The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53
The evidence from Reversion advanced by Darwin may be conveniently classed with that of Embryology; it is worth no more, and descends to equal, if not greater, absurdities. Reversions are supposed to consist of human malformations which make any near approach to an animal type, such as the misplacement of mammæ. Darwin, in his "Origin of Species," calmly advanced a case of this kind as "revealing the descent of man from some lower form in an unmistakeable manner." He was not unconscious, however, of the strain placed upon human credulity by the proposition, for in another paragraph he remarks: "No doubt it is a very surprising fact that characters should re-appear after having been lost for many, probably hundreds of generations." Very surprising truly—so surprising that no one who works out the proposition by the light of that 100 miles of figures will hesitate long in determining the value of this evidence of a brute ancestry. Why a suggestion so monstrous should ever have been propounded is the more curious that any sensible old nurse might have supplied a better explanation. It is curious, however, to note how desperate the pursuit after such links has been, and into what a maze of contradictions and absurdities it has landed the sage professors. In Siamese twins Darwin would see nothing but a monstrosity; in a child born lame or blind, or with four fingers instead of five, only a deformity; an unusually well developed child would be a favourable variation by natural selection. But misplaced mammæ would be a reversion inherited probably from some animal that lived millions of years ago, whose fossil bones lie deep down in the womb of the earth. And this is what science has come to in the nineteenth century, under the guidance of evolutionary ethics!
If there is any principle at all about the law of Natural Selection, and the phenomena of Reversals, how comes it that in circumstances where a reversal to a former type is tempted by peculiarly favourable conditions, it invariably refuses to come. How gladly would the frozen Eskimo welcome the warm coat of page 23 his counterfeit ancestor; but his skin, as proved by scientific examination, is essentially the same as that of a man inhabiting the burning tropic zone. Archdeacon Maunsell, in an admirable pamphlet published several years ago, mentions that at Isabel Island, Melanesia, there are a people who have built their houses in trees 80 or 90 feet high; born and bred in trees, ascending them by bamboo ladders and running along the branches in a perfectly erect posture with the acrobatic skill that comes of long practice. Yet they have made no progress towards a development of prehensile power in the foot, nor do they exhibit a single reversionary step in the direction of the ape. Everywhere around we have evidence of the rapid return of the cultivated plant to its original form; of the readiness with which the varieties produced in domestic animals by variation are thrown aside. Can we doubt that if there were any reversionary tendencies in man towards a brute type the crucial tests applied to him in his wide distribution over the earth, under every variety of climate, and exposed to the worst struggle for existence, would develop them somewhere? If, therefore, the structural unity of man in every essential respect throughout the globe fails to convince any investigator that whatever our ancestry may have been, the final transmutation dates to a period too long ago for the perpetuation by heredity of ancestral traces in embryonic types and reversion, he has reached that mental state when reason is made impregnable by an armour of prejudice. We only ask that when instances of the kind in living species are presented for an investigator's judgment he will rid his mind of absurdly laboured theories, and apply to them those rules of common sense which are his ordinary guide in daily life.