The two newest and most interesting points in your letter (and in, as far as I think, your former paper) seem to me to be about senile characteristics in one species appearing in succeeding species during maturity; and secondly about certain degraded characters appearing in the last species of a series. You ask for my opinion: I can only send the conjectured impressions which have occurred to me and which are not worth writing. (It ought to be known whether the senile character appears before or after the period of active reproduction.) I should be inclined to attribute the character in both your cases to the laws of growth and descent, secondarily to Natural Selection. It has been an error on my part, and a misfortune to me, that I did not largely discuss what I mean by laws of growth at an early period in some of my books. I have said something on this head in two new chapters in the last edition of the "Origin." I should be happy to send you a copy of this edition, if you do not possess it and care to have it. A man in extreme old age differs much from a young man, and I presume every one would account for this by failing powers of growth. On the other hand the skulls of some mammals go on altering during maturity into advancing years; as do the horns of the stag, the tail-feathers of some birds, the size of fishes etc.; and all such differences I should attribute simply to the laws of growth, as long as full vigour was retained. Endless other changes of structure in successive species may, I believe, be accounted for by various complex laws of growth. Now, any change of character thus induced with advancing years in the individual might easily be inherited at an earlier age than that at which it first supervened, and thus become characteristic of the mature species; or again, such changes would be apt to follow from variation, independently of inheritance, under proper conditions. Therefore I should expect that characters of this kind would often appear in later-formed species without the aid of Natural Selection, or with its aid if the characters were of any advantage. The longer I live, the more I become convinced how ignorant we are of the extent to which all sorts of structures are serviceable to each species. But that characters supervening during maturity in one species should appear so regularly, as you state to be the case, in succeeding species, seems to me very surprising and inexplicable.
With respect to degradation in species towards the close of a series, I have nothing to say, except that before I arrived at the end of your letter, it occurred to me that the earlier and simpler ammonites must have been well adapted to their conditions, and that when the species were verging towards extinction (owing probably to the presence of some more successful competitors) they would naturally become re-adapted to simpler conditions. Before I had read your final remarks I thought also that unfavourable conditions might cause, through the law of growth, aided perhaps by reversion, degradation of character. No doubt many new laws remain to be discovered. Permit me to add that I have never been so foolish as to imagine that I have succeeded in doing more than to lay down some of the broad outlines of the origin of species.
After long reflection I cannot avoid the conviction that no innate tendency to progressive development exists, as is now held by so many able naturalists, and perhaps by yourself. It is curious how seldom writers define what they mean by progressive development; but this is a point which I have briefly discussed in the "Origin." I earnestly hope that you may visit Hilgendorf's famous deposit. Have you seen Weismann's pamphlet "Einfluss der Isolirung," Leipzig, 1872? He makes splendid use of Hilgendorf's admirable observations. (254/2. Hilgendorf, "Monatsb. K. Akad." Berlin, 1866. For a semi-popular account of Hilgendorf's and Hyatt's work on this subject, see Romanes' "Darwin and after Darwin," I., page 201.) I have no strength to spare, being much out of health; otherwise I would have endeavoured to have made this letter better worth sending. I most sincerely wish you success in your valuable and difficult researches.
I have received, and thank you, for your three pamphlets. As far as I can judge, your views seem very probable; but what a fearfully intricate subject is this of the succession of ammonites. (254/3. See various papers in the publications of the "Boston Soc. Nat. Hist." and in the "Bulletin of the Harvard Museum of Comp. Zoology.")
LETTER 255. A. HYATT TO CHARLES DARWIN. Cannstadt bei Stuttgart, December 8th, 1872.
The quickness and earnestness of your reply to my letter gives me the greatest encouragement, and I am much delighted at the unexpected interest which your questions and comments display. What you say about Prof. Cope's style has been often before said to me, and I have remarked in his writings an unsatisfactory treatment of our common theory. This, I think, perhaps is largely due to the complete absorption of his mind in the contemplation of his subject: this seems to lead him to be careless about the methods in which it may be best explained. He has, however, a more extended knowledge than I have, and has in many ways a more powerful grasp of the subject, and for that very reason, perhaps, is liable to run into extremes. You ask about the skipping of the Zoea stage in fresh-water decapods: is this an illustration of acceleration? It most assuredly is, if acceleration means anything at all. Again, another and more general illustration would be, if, among the marine decapods, a series could be formed in which the Zoea stage became less and less important in the development, and was relegated to younger and younger stages of the development, and finally disappeared in those to which you refer. This is the usual way in which the accelerated mode of development manifests itself; though near the lowest or earliest occurring species it is also to be looked for. Perhaps this to which you allude is an illustration somewhat similar to the one which I have spoken of in my series,
which like "a d" comes from the earliest of a series, though I should think from the entire skipping of the Zoea stage that it must be, like "a e," the result of a long line of ancestors. In fact, the essential point of our theory is, that characteristics are ever inherited by the young at earlier periods than they are assumed in due course of growth by the parents, and that this must eventually lead to the extinction or skipping of these characteristics altogether...
Such considerations as these and the fact that near the heads of series or near the latest members of series, and not at the beginning, were usually found the accelerated types, which skipped lower characteristics and developed very suddenly to a higher and more complex standpoint in structure, led both Cope and [myself] into what may be a great error. I see that it has led you at least into the difficulty of which you very rightly complain, and which, I am sorry to see, has cost you some of your valuable time. We presumed that because characteristics were perpetually inherited at earlier stages, that this very concentration of the developed characteristics made room for the production of differences in the adult descendants of any given pair. Further, that in the room thus made other different characteristics must be produced, and that these would necessarily appear earlier in proportion as the species was more or less accelerated, and be greater or less in the same proportion. Finally, that in the most accelerated, such as "a c" or "a d," the difference would be so great as to constitute distinct genera. Cope and I have differed very much, while he acknowledged the action of the accumulated mode of development only when generic characteristics or greater differences were produced, I saw the same mode of development to be applicable in all cases and to all characteristics, even to diseases. So far the facts bore us out, but when we assumed that the adult differences were the result of the accelerated mode of development, we were perhaps upon rather insecure ground. It is evidently this assumption which has led you to misunderstand the theory. Cope founded his belief, that the adult characteristics were also the result of acceleration, if I rightly remember it, mainly upon the class of facts spoken of above in man where a sudden change into two organs may produce entirely new and unexpected differences in the whole organisation, and upon the changes which acceleration appeared to produce in the development of each succeeding species. Your difficulty in understanding the theory and the observations you have made show me at once what my own difficulties have been, but of these I will not speak at present, as my letter is spinning itself out to a fearful length.