The Evolution Debate, 1813-1870

By Charles Darwin; Alfred Russel Wallace et al. | Go to book overview

MAN AND NATURAL SELECTION

THE following reply to M. Claparède's “Remarques à propos de l'ouvrage de M. Alfred Russel Wallace sur a Théorie de a Sélection Naturelle, ” was written some months ago, and was intended as an appendix to a French translation of my “Essays “by M. Lucien De Candolle, to be published by Reinwald, of Paris. As it is now very uncertain when the translation will appear, and as M. Claparède's critique has been highly spoken of in several English periodicals, I think it advisable that my answer to it should be no longer delayed.

In the “Archives des Sciences de la Bibliothèque Universelle, ” for June, 1870, M. Edouard Claparède has done me the honour to make my “Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection” the subject of some critical remarks. To these I now propose briefly to reply.

I must premise that I do not intend to discuss here any of those difficulties which my critic finds in the theory of sexual selection, and which apply as much to Mr. Darwin's views as to my own because, in his new work now announced, that theory will, I have no doubt, be fully developed, and be supported by a mass of facts and observations, in the absence of which further argument is useless. I proceed therefore to the objections that apply more especially to my own views.

At p. 15 of his “Remarques” M. Claparède says, “Son étude est consacrée á la coloration des oiseaux et, absorbé dans son sujet, l'auteur oublie que d'autres facteurs peuvent, aussi bien que la couleur, attirer l'attention des ennemis sur la gent ailée. Un nid couvert d'un döme volumineux échappera tout aussi peu, grace à ses dimensions, a l'œil d'un animal en quête de proie, que quelques plumes brillament colorées. Les gamins de nos villages en savent quelque chose, comme l'a remarqué M. le Duc d'Argyll, et ils ne réussissent que trop, à la présence d'un gros nid, a deviner l'oiseau caché et sa couvée.” This objection does not seem to me very serious, because in the first place, nests, however large, generally harmonise in colour with surrounding objects, and are not so easily seen at a little distance as a bright patch of colour; and, secondly/because “gamins” are not the chief natural enemies of the feathered tribes, while hawks and falcons do not break open nests, although they do seize and devour birds.

After giving (p. 23-25) what I must allow to be a very fair abstract of my reasons for believing that Natural Selection is not the only power that has operated in the development of man, M. Claparède intimates that I have so completely abandoned my own Darwinist principles that the reader will easily refute my arguments. He therefore confines himself to certain “reflections.” I regret that he did not think it necessary to do more than this, because I have as yet in vain sought from my reviewers for any other than general objections to my arguments on this subject, and am at a loss to know how they

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