Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

agree with the Darwinian. Even the wholesale destruction of life, which follows upon over-multiplication of mouths to be fed, is not in consequence of any struggle in the bad sense. No doubt, suffering is entailed thereby. But even when the baulked competitor has to surrender the prey to another, he probably does so with a matter of fact resignation to fate. The imagination in such a case pictures lion meeting lion in deadly conflict with each other over the scanty deer. The struggle will actually proceed rather in the lessening number of lions wandering disconsolately about in vain search for dinner, much as an unemployed person does among men in times of depression. Trafalgar Square demonstrations and Reigns of Terror are happily as rare phenomena in the economy of nature as in human society. Of course, the case is one of greater despatch with the lower animals, from the fact that they can devise no improved methods of culture whereby there would be more grass for the herbivorous and more deer and sheep for the carnivores. Neither are they faithful to any nuptial contract, or restrained by prudential considerations from propagating their kind. No better instance could be given of the struggle for existence than the rabbit pest in Australia. The extraordinary fecundity of the rabbit has to a large extent bared the Australian pastures and driven sheep off the ground. But surely it must be guileless warfare that is waged between rabbits and sheep. There are learned persons in England who look for similar results from the contempt in which the Celtic race holds the teaching of Malthus.

Darwin himself does not always bear in mind the metaphorical sense in which he intended to use the term “struggle for life." Thus in the case of epidemics, arising through the great increase of the numbers of a species in a small tract, he hesitates about the applicability of the term. But when such epidemics are due to parasitic worms he thinks we may more fittingly speak of a struggle between the parasite and its prey. In both cases, however, there is only a struggle in a metaphorical sense. The parasitic worm wages no battle any more than the obscure physical cause of the epidemic. Facts which in one aspect present the appearance of struggle, in another display a beneficent provision for sustaining life. Eggs and seeds, and even the very young

of animals that perish in the struggle, are the stores of food that support life in others. In the Darwinian sense we struggle against barn-yard fowls by devouring their eggs. It would startle a good-natured

citizen to tell him that the topping of his egg has its analogue in the suppression of orphan homes and hospitals for the sick. Here is a good instance given by Darwin himself of the curious kind of battle, as he calls it, that is waged in nature. In Paraguay no cattle, horses, or dogs have run wild, though to the north and south they abound in the wild state. That is because a certain fly, which exists in great numbers in Paraguay, lays its eggs in the navel of the new-born animal. Parasitic insects keep in check the increase of these flies. Insectivorous birds prey upon the parasitic insects. Let any cause operate to decrease the insectivorous birds in Paraguay, the parasitic insects will increase, the mischievous navel-frequenting flies will decrease, cattle and horses will become feral, and the vegetation of the region will be greatly altered. This again would affect insects. Insects would affect insectivorous birds, and so we go round in a maze of increasing complexity. Darwin metaphorically calls this amusing House-that-Jack-built of nature a battle, and so brings down upon himself the indignation of many good people. Worthy persons who eat their mutton chop contentedly on Sunday morning, without feeling incapacitated thereby for going to church, are horrified at the warfare in nature when the wolf more

economically purveys the same article of food for himself, combining in his own shaggy person the functions of butcher and consumer. Partly the accident of a term, and partly the mawkish sentimentality which makes the blood of some persons curdle with horror at the cruelty of vivisection, goes far to account for the reigning moral aversion to the Darwinian theory. When it comes to be a war of centuries between trees, or a war between insect and insect, or between insects, snails, and other animals with birds and beasts of prey, all in the way of business striving to increase, all feeding on each other, or on the trees, their seeds and seedlings, the description of the too metaphorical Darwin makes wince the nerves of the sentimental kindred, who would strain out the gnat while they swallow

Here is a sentence from Darwin with a formidable commencement:—“In the case of varieties of the same species, the struggle will generally be almost equally severe, and we sometimes see the combat soon decided.” One expects that nothing less than a Waterloo of quadrupeds is about to begin. But it is only a contest between several varieties of wheat contending for the mastery in the same piece of ground. How tame the battles of nature are, which forsooth obscure our vision of Heaven, especially if they can be shown by a Darwin to serve a wise purpose, compared with the smoke and carnage of the battles of men, in which the divine aid was invoked over the pettiest interests of the Tabernacle wherein the divine Shekinah was supposed to dwell! But why harrow our feelings by a metaphorical account of swallow retreating before swallow, song-thrush before missel-thrush, of one rat conquering another rat’s habitat, of the small Asiatic cockroach driving everywhere before it its great congener? It is much to be regretted that Darwin was prevented from redeeming his promise to state his conclusions with full array of evidence in a more carefully considered work. The adverse criticism, nay, the aversion which the origin of species excited, would have stimulated his dispassionate nature to accommodate his language better to the capacities and feelings of his public. In a letter to Miss Julia Wedgwood he complained that very few of his critics understood his book. Another steadier glance from his eyrie might have caused him also to perceive more clearly that the “wrinkled sea” of nature, however apparently capricious in its single waves, shows on its broad face a grand increasing purpose, as revealed in the essential relations of the structure of every organic being to

the ox.

« ZurückWeiter »