appearance of living beings; or that the several subsequent formations are nearly consecutive; or that any one formation preserves a nearly perfect fauna of even the hard marine organisms, which lived in that quarter of the world. Consequently, we have no reason to suppose that more than a small fraction of the organisms which have lived at any one period have ever been preserved; and hence that we ought not to expect to discover the fossilised sub-varieties between any two species. On the other hand, the evidence, though extremely imperfect, drawn from fossil remains, as far as it does go, is in favour of such a series of organisms having existed as that required.
13 . . .the frequent and almost general presence of organs and parts, called by naturalists abortive or rudimentary, which, though formed with exquisite care, are generally absolutely useless [was considered. These structures,] though sometimes applied to uses not normal—which cannot be considered as mere representative parts, for they are sometimes capable of performing their proper function—which are always best developed, and sometimes only developed, during a very early period of life—and which are of admitted high importance in classification—were shown to be simply explicable on our theory of common descent.
14 It is derogatory that the Creator of countless universes should have made by individual acts of His will the myriads of creeping parasites and worms, which since the earliest dawn of life have swarmed over the land and in the depths of the ocean. We cease to be astonished that a group of animals should have been formed to lay their eggs in the bowels and flesh of other sensitive beings; that some animals should live by and even delight in cruelty; that animals should be led away by false instincts; that annually there should be an incalculable waste of the pollen, eggs and immature beings; for we see in all this the inevitable consequences of one great law, of the multiplication of organic beings not created immutable.. . .
15 It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being growth with reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a ratio of increase so high as to lead to a struggle for life, and as a consequence to natural selection, entailing divergence of character and the extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
16 Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume under the form of an abstract, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the "plan of creation," "unity of design," etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact. Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject my theory. A few naturalists, endowed with much flexibility of mind, and who have already begun to doubt on the immutability of species, may be influenced by this volume; but I look with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality. Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction; for only thus can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed.
17 Several eminent naturalists have of late published their belief that a multitude of reputed species in each genus are not real species; but that other species are real, that is, have been independently created. This seems to me a strange conclusion to arrive at. They admit that a multitude of forms, which till lately they themselves thought were special creations, and which are still thus looked at by the majority of naturalists, and which consequently have every external characteristic feature of true species—they admit that these have been produced by variation, but they refuse to extend the same view to other and very slightly different forms. Nevertheless they do not pretend that they can define, or even conjecture, which are the created forms of life, and which are those produced by secondary laws. They admit variation as a vera causa in one case, they arbitrarily reject it in another, without assigning any distinction in the two cases.
The day will come when this will be given as a curious illustration of the blindness of preconceived opinion. These authors seem no more startled at a miraculous act of creation than at an ordinary birth. But do they really believe that at innumerable periods in the earth's history certain elemental atoms have been commanded suddenly to flash into living tissues? Do they believe that at each supposed act of creation one individual or many were produced? Were all the infinitely numerous kinds of animals and plants created as eggs or seed, or as full grown? And in the case of mammals, were they created bearing the false marks of nourishment from the mother's womb? Although naturalists very properly demand a full explanation of every difficulty from those who believe in the mutability of species, on their own side they ignore the whole subject of the first appearance of species in what they consider reverent silence.
18 Looking to geographical distribution, if we admit that there has been during the long course of ages much migration from one part of the world to another, owing to former climatal and geographical changes and to the many occasional and unknown means of dispersal, then we can understand, on the theory of descent with modification, most of the great leading facts in distribution. We can see why there should be so striking a parallelism in the distribution of organic beings throughout space, and in their geological succession throughout time; for in both cases the beings have been connected by the bond of ordinary generation, and the means of modification have been the same. We see the full meaning of the wonderful fact, which must have struck every traveler, namely, that on the same continent, under the most diverse conditions, under heat and cold, on mountain and lowland, on deserts and marshes, most of the inhabitants within each great class are plainly related; for they will generally be descendants of the same progenitors and early colonists.
