Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/564

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that any other species ever departs from its specific type, but that in these larger creatures even the "accessory touches" have been comparatively little altered.

Thus, in a long series of passages, from 1753 on, we find Buffon reiterating with explicitness and emphasis the same teaching, which has, for him, its principal bases in two of his most cherished conceptions: namely, in his conviction that the sterility of hybrids shows that species are real "entities of nature"; and in his embryological theory of "organic molecules" and of the "internal mold" which "casts into its own shape those substances upon which it feeds" and "can operate in the individual only in accordance with the form of each species." One of the first of modern naturalists to make the idea of organic evolution familiar to his contemporaries and to discuss it seriously, Buffon repeatedly rejected that theory, at all periods of his career; and he did so, not from timidity merely nor from an affectation of deference to scriptural authority, but upon reasoned grounds which he plainly stated and had every appearance of presenting as conclusive. Yet it is also undeniable, as will presently be seen, that he did not maintain this negative position without occasional waverings and doubts and at least one clear, though possibly inadvertent, self-contradiction.

3. In spite of his habitual emphasis upon the constancy of true species, Buffon insisted more than any of his predecessors, and more, perhaps, than any of his contemporaries, except Maupertuis and Diderot, upon the variability of organisms and the potency of the forces making for their modification.

Though nature appears always the same, she passes nevertheless through a constant movement of successive variations, of sensible alterations; she lends herself to new combinations, to mutations of matter and form, so that to-day she is quite different from what she was at the beginning or even at later periods.[1]

The passage is from one of Buffon's later writings; but its close counterpart is to be found as early as 1756:

If we consider each species in the different climates which it inhabits, we shall find perceptible varieties as regards size and form; they all derive an impress to a greater or less extent from the climate in which they live. These changes are made slowly and imperceptibly. Nature 's great workman is Time. He marches ever with an even pace, and does nothing by leaps and bounds, but by degrees, gradations and successions he does all things; and the changes which he works—at first imperceptible—become little by little perceptible, and show themselves eventually in results about which there can be no mistake.[2]

For the most part these changes were clearly represented by Buffon as taking place only within the limits of species; they amounted merely to the formation of new "races" or varieties. Since his criterion of

  1. Supp., V., 1778, p. 3.
  2. Vol. VI., pp. 59-60. I have borrowed Butler's excellent rendering of this passage.