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13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-03 - Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification 60 The importance, for classification, of trifling characters, mainly depends on their being correlated with several other characters of more or less importance.

The value indeed of an aggregate of characters is very evident in natural history.

Hence, as has often been remarked, a species may depart from its allies in several characters, both of high physiological importance and of almost universal prevalence, and yet leave us in no doubt where it should be ranked.

Hence, also, it has been found, that a classification founded on any single character, however important that may be, has always failed; for no part of the organisation is universally constant.

The importance of an aggregate of characters, even when none are important, alone explains, I think, that saying of Linnaeus, that the characters do not give the genus, but the genus gives the characters; for this saying seems founded on an appreciation of many trifling points of resemblance, too slight to be defined.

Certain plants, belonging to the Malpighiaceae, bear perfect and degraded flowers; in the latter, as A. de Jussieu has remarked, `the greater number of the characters proper to the species, to the genus, to the family, to the class, disappear, and thus laugh at our classification.' But when Aspicarpa produced in France, during several years, only degraded flowers, departing so wonderfully in a number of the most important points of structure from the proper type of the order, yet M. Richard sagaciously saw, as Jussieu observes, that this genus should still be retained amongst the Malpighiaceae.


Antoine Laurent de Jussieu
Antoine Laurent de Jussieu
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-03 - Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification 90 The same fact holds good with flowering plants, of which the two main divisions have been founded on characters derived from the embryo, on the number and position of the embryonic leaves or cotyledons, and on the mode of development of the plumule and radicle.

In our discussion on embryology, we shall see why such characters are so valuable, on the view of classification tacitly including the idea of descent.

Our classifications are often plainly influenced by chains of affinities.

Nothing can be easier than to define a number of characters common to all birds; but in the case of crustaceans, such definition has hitherto been found impossible.

bird
bird

crustacean
crustacean


There are crustaceans at the opposite ends of the series, which have hardly a character in common; yet the species at both ends, from being plainly allied to others, and these to others, and so onwards, can be recognised as unequivocally belonging to this, and to no other class of the Articulata.
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-03 - Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification 120 Full Size

We will suppose the letters A to L to represent allied genera, which lived during the Silurian epoch, and these have descended from a species which existed at an unknown anterior period.

Species of three of these genera (A, F, and I) have transmitted modified descendants to the present day, represented by the fifteen genera (a14 to z14) on the uppermost horizontal line.

Now all these modified descendants from a single species, are represented as related in blood or descent to the same degree; they may metaphorically be called cousins to the same millionth degree; yet they differ widely and in different degrees from each other.

The forms descended from A, now broken up into two or three families, constitute a distinct order from those descended from I, also broken up into two families.

Nor can the existing species, descended from A, be ranked in the same genus with the parent A; or those from I, with the parent I.

But the existing genus F14 may be supposed to have been but slightly modified; and it will then rank with the parent-genus F; just as some few still living organic beings belong to Silurian genera.

So that the amount or value of the differences between organic beings all related to each other in the same degree in blood, has come to be widely different.

Nevertheless their genealogical arrangement remains strictly true, not only at the present time, but at each successive period of descent.

All the modified descendants from A will have inherited something in common from their common parent, as will all the descendants from I; so will it be with each subordinate branch of descendants, at each successive period.

If, however, we choose to suppose that any of the descendants of A or of I have been so much modified as to have more or less completely lost traces of their parentage, in this case, their places in a natural classification will have been more or less completely lost, as sometimes seems to have occurred with existing organisms.

All the descendants of the genus F, along its whole line of descent, are supposed to have been but little modified, and they yet form a single genus.

But this genus, though much isolated, will still occupy its proper intermediate position; for F originally was intermediate in character between A and I, and the several genera descended from these two genera will have inherited to a certain extent their characters.
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-03 - Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification 130 This natural arrangement is shown, as far as is possible on paper, in the diagram, but in much too simple a manner.

If a branching diagram had not been used, and only the names of the groups had been written in a linear series, it would have been still less possible to have given a natural arrangement; and it is notoriously not possible to represent in a series, on a flat surface, the affinities which we discover in nature amongst the beings of the same group.

Thus, on the view which I hold, the natural system is genealogical in its arrangement, like a pedigree; but the degrees of modification which the different groups have undergone, have to be expressed by ranking them under different so-called genera, sub-families, families, sections, orders, and classes.

It may be worth while to illustrate this view of classification, by taking the case of languages.

If we possessed a perfect pedigree of mankind, a genealogical arrangement of the races of man would afford the best classification of the various languages now spoken throughout the world; and if all extinct languages, and all intermediate and slowly changing dialects, had to be included, such an arrangement would, I think, be the only possible one.

Yet it might be that some very ancient language had altered little, and had given rise to few new languages, whilst others (owing to the spreading and subsequent isolation and states of civilisation of the several races, descended from a common race) had altered much, and had given rise to many new languages and dialects.

The various degrees of difference in the languages from the same stock, would have to be expressed by groups subordinate to groups; but the proper or even only possible arrangement would still be genealogical; and this would be strictly natural, as it would connect together all languages, extinct and modern, by the closest affinities, and would give the filiation and origin of each tongue.