19 On this view of migration, with subsequent modification, we can see why oceanic islands should be inhabited by few species, but of these, that many should be peculiar. We can clearly see why those animals which cannot cross wide spaces of ocean, as frogs and terrestrial mammals, should not inhabit oceanic islands; and why, on the other hand, new and peculiar species of bats, which can traverse the ocean, should so often be found on islands far distant from any continent. Such facts as the presence of peculiar species of bats, and the absence of all other mammals, on oceanic islands, are utterly inexplicable on the theory of independent acts of creation.
The existence of closely allied or representative species in any two areas, implies, on the theory of descent with modification, that the same parents formerly inhabited both areas; and we almost invariably find that wherever many closely allied species inhabit two areas, some identical species common to both still exist. Wherever many closely allied yet distinct species occur, many doubtful forms and varieties of the same species likewise occur.
It is a rule of high generality that the inhabitants of each area are related to the inhabitants of the nearest source whence immigrants might have been derived. We see this in nearly all the plants and animals of the Galapagos archipelago, of Juan Fernandez, and of the other American islands being related in the most striking manner to the plants and animals of the neighboring American mainland; and those of the Cape de Verde archipelago and other African islands to the African mainland. It must be admitted that these facts receive no explanation on the theory of creation.
19 Glancing at instincts, marvelous as some are, they offer no greater difficulty than does corporeal structure on the theory of the natural selection of successive, slight, but profitable modifications. We can thus understand why nature moves by graduated steps in endowing different animals of the same class with their several instincts. I have attempted to show how much light the principle of gradation throws on the admirable architectural powers of the hive-bee. Habit no doubt sometimes comes into play in modifying instincts; but it certainly is not indispensable, as we see, in the case of neuter insects, which leave no progeny to inherit the effects of long-continued habit.
On the view of all the species of the same genus having descended from a common parent, and having inherited much in common, we can understand how it is that allied species, when placed under considerably different conditions of life, yet should follow nearly the same instincts; why the thrush of South America, for instance, lines her nest with mud like our British species. On the view of instincts having been slowly acquired through natural selection we need not marvel at some instincts being apparently not perfect and liable to mistakes, and at many instincts causing other animals to suffer.
20 Instincts and dispositions etc. are fully as important to the preservation and increase of a species as its corporeal structure; and therefore the natural means of selection would act on and modify them equally with corporeal structures. This being granted, as well as the proposition that mental phenomena are variable, and that the modifications are inheritable, the possibility of the several most complicated instincts being slowly acquired was considered, and it was shown from the very imperfect series in the instincts of the animals now existing, that we are not justified in prima facie rejecting a theory of the common descent of allied organisms from the difficulty of imagining the transitional stages in the various now most complicated and wonderful instincts.
21 Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs and instincts should have been perfected, not by means superior to, though analogous with, human reason, but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the individual possessor. Nevertheless, this difficulty, though appearing to our imagination insuperably great, cannot be considered real if we admit the following propositions, namely—that gradations in the perfection of any organ or instinct, which we may consider, either do now exist or could have existed, each good of its kind—that all organs and instincts are, in ever so slight a degree, variable—and, lastly, that there is a struggle for existence leading to the preservation of each profitable deviation of structure or instinct. The truth of these propositions cannot, I think, be disputed.
22 The main conclusion here arrived at, and now held by many naturalists who are well competent to form a sound judgment is that man is descended from some less highly organised form. The grounds upon which this conclusion rests will never be shaken, for the close similarity between man and the lower animals in embryonic development, as well as in innumerable points of structure and constitution, both of high and of the most trifling importance—the rudiments which he retains, and the abnormal reversions to which he is occasionally liable—are facts which cannot be disputed. They have long been known, but until recently they told us nothing with respect to the origin of man. Now when viewed by the light of our knowledge of the whole organic world, their meaning is unmistakable. The great principle of evolution stands up clear and firm, when these groups or facts are considered in connection with others, such as the mutual affinities of the members of the same group, their geographical distribution in past and present times, and their geological succession.
