RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1871. The descent of man. (from advance-sheets of Darwin's new work.) Appletons' Journal 5 (98) (11 February): 171-173.   


NOTE: Images from Angus Carroll.

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[From Advance-sheets of Darwin's New Work.*]

HE who wishes to decide whether man is the modified descendant of some preëxisting form, would probably first inquire whether man varies, however slightly, in bodily structure, and in mental faculties; and if so, whether the variations are transmitted to his offspring in accordance with the laws which prevail with the lower animals; such as that of the transmission of characters to the same age or sex. Again, are the variations the result, as far as our ignorance permits us to judge, of the same general causes, and are they governed by the same general laws, as in the case of other organisms; for instance, by correlation, the inherited effects of use and disuse, etc.? Is man subjected to similar malconformations, the result of arrested development, of reduplication of parts, etc., and does he display in any of his anomalies reversion to some former and ancient type of structure? It might also naturally be inquired whether man, like so many other animals, has given rise to varieties and sub-races, differing but slightly from each other, or to races differing so much that they must be classed as doubtful species? How are such races distributed over the world; and how, when crossed, do they react on each other, both in the first and succeeding generations? And so with many other points.

The inquirer would next come to the important point, whether man tends to increase at so rapid a rate, as to lead to occasional severe struggles for existence, and consequently to beneficial variations, whether in body or mind, being preserved, and injurious ones eliminated. Do the races or species of men, whichever term may be applied, encroach on and replace each other, so that some finally become extinct? We shall see that all these questions, as indeed is obvious in respect to most of them, must be answered in the affirmative, in the same manner as with the lower animals.

It is notorious that man is constructed on the same general type or model with other mammals. All the bones in his skeleton can be compared with corresponding bones in a monkey, bat, or seal. So it is with his muscles, nerves, blood-vessels, and internal viscera. The brain, the most important of all the organs, follows the same law, as shown by Huxley and other anatomists. Bischoff, who is a hostile witness, admits that every chief fissure and fold in the brain of man has its analogy in that of the orang; but he adds that at no period of development do their brains perfectly agree; nor could this be expected, for otherwise their mental powers would have been the same.

Man is liable to receive from the lower animals, and to communicate to them, certain diseases, as hydrophobia, variola, the glanders, etc.; and this fact proves the close similarity of their tissues and blood, both in minute structure and composition, far more plainly than does their comparison under the best microscope, or by the aid of the best chemical analysis. Monkeys arc liable to many of the same non-contagious diseases as we are; thus Rengger, who carefully observed for a long time the Cebus Azaræ in its native land, found it liable to catarrh, with the usual symptoms, and which when often recurrent led to consumption. These monkeys suffered also from apoplexy, inflammation of the bowels, and cataract in the eye. The younger ones when shedding their milk-teeth often died from fever. Medicines produced the same effect on them as on us. Many kinds of monkeys have a strong taste for tea, coffee, and spirituous liquors: they will also, as I have myself seen, smoke tobacco with pleasure. Brehm asserts that the natives of northeastern Africa catch the wild baboons by exposing vessels with strong beer, by which they are made drunk. He has seen some of these animals, which he kept in confinement, in this state; and he gives a laughable account of their behavior and strange grimaces. On the following morning they were very cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands, and wore a most pitiable expression; when beer or wine was offered them, they turned away with disgust, but relished the juice of lemons.

* The Descent of Man. and Selection in Relation to Sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. D. Appleton & Co.

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Au American monkey, an Ateles, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus was wiser than many men. These trifling facts prove how similar the nerves of taste must be in monkeys and man, and how similarly their whole nervous system is affected.

Man is infested with internal parasites, sometimes causing fatal effects, and is plagued by external parasites, all of which belong to the same genera or families with those infesting other mammals. Man is subject like other mammals, birds, and even insects, to that mysterious law, which causes certain normal processes, such as gestation, as well as the maturation and duration of various diseases, to follow lunar periods. His wounds are repaired by the same process of healing; and the stumps left after the amputation of his limbs occasionally possess, especially during an early embryonic period, some power of regeneration, as in the lowest animals.

