The Variation of Animals and Plants HTML version

The object of this work is not to describe all the many races of animals which have been
domesticated by man, and of the plants which have been cultivated by him; even if I
possessed the requisite knowledge, so gigantic an undertaking would be here superfluous.
It is my intention to give under the head of each species only such facts as I have been
able to collect or observe, showing the amount and nature of the changes which animals
and plants have undergone whilst under man's dominion, or which bear on the general
principles of variation. In one case alone, namely in that of the domestic pigeon, I will
describe fully all the chief races, their history, the amount and nature of their differences,
and the probable steps by which they have been formed. I have selected this case,
because, as we shall hereafter see, the materials are better than in any other; and one case
fully described will in fact illustrate all others. But I shall also describe domesticated
rabbits, fowls, and ducks, with considerable fulness.
The subjects discussed in this volume are so connected that it is not a little difficult to
decide how they can be best arranged. I have determined in the first part to give, under
the heads of the various animals and plants, a large body of facts, some of which may at
first appear but little related to our subject, and to devote the latter part to general
discussions. Whenever I have found it necessary to give numerous details, in support of
any proposition or conclusion, small type has been used. The reader will, I think, find this
plan a convenience, for, if he does not doubt the conclusion or care about the details, he
can easily pass them over; yet I may be permitted to say that some of the discussions thus
printed deserve attention, at least from the professed naturalist.
It may be useful to those who have read nothing about Natural Selection, if I here give a
brief sketch of the whole subject and of its bearing on the origin of species.1 This is the
more desirable, as it is impossible in the present work to avoid many allusions to
questions which will be fully discussed in future volumes.
From a remote period, in all parts of the world, man has subjected many animals and
plants to domestication or culture. Man has no power of altering the absolute conditions
of life; he cannot change the climate of any country; he adds no new element to the soil;
but he can remove an animal or plant from one climate or soil to another, and give it food
on which it did not subsist in its natural state. It is an error to speak of man "tampering
with nature" and causing variability. If a man drops a piece of iron into sulphuric acid, it
cannot be said strictly that he makes the sulphate of iron, he only allows their elective
affinities to come into play. If organic beings had not possessed an inherent tendency to
vary, man could have done nothing.2 He unintentionally exposes his animals and plants to
various conditions of life, and variability supervenes, which he cannot even prevent or
check. Consider the simple case of a plant which has been cultivated during a long time
in its native country, and which consequently has not been subjected to any change of
climate. It has been protected to a certain extent from the competing roots of plants of
other kinds; it has generally been grown in manured soil; but probably not richer than that