23 It is incredible that all these facts should speak falsely. He who is not content to look, like a savage, at the phenomena of nature as disconnected, cannot any longer believe that man is the work of a separate act of creation. He will be forced to admit that the close resemblance of the embryo of man to that, for instance, of a dog—the construction of his skull, limbs and whole frame on the same plan with that of other mammals, independently of the uses to which the parts may be put—the occasional re-appearance of various structures, for instance of several muscles, which man does not normally possess, but which are common to the Quadrumana—and a crowd of analogous facts—all point in the plainest manner to the conclusion that man is the co-descendant with other mammals of a common progenitor.
24 By considering the embryological structure of man—the homologies which he presents with the lower animals—the rudiments which he retains—and the reversions to which he is liable, we can partly recall in imagination the former condition of our early progenitors; and can approximately place them in their proper place in the zoological series. We thus learn that man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World. This creature, if its whole structure had been examined by a naturalist, would have been classed amongst the Quadrumana, as surely as the still more ancient progenitor of the Old and New World monkeys.
The Quadrumana and all the higher mammals are probably derived from an ancient marsupial animal, and this through a long series of diversified forms, from some amphibian-like creature, and this again from some fish-like animal. In the dim obscurity of the past we can see that the early progenitor of all the Vertebrata must have been an aquatic animal provided with branchiae, with the two sexes united in the same individual, and with the most important organs of the body (such as the brain and heart) imperfectly or not at all developed. This animal seems to have been more like the larvæ of the existing marine Ascidians than any other known form.
25 Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide. Nevertheless all living things have much in common, in their chemical composition, their germinal vesicles, their cellular structure, and their laws of growth and reproduction. We see this even in so trifling a circumstance as that the same poison often similarly affects plants and animals; or that the poison secreted by the gall-fly produces monstrous growths on the wild rose or oak-tree. Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.
26 Sexual selection depends on the success of certain individuals over others of the same sex, in relation to the propagation of the species; whilst natural selection depends on the success of both sexes, at all ages, in relation to the general conditions of life. The sexual struggle is of two kinds; in the one it is between individuals of the same sex, generally the males, in order to drive away or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive; whilst in the other, the struggle is likewise between the individuals of the same sex, in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex, generally the females, which no longer remain passive, but select the more agreeable partners.
27 It cannot be supposed, for instance, that male birds of paradise or peacocks should take such pains in erecting, spreading, and vibrating their beautiful plumes before the females for no purpose. We should remember the fact given on excellent authority in a former chapter, that several peahens, when debarred from an admired male, remained widows during a whole season rather than pair with another bird.
28 Nevertheless I know of no fact in natural history more wonderful than that the female Argus pheasant should appreciate the exquisite shading of the ball-and-socket ornaments and the elegant patterns on the wing-feathers of the male. He who thinks that the male was created as he now exists must admit that the great plumes, which prevent the wings from being used for flight, and which are displayed during courtship and at no other time in a manner quite peculiar to this one species, were given to him as an ornament. If so, he must likewise admit that the female was created and endowed with the capacity of appreciating such ornaments. I differ only in the conviction that the male Argus pheasant acquired his beauty gradually, through the preference of the females during many generations for the more highly ornamented males . . . In the male, through the fortunate chance of a few feathers being left unchanged, we can distinctly trace how simple spots with a little fulvous shading on one side may have been developed by small steps into the wonderful ball-and-socket ornaments; and it is probable that they were actually thus developed.
29 He who admits the principle of sexual selection will be led to the remarkable conclusion that the nervous system not only regulates most of the existing functions of the body, but has indirectly influenced the progressive development of various bodily structures and of certain mental qualities. Courage, pugnacity, perseverance, strength and size of body, weapons of all kinds, musical organs, both vocal and instrumental, bright colours and ornamental appendages, have all been indirectly gained by the one sex or the other, through the exertion of choice, the influence of love and jealousy, and the appreciation of the beautiful in sound, colour or form; and these powers of the mind manifestly depend on the development of the brain.
