Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/569

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BUFFON AND THE PROBLEM OF SPECIES

kind to breed with horses. "One was therefore wrong formerly in maintaining that mules are absolutely infertile." Other experiments in the crossing of goats and sheep, dogs and wolves, canaries and goldfinches, are recited; they all go to show that sterility is merely a question of degree.

All hybrids (mulets), says prejudice, are vitiated animals which can not produce offspring. No animal, say reason and experience, is absolutely infertile, even though its parents were of separate species. On the contrary, all are capable of reproduction, and the only difference is a difference of more or less.[1]

That hybrids are relatively infertile, and probably incapable of breeding with one another, Buffon still maintains; "their infecundity, without being absolute, may still be regarded as a positive fact." Something, therefore, is still left of his test of unity of species. But now that it seemed to be reduced to a mere difference in degree, it was no longer the sharp-cut, decisive, impressive thing that it had at first appeared. And, feeling that his criterion of species had a good deal weakened, Buffon was led—not, indeed, even now to an altogether unequivocal affirmation of the descent of real species from one another—but to a confused, half-agnostic utterance, in which he seems to take at least the possibility of such descent for granted:

In general, the kinship of species is one of those profound mysteries of nature which man will be able to fathom only by means of long and repeated and difficult experiments. How, save by a thousand attempts at the cross-breeding of animals of different species, can we ever determine their degree of kinship? Is the ass nearer to the horse than to the zebra f Is the dog nearer to the wolf than to the fox or the jackal? At what distance from man shall we place the great apes, which resemble him so perfectly in bodily conformation? Were all the species of animals formerly what they are to-day? Has their number not increased, or rather, diminished (sic)?. . . What relations can we establish between this kinship of species and that better known kinship of races within the same species? Do not races in general arise, like mixed species, from an incapacity in the individuals from which the race originated for mating with the pure species? There is perhaps to be found in the dog species some race so rare that it is more difficult to breed than is the mixed species produced by the ass and the mare. How many other questions there are to ask upon this matter alone—and how few of them there are that we can answer! How many more facts we shall need to know before we can pronounce—or even conjecture—upon these points! How many experiments must be undertaken in order to discover these facts, to spy them out, or even to anticipate them by well-grounded conjectures![2]

This passage certainly indicates a strong inclination towards an acceptance of a thorough-going doctrine of descent; yet in Butler's lengthy compilation of the evidences of Buffon's evolutionism it is not cited at all! The volume containing it, says Butler, offers "little which throws additional light upon Buffon's opinion concerning the mutability of species"![3] In truth, it offers one of the best of the

  1. Supp., III., p. 20; the italics are Buffon's.
  2. Supp., III., 1776, pp. 32-33.
  3. "Evolution Old and New," p. 165.