Page images
PDF

form. Then, coming up still farther, we begin to find these beautiful ferns and other higher cryptogamous plants in abundance, at the time of the coal-period, when they covered the earth, and gave us, as the result of their deposition, those beds of coal upon which our present civilization depends. They were just as much fitted for us, just as much, in my judgment, prepared for us, as were the fruits that we now gather and garner for our use. Passing from the lower forms of plant-life, the pine tribe, that is, the cone-bearing trees, begin to appear, and, along with them, what we call the monocotyledonous plants; that is, those allied to our grasses. Then, coming up still farther, we find plants that represent those we have before us here. As we come to the time when man was introduced on the globe, we begin to find fruits and flowers, or plants from which our fruits and flowers have sprung. This is the line of descent in general. I say nothing about theories now. The facts we know. By breaking open the rocks of the earth, we know that first we have those in which there is no evidence of plant-life; we then have rocks in which there are very low forms, rising higher and higher, until we come up to the last strata in time, where we find evidence of the introduction of man; and then these higher plants appear on the globe. Now, there are three theories which it is worth while for me to state very briefly in regard to the origin of these things. Let me state them without entering into any controversy, and without attempting to-night to substantiate either of them. There seem to me to be three prevailing theories in the world, two of which are so mixed up, that people are constantly confused in regard to them, just as they are in regard to what they observe, as we have seen here to-night. One is called the Darwinian theory. He starts with the germs; but he has never yet told us where those germs came from. He says those germs had two characteristics, which all germs which we have observed now have, – the two characteristics which enable us to have a Board of Agriculture. The foundation of this Board of Agriculture was laid far back in the nature of those germs that first appeared, no matter what our theory may be in regard to how they were developed. What are those two characteristics, – for they seem to be exactly opposed to each other? All these germs, first of all, have a tendency to reproduce their kind; so that, when we have a germ, we know that from that we shall get something like it: that is the first characteristic. The second is that they have a tendency to vary; that is, while they reproduce their kind, they have a tendency to produce something a little different from themselves; and in this fact — that those living germs have the power to reproduce their kind, going on, and giving us the same kind of form, and at the same time varying so as to give different forms—we have the foundation of our science and encouragement in all our labor in agriculture. Given these two things, – permanency, so that we may be sure, when we put the seed into the soil, we shall have the same thing in kind spring up that we put there; and also variation, so as to give us a little different form, we can take the seeds of that plant, and the plants produced by its seeds will be likely to vary in the same direction: and so, going on farther and farther, we shall secure different varieties. Now, Darwin says, that taking these germs, with these two characteristics, – first, of reproducing their kind; and, second, of variation, — and giving them time enough, Nature has worked out all these results which we see; that all these different forms have come from those two characteristics of plants by the operation of a principle which he calls “natural selection.” I may have time, before I get through this lecture, to illustrate the action of “natural selection.” Another theory which is constantly eonfounded with this is the evolution theory proper, — the theory held by such men as Mivart. It is that all these forms started from germs having just exactly the two characteristics which Darwin ascribes to them, but that, so far from developing in all possible directions, they have in their nature, from the beginning, a principle that determines just how they shall develop, a power which carries them along a specific line; as Professor Gray, who claims to be a Darwinian, says that plants vary, but, in his judgment, vary on beneficial lines. You see, the moment a man says that, he acknowledges at once that there was some Being who made the germs, that had the notion of doing good to man, and so caused them to vary along beneficial lines. Darwin would not accept any theory of that kind; but an evolutionist may accept it, and say that in each germ was the power to reproduce its kind, and, as the globe went on progressing, it had the power to throw off, at just the right time, the kinds of plants that ought to be found on the earth: and therefore from these germs we have, by a regular law, all the different forms that now exist, just as from a single seed you have growing up the wood, the leaf, the flower, and the fruit, all parts appearing just at their proper time. Who would suppose, in examining a germ, and tracing it back to the original cell, and the cell of pollen that comes in, – who would suppose, I say, from the development of that cell, or from that germ, if you please, you would have all these parts, – the roots striking down into the earth, the branches stretching out into the air, with leaf and flower and fruit? Nobody would expect such a result, unless he had seen it. We should believe that such a phenomenon as that was something that came under law, and that there was some power which determined when the flower should appear, and put all these parts together. Now, according to the true evolution theory, all these germs had the same relaion to all plants that a seed has to a tree, and throw off all these forms at the proper time. When they are thrown off, of course they must be distributed; and here comes in a whole line of argument and illustration in regard to distribution, and in regard to the operation of “natural selection ” again. Now, the third theory. And please to understand that I do not give these three as being the three that would be given by everybody; but they are, in my judgment, the three that include every theory that has been broached. The third theory is, that every one of these separate forms was a distinct act of creation. This was what Professor Agassiz always held. I have been indignant at some of the articles I have seen in certain publications in regard to him since his death. I worked with Professor Agassiz for a long time, and I talked all these matters over with him. He has told me what he believed over and over again, and, if ever any man in the world believed any thing, Professor Agassiz believed that every single species was a distinct creation. Now, those three theories account, in their way, for the introduction of plant-life on the globe, and the production of the present species as we find them. But, when we trace all these flowers and fruits back historically, we lose sight of them, as we do of many things in our own history. We cannot trace them all back to their ancestors. A very large number of our valuable fruits and grains, it is impossible for us to trace back. The history of some of them is known. Those that were discovered in this country we can trace back to their discovery here. But we cannot trace back Indian-corn to the wild kind. It has been said that Indiancorn has been found in some places on this continent wild; but I have never found those statements substantiated. It was found in this country, and found among the Indians; and that is all we know. While we cannot tell the origin of all our cultivated plants, we can trace them back far enough to be able to say that the plants which we to-day cultivate, the plants which you come here to consider, the growth of which you have been discussing this afternoon, — we can trace them back far enough to say that their early forms were hardly fit for men to eat: they existed in a very poor, mean, crude condition. We are able to say this, and that many of the things that to-night delight us by their beauty, and delight us by their delicious flavor, and that are for the comfort, support, and enjoyment of the human race, are what they are in consequence of the action of man within the historic period. Looking around here, I see some men in whose hands these plants have shown their plasticity, and their adaptation to human wants. Just think of it. Is it true that our friend Mr. Moore, and our other friends around us, are able to bring out these splendid specimens of improved plants, – improved cauliflowers, improved pears, improved grapes, improved strawberries, and all the rest, — that they are able to do this in consequence of a characteristic which was lodged in the germ millions of years ago? Down in the deep rocks of the earth are found remains of plants bearing the characteristics of the lower seaweeds; but yet they undoubtedly had in them these two elements, – that of perpetuating their kind, and at the same time that of varying so as to give a different form. Now, it is relying upon these two characteristics of living species, that you do all your work here. And now I wish to bring out a new law of plant-development, which, although it seems simple enough when stated