The whole process of that most important function, the reproduction of the species, is strikingly the same in all mammals, from the first act of courtship by the male to the birth and nurturing of the young. Monkeys are born in almost as helpless a conditions as our own infants; and in certain genera the young differ fully as much in appearance from the adults, as do our children from their full-grown parents. It has been urged by some writers as an important distinction, that with man the young arrive at maturity at a much later age than with any other animal: but if we look to the races of mankind which inhabit tropical countries the difference is not great, for the orang is believed not to be adult till the age of from ten to fifteen years. Man differs from woman in size, bodily strength, hairiness, etc., as well as in mind in the same manner as do the two sexes of many mammals. It is, in short, scarcely possible to exaggerate the close correspondence in general structure, in the minute structure of the tissues, in chemical composition, and in constitution, between man and the higher animals, especially the anthropomorphous apes.

Man is developed from an ovule, about the one hundredth and twenty-fifth of an inch in diameter, which differs in no respect from the ovules of other animals. The embryo itself at a very early period can hardly be distinguished from that of other members of the vertebrate kingdom. At this period the arteries run in arch-like branches, as if to carry the blood to branchiæ which are not present in the higher vertebrata, though the slits on the sides of the neck still remain, marking their former position. At a somewhat later period, when the extremities are developed, "the feet of lizards and mammals," as the illustrious Von Baer remarks, "the wings and feet of birds, no less than the hands and feet of man, all arise from the same fundamental form." "It is," says Professor Huxley, "quite in the latter stages of development that the young human being presents marked differences from the young ape, while the latter departs as much from the dog in its developments, as the man does. Startling as this last assertion may appear to be, it is demonstrably true."

After the foregoing statements made by such high authorities, it would be superfluous on my part to give a number of borrowed details, showing that the embryo of man closely resembles that of other mammals. I will conclude with a quotation from Huxley, who, after asking, Does man originate in a different way from a dog, bird, frog, or fish? says: "The reply is not doubtful for a moment; without question, the mode of origin and the early stages of the development of man are identical with those of the animals immediately below him in the scale: without a doubt in these respects, he is far nearer to apes, than the apes are to the dog."

The bearing of the three great classes of facts now given is unmistakable. But it would be superfluous here fully to recapitulate the line of argument given in detail in my "Origin of Species." The homological construction of the whole frame in the members of the same class is intelligible, if we admit their descent from a common progenitor, together with their subsequent adaptation to diversified conditions. On any other view the similarity of pattern between the hand of a man or monkey, the foot of a horse, the flipper of a seal, the wing of a bat, etc., is utterly inexplicable. It is no scientific explanation to assert that they have all been formed on the same ideal plan. With respect to development, we can clearly understand, on the principle of variations supervening at a rather late embryonic period, and being inherited at a corresponding period, how it is that the embryos of wonderfully different forms should still retain, more or less perfectly, the structure of their common progenitor. No other explanation has ever been given of the marvellous fact that the embryo of a man, dog, seal, bat, reptile, etc., can at first hardly be distinguished from each other. In order to understand the existence of rudimentary organs, we have only to suppose-that a former progenitor possessed the parts in question in a perfect state, and that under changed habits of life they became greatly reduced, either from simple disuse, or through the natural selection of those individuals which were least encumbered with a superfluous part, aided by the other means previously indicated.

Thus we can understand how it has come to pass that man, and all other vertebrate animals, have been constructed on the same general model, why they pass through the same early stages of development, and why they retain certain rudiments in common. Consequently we ought frankly to admit their community of descent; to take any other view, is to admit that our own structure, and that of all the animals around us, is a mere snare laid to entrap our judgment. This conclusion is greatly strengthened, if we look to the members of the whole animal series, and consider the evidence derived from their affinities or classification, their geographical distribution, and geological succession. It is only our natural prejudice, and that arrogance which made our forefathers declare that they were descended from demigods, which lead us to demur to this conclusion. But the time will before long come when it will be thought wonderful that naturalists, who were well acquainted with the comparative structure and development of man and other mammals, should have believed that each was the work of a separate act of creation.

