Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/567

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BUFFON AND THE PROBLEM OF SPECIES

among species in their endowment for the struggle for survival. This is perhaps one reason why it did not occur to him to think of that struggle as causing a process of natural selection, or to see in it a factor in the formation of so-called species.

4. It must be evident to the reader from all that precedes that Buffon's mind, throughout nearly the whole of his life, was played upon by two opposing forces. Quite apart from any illegitimate and external influences, such as fear of the ecclesiastics—of which too much has been made—his thought was affected by two conflicting sets of considerations of a factual and logical sort. He saw certain definite reasons for regarding species as the fundamental constants of organic nature; what those reasons were has been sufficiently indicated. But he also saw that there was some force in the argument from the homologies; and—what in his case was still more important—he was committed to the program of explaining the diversities of organisms, so far as might be, by the hypothesis of modification in the course of descent; he was deeply impressed by the fact of variability; and he held to a theory of heredity (namely, of the heritability of acquired characters) which acted as a sort of powerful undertow towards a generalized evolutionism. Add to this that he was little careful of consistency and extremely careful of rhetorical effect—and it is not surprising that he occasionally forgot one side of his doctrine in emphasizing the other. There is one and, so far as I can discover, only one passage in which he seems categorically to contradict his ordinary teaching of the impossibility of the descent of really distinct species, sterile inter se, from common ancestors. This occurs at the end of the chapter on "Animals Common to Both Continents" (Vol. IX., 1761).

It is not impossible that, without any deviation from the ordinary course of nature, all the animals of the New World may be at bottom the same as those of the Old—having originated from the latter in some former age. One might say that, having subsequently become separated by vast oceans and impassable lands, they have gradually been affected by a climate which has itself been so modified as to become a new one through the operation of the same causes which dissociated the individuals of the two continents from one another. Thus in the course of time the animals of America have grown smaller and departed from their original characters. This, however, should not prevent our regarding them to-day as different species. Whether the difference be caused by time, climate and soil, or be as old as the creation, it is none the less real. Nature, I maintain, is in a state of continual flux and movement. It is enough for man if he can grasp her as she now is, and cast but a glance or two upon the past and future, to endeavor to perceive what she may once have been and what she may yet become.

Here Buffon seems either to have forgotten or to have deliberately discarded his own usual criterion of diversity of species. He does not propose to inquire whether the American species are capable of having fertile progeny when mated with their respective congeners in the old world, but predicates difference of species solely on the ground of dissimilarity of form; and to the distinct species so determined he at-