Even the groupings which he gives, Buffon adds, can not be regarded, in the existing state of knowledge, as correctly and exclusively enumerating all the apparent species which are really akin to one another. The number of separate species which he lists, he intimates, is probably much too great. But at all events, he concludes with pride, his work is the first real attempt at an ornithologie historique.
The purpose of the present inquiry does not call for any extended exposition of Buffon's views about the causes of modification in animals and the ways in which quasi-species are formed. In the essay "De la dégénération des animaux" the subject is discussed at the length of over sixty quarto pages; the theories there advanced have been sufficiently accurately summarized by many previous writers. In brief, the factors in modification which he mentions as the most important are changes of climate (in which the most potent influence is temperature), changes of food, and the effects of domestication. But it is evident that he also believed in a general tendency to variation in the germ, and in the influence of acquired habits, of the use and disuse of parts, and of acquired lesions and mutilations. Thus he explains the humps, and the callosities on the knees and chest, of the camel and the llama as due to the habits of those animals under domestication. Similarly, the callosities on the haunches of the baboons arise from the fact that "the ordinary position of these animals is a sitting one—so that the hard skin under the haunches has even become inseparable from the bone against which it is continually pressed by the weight of the body." These theories, of course, take for granted the inheritance of acquired characters, which Buffon also (less cautious here than Maupertuis) explicitly asserts. It is, I suppose, also well known that Buffon called attention (as Linnæus did independently) to the struggle for existence between species, due to the excessive multiplication of individuals, and pointed out how an equilibrium comes to be established (so long as external conditions remain constant) by means of this opposition.
Buffon, in fact, rather over-worked this notion of a stable equilibrium, which rested upon the assumption of an approximate equality
- "Hist, des Oiseaux," I., 1770, preface.
- Cf. Lovejoy, "Some Eighteenth Century Evolutionists," Pop. Sci. Monthly, July, 1904, p. 248 n.
- "Hist. Nat.," V., 1755, p. 252.