As soon as some ancient member in the great series of the Primates came, owing to a change in its manner of procuring subsistence, or to a change in the conditions of its native country, to live somewhat less on trees and more on the ground, its manner of progression would have been modified; and in this case it would have had to become either more strictly quadrupedal or bipedal. Baboons frequent hilly and rocky districts, and only from necessity climb up high trees; and they have acquired almost the gait of a dog. Man alone has become a biped; and we can, I think, partly see how he has come to assume his erect attitude, which forms one of the most conspicuous differences between him and his nearest allies. Man could not have attained his present dominant position in the world without the use of his hands, which are so admirably adapted to act in obedience to his will. As Sir C. Bell insists, "the. hand supplies all instruments, and by its correspondence with the intellect gives him universal dominion." But the hands and arms could hardly have become perfect enough to have manufactured weapons, or to have hurled stones and spears with a true aim, as long as they were habitually used for locomotion and for supporting the whole weight of the body, or as long as they were especially well adapted, as previously remarked, for climbing trees. Such rough treatment would also have blunted the sense of touch, on which their delicate use largely depends. From these causes alone it would have been an advantage to man to have become a biped; but, for many actions, it is almost necessary that both arms and the whole upper part of the body should be free; and he must for this end stand firmly on his feet. To gain this great advantage, the feet have been rendered flat, and the great-toe peculiarly modified, though this has entailed the loss of the power of prehension. It accords with the principle of the division of physiological labor, which prevails throughout the animal kingdom, that, as the hands became perfected for prehension, the feet should have become perfected for support and locomotion. With some savages, however, the foot has not altogether lost its prehensible power, as shown by their manner of climbing trees and of using them in other ways.

According to a popular impression, the absence of a tail is eminently distinctive of man; but, as those apes which come nearest to man are destitute of this organ, its disappearance does not especially concern us. Nevertheless it may be well to own that no explanation, as far as I am aware, has ever been given of the loss of the tail by certain apes and man. Its loss, however, is not surprising, for it sometimes differs remarkably in length in species of the same genera: thus in some species of Macacus the tail is longer than the whole body, consisting of twenty-four vertebræ in others it consists of a scarcely-visible stump, containing only three or four vertebræ. In some kinds of baboons there are twenty-five, while in the mandrill there are ten very small stunted caudal vertebræ, or, according to Cuvier, sometimes only five. This great diversity in the structure and length of the tail in animals belonging to the same genera, and following nearly the same habits of life, renders it probable that the tail is not of much importance to them; and if so, we might have expected that it would sometimes have become more or less rudimentary, in accordance with what we incessantly see with other structures. The tail almost always tapers toward the end, whether it be long or short; and this, I presume, results from the atrophy, through disuse, of the terminal muscles, together with their arteries and nerves, leading to the atrophy of the terminal bones. With respect to the os coccyx, which in man and the higher apes manifestly consists of the few basal and tapering segments of an ordinary tail, I have heard it asked how could these have become completely embedded within the body; but there is no difficulty in this respect, for in many monkeys the basal segments of the true tail are thus embedded, For instance, Mr. Murie informs me that in the skeleton of a not full-grown Macacus inornalus, he counted nine or ten caudal vertebræ, which altogether were only 1.8 inch in length. Of these the three basal ones appeared to have been embedded; the remainder forming the free part of the tail, which was only one inch in length, and half an inch in diameter. Here, then, the three embedded caudal vertebræ plainly correspond with the four coalesced vertebræ of the human os coccyx.

As man at the present day is liable, like every other animal, to multiform individual differences or slight variations, so no doubt were the early progenitors of man; the variations being then as now induced by the same general causes, and governed by the same general and complex laws. As all animals tend to multiply beyond their

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means of subsistence, so it must have been with the progenitors of man; and this will inevitably have led to a struggle for existence and to natural selection. This latter process will hare been greatly aided by the inherited effects of the increased use of parts; these two processes incessantly reacting on each other. It appears, also, as we shall hereafter see, that various unimportant characters have been acquired by man through sexual selection. An unexpected residuum of change, perhaps a large one, must be left to the assumed uniform action of those unknown agencies, which occasionally induce strongly marked and abrupt deviations of structure in our domestic productions.

