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13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-08 - Extinction separates and defines groups 10 Extinction, as we have seen in the fourth chapter, has played an important part in defining and widening the intervals between the several groups in each class.

We may thus account even for the distinctness of whole classes from each other for instance, of birds from all other vertebrate animals by the belief that many ancient forms of life have been utterly lost, through which the early progenitors of birds were formerly connected with the early progenitors of the other vertebrate classes.

bird
bird

dinosaur
dinosaur
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-08 - Extinction separates and defines groups 20 There has been less entire extinction of the forms of life which once connected fishes with batrachians.

fish
fish


There has been still less in some other classes, as in that of the Crustacea, for here the most wonderfully diverse forms are still tied together by a long, but broken, chain of affinities.

crustacean
crustacean
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-08 - Extinction separates and defines groups 30 Extinction has only separated groups: it has by no means made them; for if every form which has ever lived on this earth were suddenly to reappear, though it would be quite impossible to give definitions by which each group could be distinguished from other groups, as all would blend together by steps as fine as those between the finest existing varieties, nevertheless a natural classification, or at least a natural arrangement, would be possible.

We shall see this by turning to the diagram: the letters, A to L, may represent eleven Silurian genera, some of which have produced large groups of modified descendants.

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Every intermediate link between these eleven genera and their primordial parent, and every intermediate link in each branch and sub-branch of their descendants, may be supposed to be still alive; and the links to be as fine as those between the finest varieties.

In this case it would be quite impossible to give any definition by which the several members of the several groups could be distinguished from their more immediate parents; or these parents from their ancient and unknown progenitor.

Yet the natural arrangement in the diagram would still hold good; and, on the principle of inheritance, all the forms descended from A, or from I, would have something in common.

In a tree we can specify this or that branch, though at the actual fork the two unite and blend together.

We could not, as I have said, define the several groups; but we could pick out types, or forms, representing most of the characters of each group, whether large or small, and thus give a general idea of the value of the differences between them.

This is what we should be driven to, if we were ever to succeed in collecting all the forms in any class which have lived throughout all time and space.
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-08 - Extinction separates and defines groups 40 We shall certainly never succeed in making so perfect a collection: nevertheless, in certain classes, we are tending in this direction; and Milne Edwards has lately insisted, in an able paper, on the high importance of looking to types, whether or not we can separate and define the groups to which such types belong.

Henri Milne Edwards
Henri Milne Edwards


Finally, we have seen that natural selection, which results from the struggle for existence, and which almost inevitably induces extinction and divergence of character in the many descendants from one dominant parent-species, explains that great and universal feature in the affinities of all organic beings, namely, their subordination in group under group.

We use the element of descent in classing the individuals of both sexes and of all ages, although having few characters in common, under one species; we use descent in classing acknowledged varieties, however different they may be from their parent; and I believe this element of descent is the hidden bond of connexion which naturalists have sought under the term of the Natural System.

On this idea of the natural system being, in so far as it has been perfected, genealogical in its arrangement, with the grades of difference between the descendants from a common parent, expressed by the terms genera, families, orders, &c., we can understand the rules which we are compelled to follow in our classification.

We can understand why we value certain resemblances far more than others; why we are permitted to use rudimentary and useless organs, or others of trifling physiological importance; why, in comparing one group with a distinct group, we summarily reject analogical or adaptive characters, and yet use these same characters within the limits of the same group.

We can clearly see how it is that all living and extinct forms can be grouped together in one great system; and how the several members of each class are connected together by the most complex and radiating lines of affinities.

We shall never, probably, disentangle the inextricable web of affinities between the members of any one class; but when we have a distinct object in view, and do not look to some unknown plan of creation, we may hope to make sure but slow progress.