« AnteriorContinuar »
to improve the breed, and they formerly did so, as is attested by passages in Pliny. The savages in South Africa match their draught cattle by colour, as do some of the Esquimaux their teams of dogs. Livingstone states that good domestic breeds are highly valued by the negroes in the interior of Africa who have not associated with Europeans. Some of these facts do not show actual selection, but they show that the breeding of domestic animals was carefully attended to in ancient times, and is now attended to by the lowest savages. It would, indeed, have been a strange fact, had attention not been paid to breeding, for the inheritance of good and bad qualities is so obvious.
At the present time, eminent breeders try by methodical selection, with a distinct object in view, to make a new strain or sub-breed, superior to anything of the kind in the country. But, for our purpose, a form of Selection, which may be called Unconscious, and which results from every one trying to possess and breed from the best individual animals, is more important. Thus, a man who intends keeping pointers naturally tries to get as good dogs as he can, and afterwards breeds from his own best dogs, but he has no wish or expectation of permanently altering the breed. Nevertheless we may infer that this process, continued during centuries, would improve and modify any breed, in the same way as Bakewcll, Collins, &c, by this very same process, only carried on more methodically, did greatly modify, even during their lifetimes, the forms and qualities of their cattle. Slow and insensible
is a tendency in the breed to revert to a character which was lost during some former generation, this tendency, for all that we can see to the contrary, may be transmitted undiminished for an indefinite number of generations. These two distinct cases of reversion are often confounded together by those who have written on inheritance.
Lastly, the hybrids or mongrels from between all the breeds of the pigeon are perfectly fertile, as I can state from my own observations, purposely made, on the most distinct breeds. Now, hardly any cases have been ascertained with certainty of hybrids from two quite distinct species of animals being perfectly fertile. Some authors believe that long-continued domestication eliminates this strong tendency to sterility in species. From the history of the dog, and of some other domestic animals, this conclusion is probably quite correct, if applied to species closely related to each other. But to extend it so far as to suppose that species, aboriginally as distinct as carriers, tumblers, pouters, and fantails now are, should yield offspring perfectly fertile inter se, would be rash in the extreme.
From these several reasons, namely,—the improbability of man having formerly made seven or eight supposed species of pigeons to breed freely under domestication;—these supposed species being quite unknown in a wild state, and their not having become anywhere feral;—these species presenting certain very abnormal characters, as compared with all other Columbidae, though so like the rock-pigeon in most respects;—the occasional re-appearance of the blue colour and various black marks in all the breeds, both when kept pure and when crossed;—and lastly, the mongrel offspring being perfectly fertile;—from these several reasons, taken together, we may safely conclude that all our domestic breeds are descended from the rock-pigeon or Columba livia with its geographical sub-species.
In favour of this view, I may add, firstly, that the wild C. livia has been found capable of domestication in Europe and in India; and that it agrees in habits and in a great number of points of structure with all the domestic breeds. Secondly, that, although an English carrier or a short-faced tumbler differs immensely in certain characters from the rock-pigeon, yet that, by comparing the several sub-breeds of these two races, more especially those brought from distant countries, we can make, between them and the rock-pigeon, an almost perfect series; so we can in some other cases, but not with all the breeds. Thirdly, those characters which are mainly distinctive of each breed are in each eminently variable, for instance the wattle and length of beak of the carrier, the shortness of that of the tumbler, and the number of tail-feathers in the fantail; and the explanation of this fact will be obvious when we treat of Selection. Fourthly, pigeons have been watched and tended with the utmost care, and loved by many people. They have been domesticated for thousands of years in several quarters of the world; the earliest known record of pigeons is in the fifth ./Egyptian dynasty, about 3000 B.C., as was pointed out to me by Professor Lepsius; but Mr. Birch informs me that pigeons are given in a bill of fare in the previous dynasty. In the time of the Romans, as we hear from Pliny, immense prices were given for pigeons; "nay, they are come to this pass, that they