Then follows an attempt to reconstruct, from the atavistic characters, a picture of our primitive ancestor who was undoubtedly an arboreal animal. The occurrence of rudiments of parts in one sex which only come to full development in the other is next discussed. This state of things Darwin regards as derived from an original hermaphroditism. In regard to the mammary glands of the male he does not accept the theory that they are vestigial, but considers them rather as not fully developed.
The last chapter of Part I deals with the question whether the different races of man are to be regarded as different species, or as sub-species of a race of monophyletic origin. The striking differences between the races are first emphasised, and the question of the fertility or infertility of hybrids is discussed. That fertility is the more usual is shown by the excessive fertility of the hybrid population of Brazil. This, and the great variability of the distinguishing characters of the different races, as well as the fact that all grades of transition stages are found between these, while considerable general agreement exists, tell in favour of the unity of the races and lead to the conclusion that they all had a common primitive ancestor.
Darwin therefore classifies all the different races as sub-species of ONE AND THE SAME SPECIES. Then follows an interesting inquiry into the reasons for the extinction of human races. He recognises as the ultimate reason the injurious effects of a change of the conditions of life, which may bring about an increase in infantile mortality, and a diminished fertility. It is precisely the reproductive system, among animals also, which is most susceptible to changes in the environment.
The final section of this chapter deals with the formation of the races of mankind. Darwin discusses the question how far the direct effect of different conditions of life, or the inherited effects of increased use or disuse may have brought about the characteristic differences between the different races. Even in regard to the origin of the colour of the skin he rejects the transmitted effects of an original difference of climate as an explanation. In so doing he is following his tendency to exclude Lamarckian explanations as far as possible. But here he makes gratuitous difficulties from which, since natural selection fails, there is no escape except by bringing in the principle of sexual selection, to which, he regarded it as possible, skin-colouring, arrangement of hair, and form of features might be traced. But with his characteristic conscientiousness he guards himself thus: "I do not intend to assert that sexual selection will account for all the differences between the races." ("Descent of Man", page 308.)
I may be permitted a remark as to Darwin's attitude towards Lamarck. While, at an earlier stage, when he was engaged in the preliminary labours for his immortal work, "The Origin of Species", Darwin expresses himself very forcibly against the views of Lamarck, speaking of Lamarckian "nonsense," ("Life and Letters", Vol. II. page 23.), and of Lamarck's "absurd, though clever work" (Loc. cit. page 39.) and expressly declaring, "I attribute very little to the direct action of climate, etc." (Loc. cit. (1856), page 82.) yet in later life he became more and more convinced of the influence of external conditions. In 1876, that is, two years after the appearance of the second edition of "The Descent of Man", he writes with his usual candid honesty: "In my opinion the greatest error which I have committed, has been not allowing sufficient weight to the direct action of the environment, i.e. food, climate, etc. independently of natural selection." (Ibid. Vol. III. page 159.) It is certain from this change of opinion that, if he had been able to make up his mind to issue a third edition of "The Descent of Man", he would have ascribed a much greater influence to the effect of external conditions in explaining the different characters of the races of man than he did in the second edition. He would also undoubtedly have attributed less influence to sexual selection as a factor in the origin of the different bodily characteristics, if indeed he would not have excluded it altogether.
In Part III of the "Descent" two additional chapters are devoted to the discussion of sexual selection in relation to man. These may be very briefly referred to. Darwin here seeks to show that sexual selection has been operative on man and his primitive progenitor. Space fails me to follow out his interesting arguments. I can only mention that he is inclined to trace back hairlessness, the development of the beard in man, and the characteristic colour of the different human races to sexual selection. Since bareness of the skin could be no advantage, but rather a disadvantage, this character cannot have been brought about by natural selection. Darwin also rejected a direct influence of climate as a cause of the origin of the skin-colour. I have already expressed the opinion, based on the development of his views as shown in his letters, that in a third edition Darwin would probably have laid more stress on the influence of external environment. He himself feels that there are gaps in his proofs here, and says in self-criticism: "The views here advanced, on the part which sexual selection has played in the history of man, want scientific precision." ("Descent of Man", page 924.) I need here only point out that it is impossible to explain the graduated stages of skin- colour by sexual selection, since it would have produced races sharply defined by their colour and not united to other races by transition stages, and this, it is well known, is not the case. Moreover, the fact established by me ("Die Hautfarbe des Menschen", "Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien", Vol. XXXIV. pages 331-352.), that in all races the ventral side of the trunk is paler than the dorsal side, and the inner surface of the extremities paler than the outer side, cannot be explained by sexual selection in the Darwinian sense.
With this I conclude my brief survey of the rich contents of Darwin's book. I may be permitted to conclude by quoting the magnificent final words of "The Descent of Man": "We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man, with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system--with all these exalted powers--Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." (Ibid. page 947.)
What has been the fate of Darwin's doctrines since his great achievement? How have they been received and followed up by the scientific and lay world? And what do the successors of the mighty hero and genius think now in regard to the origin of the human race?