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10 - On The Geological Succession of Organic Beings 10-08 - On the state of development of ancient forms 10 There has been much discussion whether recent forms are more highly developed than ancient.

I will not here enter on this subject, for naturalists have not as yet defined to each other's satisfaction what is meant by high and low forms.

But in one particular sense the more recent forms must, on my theory, be higher than the more ancient; for each new species is formed by having had some advantage in the struggle for life over other and preceding forms.

If under a nearly similar climate, the eocene inhabitants of one quarter of the world were put into competition with the existing inhabitants of the same or some other quarter, the eocene fauna or flora would certainly be beaten and exterminated; as would a secondary fauna by an eocene, and a palaeozoic fauna by a secondary fauna.

I do not doubt that this process of improvement has affected in a marked and sensible manner the organisation of the more recent and victorious forms of life, in comparison with the ancient and beaten forms; but I can see no way of testing this sort of progress.

Crustaceans, for instance, not the highest in their own class, may have beaten the highest molluscs.


From the extraordinary manner in which European productions have recently spread over New Zealand, and have seized on places which must have been previously occupied, we may believe, if all the animals and plants of Great Britain were set free in New Zealand, that in the course of time a multitude of British forms would become thoroughly naturalized there, and would exterminate many of the natives.


New Zealand
New Zealand


On the other hand, from what we see now occurring in New Zealand, and from hardly a single inhabitant of the southern hemisphere having become wild in any part of Europe, we may doubt, if all the productions of New Zealand were set free in Great Britain, whether any considerable number would be enabled to seize on places now occupied by our native plants and animals.

Under this point of view, the productions of Great Britain, may be said to be higher than those of New Zealand.

Yet the most skilful naturalist from an examination of the species of the two countries could not have foreseen this result.

Agassiz insists that ancient animals resemble to a certain extent the embryos of recent animals of the same classes; or that the geological succession of extinct forms is in some degree parallel to the embryological development of recent forms.

I must follow Pictet and Huxley in thinking that the truth of this doctrine is very far from proved.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Thomas Henry Huxley

Yet I fully expect to see it hereafter confirmed, at least in regard to subordinate groups, which have branched off from each other within comparatively recent times.

For this doctrine of Agassiz accords well with the theory of natural selection.

In a future chapter I shall attempt to show that the adult differs from its embryo, owing to variations supervening at a not early age, and being inherited at a corresponding age.

This process, whilst it leaves the embryo almost unaltered, continually adds, in the course of successive generations, more and more difference to the adult.

Thus the embryo comes to be left as a sort of picture, preserved by nature, of the ancient and less modified condition of each animal.

This view may be true, and yet it may never be capable of full proof.

Seeing, for instance, that the oldest known mammals, reptiles, and fish strictly belong to their own proper classes, though some of these old forms are in a slight degree less distinct from each other than are the typical members of the same groups at the present day, it would be vain to look for animals having the common embryological character of the Vertebrata, until beds far beneath the lowest Silurian strata are discovered a discovery of which the chance is very small.