has caused me a good deal of study. When you look over plants, you will find they divide themselves naturally, not botanically, into two great groups, according to their lines of development. If you arrange all your plants botanically, you will find that those two groups that I am about to mention cut through the great botanical divisions. Plants can be divided into two great groups, one of which always develops in the line of utility (I am using “utility’ in its common sense), and the other always develops in the line of beauty. Now, having made that statement, I wish to call your attention to certain plants well known. I will take, for my first illustration, the apple. You see that I come round to the apple, with which I began. Take an apple and a rose. All of you have observed enough to know that the apple-blossom is a little rose in structure, that the apple belongs to the rose family. We do not know how long the rose and apple have been cultivated ; but we have evidence of the cultivation of both of them farther back than history goes. In those old villages covered by water in Switzerland, we find evidence of the existence of the apple and the rose also. Going back just as far as we can go, and tracing them up to the present time, we know that apples and roses have been cultivated in almost all parts of the world. You know that to-day there are thousands of varieties of both, and you know that you can produce other thousands. I would like to know if any man ever heard of an apple-tree developing in the line of beauty; that is, developing its flowers so that they became large and beautiful roses. It is barely possible; but the natural line of the apple is fruit. I would like to know if any man has ever seen a rose that developed large, delicious fruit. Is not all its development in the line of beauty 2 When you take a flower to cultivate, do you not expect that the plant, when it varies at all, will vary in the line of beauty, that it will give you a larger and more beautiful flower? You never expect that a large fruit will be developed there. In the wild rose you will see the fruit corresponds with the apple: it is not a large one, to be sure; but why does it happen that the rose and the apple, which are botanically alike, are developed in such entirely different directions? If you plant ten thousand apple-seeds, you do not expect to raise a single tree that will produce simply

« PreviousContinue »