Cannstadt bei Stuttgart, November 1872.
The letter with which you have honoured me, bearing the date of October 10th, has just reached here after a voyage to America and back.
I have long had it in mind to write you upon the subject of which you speak, but have been prevented by a very natural feeling of distrust in the worthiness and truth of the views which I had to present.
There is certainly no occasion to apologise for not having quoted my paper. The law of acceleration and retardation of development was therein used to explain the appearance of other phenomena, and might, as it did in nearly all cases, easily escape notice.
My relations with Prof. Cope are of the most friendly character; and although fortunate in publishing a few months ahead, I consider that this gives me no right to claim anything beyond such an amount of participation in the discovery, if it may be so called, as the thoroughness and worth of my work entitles me to...
The collections which I have studied, it will be remembered, are fossils collected without special reference to the very minute subdivisions, such as the subdivisions of the Lower or Middle Lias as made by the German authors, especially Quenstedt and Oppel, but pretty well defined for the larger divisions in which the species are also well defined. The condition of the collections as regards names, etc., was chaotic, localities alone, with some few exceptions, accurate. To put this in order they were first arranged according to their adult characteristics. This proving unsatisfactory, I determined to test thoroughly the theory of evolution by following out the developmental history of each species and placing them within their formations, Middle or Upper Lias, Oolite or so, according to the extent to which they represented each other's characteristics. Thus an adult of simple structure being taken as the starting-point which we will call a, another species which was a in its young stage and became b in the adult was placed above it in the zoological series. By this process I presently found that a, then a b and a b c, c representing the adult stage, were very often found; but that practically after passing these two or three stages it did not often happen that a species was found which was a b c in the young and then became d in the adult. But on the other hand I very frequently found one which, while it was a in the young, skipped the stages b and c and became d while still quite young. Then sometimes, though more rarely, a species would be found belonging to the same series, which would be a in the young and with a very faint and fleeting resemblance to d at a later stage, pass immediately while still quite young to the more advanced characteristics represented by e, and hold these as its specific characteristics until old age destroyed them. This skipping is the highest exemplification, or rather manifestation, of acceleration in development. In alluding to the history of diseases and inheritance of characteristics, you in your "Origin of Species" allude to the ordinary manifestation of acceleration, when you speak of the tendency of diseases or characteristics to appear at younger periods in the life of the child than of its parents. This, according to my observations, is a law, or rather mode, of development, which is applicable to all characteristics, and in this way it is possible to explain why the young of later-occurring animals are like the adult stages of those which preceded them in time. If I am not mistaken you have intimated something of this sort also in your first edition, but I have not been able to find it lately. Of course this is a very normal condition of affairs when a series can be followed in this way, beginning with species a, then going through species a b to a b c, then a b d or a c d, and then a d e or simply a e, as it sometimes comes. Very often the acceleration takes place in two closely connected series, thus:
in which one series goes on very regularly, while another lateral offshoot of a becomes d in the adult. This is an actual case which can be plainly shown with the specimens in hand, and has been verified in the collections here. Retardation is entirely Prof. Cope's idea, but I think also easily traceable. It is the opponent of acceleration, so to speak, or the opposite or negative of that mode of development. Thus series may occur in which, either in size or characteristics, they return to former characteristics; but a better discussion of this point you will find in the little treatise which I send by the same mail as this letter, "On Reversions among the Ammonites."
LETTER 254. TO A. HYATT. Down, December 4th, 1872.