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The conclusions enunciated by Cuvier and Von Baer have been confirmed, in principle, by all subsequent research into the structure of animals and plants. But the effect of the adoption of these conclusions has been rather to substitute a new metaphor for that of Bonnet than to abolish the conception expressed by it. Instead of regarding living things as capable of arrangement in one series like the steps of a ladder, the results of modern investigation compel us to dispose them as if they were the twigs and branches of a tree. The ends of the twigs represent individuals, the smallest groups of twigs species, larger groups genera, and so on, until we arrive at the source of all these ramifications of the main branch, which is represented by a common plan of structure. At the present moment, it is impossible to draw up any definition, based on broad anatomical or developmental characters, by which any one of Cuvier's great groups shall be separated from all the rest. On the contrary, the lower members of each tend to converge towards the lower members of all the others. The same may be said of the vegetable world. The apparently clear distinction between flowering and flowerless plants has been broken down by the series of gradations between the two exhibited by the Lycopodiaceae, Rhizocarpeae, and Gymnospermea. The groups of Fungi, Lichenes, and Alga! have completely run into one another, and, when the lowest forms of each are
alone considered, even the animal and vegetable kingdoms cease to have a definite frontier.
If it is permissible to speak of the relations of living forms to one another metaphorically, the similitude chosen must undoubtedly be that of a common root, whence two main trunks, one representing the vegetable and one the animal world, spring; and, each dividing into a few main branches, these subdivide into multitudes of branchlets and these into smaller groups of twigs.
As Lamarck has well said—!
* Il n'y a que ceux qui se sont longtempsetfortement occupés de la détermination des espèces, et qui ont consulté de riches collections, qui peuvent savoir jusqu'à quel point les espèces, parmi les corps vivants se fondent les unes dans les autres, et qui ont pu se convaincre que, dans les parties où nous voyons des espèces isolès, cela n'est ainsi que parcequ'il nous en manque d'autres qui en sont plus voisines et que nous n'avons pas encore recueillies.
*Je ne veux pas dire pour cela que les animaux qui existent forment une série très-simple et partout également nuancée ; mais je dis qu'ils forment une série ramense, irréguliérement graduée et qui n'a point de discontinuité dans ses parties, ou qui, du moins, n'en a toujours pas eu, s'il est vrai que, par suite de quelques espèces perdues, il s'en trouve quelque part. Il en resulte que les espèces qui terminent chaque rameau de la série générale tiennent, au moins d'un côté, àd'autres espèces voisines qui se nuancent avec elles Voilà ce que l'état bien connu des choses me met maintenant à portée de demontrer Je n'ai besoin d'aucune hypothèse ni d'aucune supposition pour cela : j'en atteste tous les naturalistes observateurs."
| Philosophie Zoologique, première partie, chap. iii.
3. In a remarkable essay * Meckel remarks—
“There is no good physiologist who has not been struck by the observation that the original form of all organisms is one and the same, and that out of this one form, all, the lowest as well as the highest, are developed in such a manner that the latter pass through the permanent forms of the former as transitory stages. Aristotle, Haller, Harvey, Kielmeyer, Autenrieth, and many others, have either made this observation incidentally, or, especially the latter, have drawn particular attention to it, and deduced therefrom results of permanent importance for physiology.” Meckel proceeds to exemplify the thesis, that the lower forms of animals represent stages in the course of the development of the higher, with a large series of illustrations. After comparing the Salamanders and the perennibranchiate Urodela with the Tadpoles and the Frogs, and enunciating the law that the more highly any animal is organised the more quickly does it pass through the lower stages, Meckel goes on to say— “From these lowest Vertebrata to the highest, and to the highest forms among these, the comparison between the embryonic conditions of the higher animals and the adult states of the lower can be more completely and thoroughly instituted than if the survey is extended to the Invertebrata, inasmuch as the latter are in many respects constructed upon an altogethertoo dissimilar
type; indeed they often differ from one another far more than the lowest vertebrate does from the highest mammal; yet the
* “Entwurf einer Darstellung der zwischen dem Embryozus. tinde der höheren Thiere und dem permanenten der niederen stattfindenden Parallele,” Beyträge zur Vergleichenden Anatomie, Bd. ii. 1811.
following pages will show that the comparison may also be extended to them with interest. In fact, there is a period when, as Aristotle long ago said, the embryo of the highest animal has the form of a mere worm ; and, devoid of internal and external organisation, is merely an almost structureless lump of polype substance. Nothwithstanding the origin of organs, it still for a certain time, by reason of its want of an internal bony skeleton, remains worm and mollusk, and only later enters into the series of the Vertebrata, although traces of the vertebral column even in the earliest periods testify its claim to a place in that series.”–0p. cit. pp. 4, 5. If Meckel's proposition is so far qualified, that the comparison of adult with embryonic forms is restricted within the limits of one type of organisation; and, if it is further recollected that the resemblance between the permanent lower form and the embryonic stage of a higher form is not special but general, it is in entire accordance with modern embryology; although there is no branch of biology which has grown so largely, and improved its methods so much, since Meckel's time, as this. In its original form, the doctrine of “arrest of development,” as advocated by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Serres, was no doubt an overstatement of the case. It is not true, for example, that a fish is a reptile arrested in its development, or that a reptile was ever a fish: but it is true that the reptile embryo, at one stage of its development, is an organism which, if it had an independent existence, must be classified among fishes; and all the organs of the reptile pass, in the course of their development, through conditions which are closely analogous to those which are permanent in some fishes. 4. That branch of biology which is termed Morphology is a commentary upon, and expansion of the proposition that widely different animals or plants, and widely different parts of animals or plants, are constructed upon the same plan. From the rough comparison of the skeleton of a bird with that of a man by Belon, in the sixteenth century (to go no farther back), down to the theory of the limbs and the theory of the skull at the present day; or, from the first demonstration of the homologies of the parts of a flower by C. F. Wolff, to the present elaborate analysis of the floral organs, morphology exhibits a continual advance towards the demonstration of a funda– mental unity among the seeming diversities of living structures. And this demonstration has been completed by the final establishment of the cell theory, which involves the admission of a primitive conformity, not only of all the elementary structures in animals and plants respectively, but of those in the one of these great divisions of living things with those in the other. No do priori difficulty can be said to stand in the way of evolution, when it can be shown that all animals and all plants proceed by modes of development, which are similar in principle, from a fundamental protoplasmic material. 5. The innumerable cases of structures, which are