30 The high standard of our intellectual powers and moral disposition is the greatest difficulty which presents itself, after we have been driven to this conclusion on the origin of man. But every one who admits the principle of evolution, must see that the mental powers of the higher animals, which are the same in kind with those of man, though so different in degree, are capable of advancement. Thus the interval between the mental powers of one of the higher apes and of a fish, or between those of an ant and scale-insect, is immense; yet their development does not offer any special difficulty; for with our domesticated animals, the mental faculties are certainly variable, and the variations are inherited. No one doubts that they are of the utmost importance to animals in a state of nature. Therefore the conditions are favourable for their development through natural selection. The same conclusion may be extended to man; the intellect must have been all-important to him, even at a very remote period, as enabling him to invent and use language, to make weapons, tools, traps, &c., whereby with the aid of his social habits, he long ago became the most dominant of all living creatures.
31 A great stride in the development of the intellect will have followed, as soon as the half-art and half-instinct of language came into use; for the continued use of language will have reacted on the brain and produced an inherited effect; and this again will have reacted on the improvement of language. . . .The higher intellectual powers of man, such as those of ratiocination, abstraction, self-consciousness, &c., probably follow from the continued improvement and exercise of the other mental faculties.
32 The development of the moral qualities is a more interesting problem. The foundation lies in the social instincts, including under this term the family ties. These instincts are highly complex, and in the case of the lower animals give special tendencies towards certain definite actions; but the more important elements are love, and the distinct emotion of sympathy. Animals endowed with the social instincts take pleasure in one another's company, warn one another of danger, defend and aid one another in many ways. These instincts do not extend to all the individuals of the species, but only to those of the same community. As they are highly beneficial to the species, they have in all probability been acquired through natural selection.
33 A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives—of approving of some and disapproving of others; and the fact that man is the one being who certainly deserves this designation, is the greatest of all distinctions between him and the lower animals. . . I have endeavoured to shew that the moral sense follows, firstly, from the enduring and ever-present nature of the social instincts; secondly, from man's appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of his fellows; and thirdly, from the high activity of his mental faculties, with past impressions extremely vivid; and in these latter respects he differs from the lower animals.
34 Owing to this condition of mind, man cannot avoid looking both backwards and forwards, and comparing past impressions. Hence after some temporary desire or passion has mastered his social instincts, he reflects and compares the now weakened impression of such past impulses with the ever-present social instincts; and he then feels that sense of dissatisfaction which all unsatisfied instincts leave behind them, he therefore resolves to act differently for the future—and this is conscience.
35 The main conclusion arrived at in this work, namely, that man is descended from some lowly organised form, will, I regret to think, be highly distasteful to many. But there can hardly be a doubt that we are descended from barbarians. The astonishment which I felt on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore will never be forgotten by me, for the reflection at once rushed into my mind—such were our ancestors. These men were absolutely naked and bedaubed with paint, their long hair was tangled, their mouths frothed with excitement, and their expression was wild, startled, and distrustful. They possessed hardly any arts, and like wild animals lived on what they could catch; they had no government, and were merciless to every one not of their own small tribe. He who has seen a savage in his native land will not feel much shame, if forced to acknowledge that the blood of some more humble creature flows in his veins. For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper, or from that old baboon, who descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs—as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practises infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.
36 Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.
1, 2, 5, 12, 13, 14, 20 Darwin, Charles, The foundations of the Origin of Species: Two essays written in 1842 and 1844 by Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin ed. Cambridge, 1909.
6, 7, 8, 9 Abstract of a Letter to Professor Asa Gray, in Darwin, Charles, & Alfred Russell Wallace, "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection", Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, Zoology, 20 Aug. 1858, 3, pp. 454-62.
3, 4, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 25 On the origin of species by means of natural selection, by Charles Darwin. London, John Murray, 1859. [1st edn].
22, 23, 24, 26-35 The descent of man and selection in relation to sex, by Charles Darwin. 2nd edn revised and augmented. John Murray, London, 1882. [first published by John Murray, London, 1871].
Darwin, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London. 1991. A comprehensive biography.
Darwin, Wallace and the Theory of Natural Selection, including the Linnean Society Papers, by Bert James Loewenberg. Arlington Books, Cambridge, 1959.
Extracts 3, 4, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21-35 were downloaded with permission from The Writings of Charles Darwin on the Web, John van Wyhe ed. This is probably the largest compilation online of Darwin’s voluminous published works, and is extremely well presented.
Other authors born between 1800 and 1900 CE
Introduction and Selection Copyright © 2004 Rex Pay