Judging from the habits of savages and of the greater number of the Quadrumana, primeval men, and even the ape-like progenitors of man, probably lived in society. With strictly social animals, natural selection sometimes acts indirectly on the individual, through the preservation of variations which are beneficial only to the community. A community, including a large number of well-endowed individuals, increases in number, and is Victorious over other and less well endowed communities; although each separate member may gain no advantage over the other members of the same community. With associated insects many remarkable structures, which are of little or no service to the individual or its own offspring, such as the pollen collecting apparatus, or the sting of the worker-bee, or the great jaws of soldier-ants, have been thus acquired. With the higher social animals, I am not aware that any structure has been modified solely for the good of the community, though some are of secondary service to it. For instance, the horns of ruminants, and the great canine teeth of baboons appear to have been acquired by the males as weapons for sexual strife, but they are used in defence of the herd or troop. In regard to certain mental faculties the case, as we shall see in the following chapter, is wholly different; for these faculties have been chiefly, or even exclusively, gained for the benefit of the community; the individuals composing the community being at the same time indirectly benefited.

In regard to bodily size or strength, we do not know whether man is descended from some comparatively small species, like the chimpanzee, or from one as powerful as the gorilla; and, therefore, we cannot say whether man bas become larger and stronger, or smaller and weaker, in comparison with his progenitors. We should, however, bear in mind that an animal possessing great size, strength, and ferocity, and which, like the gorilla, could defend itself from all enemies, would probably, though not necessarily, have failed to become social; and this would most effectually have checked the acquirement by man of his higher mental qualities, such as sympathy and the love of his fellow-creatures. Hence it might have been an immense advantage to man to have sprung from some comparatively weak creature.

The slight corporeal strength of man, his little speed, his want of natural weapons, etc., are more than counterbalanced, firstly by his intellectual powers, through which he has, while still remaining in a barbarous state, formed for himself weapons, tools, etc., and secondly by his social qualities, which lead him to give aid to his fellow-men, and to receive it in return. No country in the world abounds in a greater degree with dangerous beasts than Southern Africa; no country presents more fearful physical hardships than the arctic regions; yet one of the puniest races, namely, the Bushmen, maintain themselves in Southern Africa, as do the dwarfed Esquimaux in the arctic regions. The early progenitors of man were, no doubt, inferior in intellect, and probably in social disposition, to the lowest existing savages; but it is quite conceivable that they might have existed, or even flourished, if, while they gradually lost their brute-like powers, such as climbing trees, etc., they at the same time advanced in intellect. But granting that the progenitors of man were far more helpless and defenceless than any existing savages, if they had inhabited some warm continent, or large island, such as Australia or New Guinea, or Borneo (the latter island being now tenanted by the orang), they would not have been exposed to any special danger. In an area as large as one of these islands, the competition between tribe and tribe would have been sufficient, under favorable conditions, to have raised man, through the survival of the fittest, combined with the inherited effects of habit, to his present high position in the organic scale.

We are naturally led to inquire where was the birthplace of man at that stage of descent, when our progenitors diverged from the Catarhine stock [of apes]. The fact that they belonged to this stock clearly shows that they inhabited the Old World; but not Australia nor any oceanic island, as we may infer from the laws of geographical distribution. In each great region of the world, the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African Continent, than elsewhere. But it is useless to speculate on this subject, for an ape nearly as large as a man, namely, the Dryopithecus of Lartet, which was closely allied to the anthropomorphous Hylobates, existed in Europe during the Upper Miocene period; and since so remote a period the earth has certainly undergone many great revolutions, and there has been ample time for migration on the largest scale.

