Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/14

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the fact that the first clear premonition of the theory of natural selection came from this country.

William Charles Wells, born in this country, at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1757, in a paper read before the Royal Society, in 1813, first substantially originated the theory to account for the black skin of the negro. He limits his application to races of men and certain peculiarities of color, correlated with an immunity from certain diseases; in proof of it he cites domesticated animals, and the selection by man in precisely the same line of argument urged by Darwin. In the preface to the last edition to the "Origin of Species," Darwin refers to Wells's essay as entitled to the credit of containing the earliest known recognition of the principle. Dr. Wells first shows that varieties among men as among animals are always occurring, and having cited the way in which man selects certain qualities among domesticated animals and thus secures different breeds, calls attention to the well-known fact that the black as well as the white races are differently affected by certain diseases of the countries which they inhabit. He finds a coincidence between the immunity from certain diseases and the black color of the skin, though why this is so he does not attempt to explain. He thinks that, through the successive survival of dark skins, the dark variety of the human race has become fixed. Referring to the man's selective action regarding domesticated animals, he says: "But what is here done by art seems to be done with equal efficacy, though more slowly, by Nature, in the formation of varieties of mankind fitted for the country which they inhabit." These sentences have such a Darwinian sound that, when we remember they were dragged from obscurity by Mr. Darwin himself, we can share in what a recent writer[1] happily calls "Mr. Darwin's evident delight at discovering that some one else had said his good things before him, or has been on the verge of uttering them." As early as 1843, Prof. Haldeman[2] discussed some of the arguments brought forward by the opponents of the Lamarckian theory, and offered certain views in favor of the transmutation of species. While he does not hint at the laws of natural selection, he recognizes fully the value of varieties and their persistency and ultimate divergence. He says, "Although we may not be able artificially to produce a change beyond a given point, it would be a hasty inference to suppose that a physical agent acting gradually for ages could not carry the variation a step or two farther, so that instead of the original one we will say four varieties, they might amount to six, the sixth being sufficiently unlike the earlier ones to induce a naturalist to consider it distinct."

In the year 1850, Dr. Joseph Leidy, in a paper on entophyta in living animals, wrote as follows: "The essential conditions of life are

  1. Gray's "Darwiniana," p. 284.
  2. Journal of the Boston Society of Natural History, vol. iv., p. 368.