Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/154

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132
CHAP.
DARWINISM

unimportant for the welfare of the species, they may be, and apparently often have been, transmitted in nearly the same state to numerous, otherwise modified, descendants" (Origin, p. 175). The words I have here italicised clearly show that such characters are usually not "specific," in the sense that they are such as distinguish species from each other, but are found in numerous allied species. Again: "Thus a large yet undefined extension may safely be given to the direct and indirect results of natural selection; but I now admit, after reading the essay of Nägeli on plants, and the remarks by various authors with respect to animals, more especially those recently made by Professor Broca, that in the earlier editions of my Origin of Species I perhaps attributed too much to the action of natural selection or the survival of the fittest. I have altered the fifth edition of the Origin so as to confine my remarks to adaptive changes of structure, but I am convinced, from the light gained during even the last few years, that very many structures which now appear to us useless, will hereafter be proved to be useful, and will therefore come within the range of natural selection. Nevertheless I did not formerly consider sufficiently the existence of structures which, as far as we can at present judge, are neither beneficial nor injurious; and this I believe to be one of the greatest oversights as yet detected in my work." Now it is to be remarked that neither in these passages nor in any of the other less distinct expressions of opinion on this question, does Darwin ever admit that "specific characters"—that is, the particular characters which serve to distinguish one species from another—are ever useless, much less that "a large proportion of them" are so, as Mr. Romanes makes him "freely acknowledge." On the other hand, in the passage which I have italicised he strongly expresses his view that much of what we suppose to be useless is due to our ignorance; and as I hold myself that, as regards many of the supposed useless characters, this is the true explanation, it may be well to give a brief sketch of the progress of knowledge in transferring characters from the one category to the other.

We have only to go back a single generation, and not even the most acute botanist could have suggested a reasonable use, for each species of plant, of the infinitely varied forms, sizes,