of adaptations which are usually common to many species, or, more commonly, to genera and families; but, I urge further, it has not even been proved that any truly "specific" characters—those which either singly or in combination distinguish each species from its nearest allies—are entirely unadaptive, useless, and meaningless; while a great body of facts on the one hand, and some weighty arguments on the other, alike prove that specific characters have been, and could only have been, developed and fixed by natural selection because of their utility. We may admit, that among the great number of variations and sports which continually arise many are altogether useless without being hurtful; but no cause or influence has been adduced adequate to render such characters fixed and constant throughout the vast number of individuals which constitute any of the more dominant species.
The Swamping Effects of Intercrossing.
This supposed insuperable difficulty was first advanced in an article in the North British Review in 1867, and much attention has been attracted to it by the acknowledgment of Mr. Darwin that it proved to him that "single variations," or what are usually termed "sports," could very rarely, if ever, be perpetuated in a state of nature, as he had at first thought might occasionally be the case. But he had always considered that the chief part, and latterly the whole, of the materials with which natural selection works, was afforded by individual variations, or that amount of ever fluctuating variability which exists in all organisms and in all their parts. Other writers have urged the same objection, even as against individual variability, apparently in total ignorance of its amount and range; and quite recently Professor G.J. Romanes has adduced
- Darwin's latest expression of opinion on this question is interesting, since it shows that he was inclined to return to his earlier view of the general, or universal, utility of specific characters. In a letter to Semper (30th Nov. 1878) he writes: "As our knowledge advances, very slight differences, considered by systematists as of no importance in structure, are continually found to be functionally important; and I have been especially struck with this fact in the case of plants, to which my observations have, of late years, been confined. Therefore it seems to me rather rash to consider slight differences between representative species, for instance, those inhabiting the different islands of the same archipelago, as of no functional importance, and as not in any way due to natural selection" (Life of Darwin, vol. iii. p. 161).