At the period and place, whenever and wherever it may have been, when man first lost his hairy covering, he probably inhabited a hot country; and this would have been favorable for a frugiferous diet, on which, judging from analogy, he subsisted. We are far from knowing how long ago it was when man first diverged from the Catarhine stock; but this may have occurred at an epoch as remote as the Eocene period; for the higher apes had diverged from the lower apes as early as the Upper Miocene period, as shown by the existence of the Dryopithecus. We are also quite ignorant at how rapid a rate organisms, whether high or low in the scale, may under favorable circumstances be modified: we know, however, that some have retained the same form during an enormous lapse of time. From what we see going on under domestication, we learn that within the same period some of the co-descendants of the same species may be not at all changed, some a little, and some greatly changed. Thus it may have been with man, who has undergone a great amount of modification in certain characters in comparison with the higher apes.

We have thus far endeavored rudely to trace the genealogy of the vertebrata by the aid of their mutual affinities. We will now look to man as he exists; and we shall, I think, be able partially to restore during successive periods, but not in due order of time, the structure of our early progenitors. This can be effected by means of the rudiments which man still retains, by the characters which occasionally make their appearance in him through reversion, and by the aid of the principles of morphology and embryology. The various facts, to which I shall here allude, have been given in the previous chapters. The early progenitors of man were no doubt once covered with hair, both sexes having beards; their ears were pointed and capable of movement; and their bodies were provided with a tail, having the proper muscles. Their limbs and bodies were also acted on by many muscles which now only occasionally reappear, but are normally present in the Quadrumana. The great artery and nerve of the humerus ran through a supra-condyloid foramen. At this or some earlier period, the intestine gave forth a much larger diverticulum or cæcum than that now existing. The foot, judging from the condition of the great-toe in the fætus, was then prehensile; and our progenitors, no doubt, were arboreal in their habits, frequenting some warm, forest-clad land. The males were provided with great canine teeth, which served them as formidable weapons.

At a much earlier period the uterus was double; the excreta were voided through a cloaca; and the eye was protected by a third eyelid or nictitating membrane. At a still earlier period the progenitors of man must have been aquatic in their habits; for morphology plainly tells us that our lungs consist of a modified swim-bladder, which once served as a float. The clefts on the neck in the embryo of man show where the branchiæ once existed. At about this period the true kidneys were replaced by the corpora wolffiana. The heart existed as a simple pulsating vessel; and the chorda dorsalis took the place of a vertebral column. These early predecessors of man, thus seen in the dim recesses of time, must have been as lowly organized as the lancelet or amphioxous, or even still more lowly organizes.

The most ancient progenitors in the kingdom of the Vertebrata, at which we are able to obtain an obscure glance, apparently consisted of a group of marine animals, resembling the larvæ of existing Ascidians. These animals probably gave rise to a group of fishes, as lowly organized as the lancelet; and from these the Ganoids, and other fishes like the Lepidosiren, must have been developed. From such fish a very small advance would carry us on to the amphibians. We have seen that birds and reptiles were once intimately connected together; and the Monotremata now, in a slight degree, connect mammals with reptiles. But no one can at present say by what line of descent the three higher and related classes, namely, mammals, birds, and reptiles, were derived from either of the two lower vertebrate classes, namely, amphibians and fishes. In the class of mammals the steps are not difficult to conceive which led from the ancient Monotremata to the ancient Marsupials; and from these to the early progenitors of the placental mammals. We may thus ascend to the Lemuridæ; and the interval is not wide from these to the Simiadæ. The Simiadæ then branched off into two great stems, the New World and Old World monkeys; and from the latter, at a remote period, Man, the wonder and glory of the Universe, proceeded.

Thus we have given to man a pedigree of prodigious length, but not, it may be said, of noble quality. The world, it has often been remarked, appears as if it had long been preparing for the advent of long line of progenitors. If any single link in this chain had never existed, man would not have been exactly what he now is. Unless we wilfully close our eyes, we may, with our present knowledge, approximately recognize our parentage; nor need we feel ashamed of it. The most humble organism is something much higher than the inorganic dust under our feet; and no one with an unbiassed mind can study any living creature, however humble, without being struck with enthusiasm at its marvellous structure and properties.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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