In the absence of express information, the most natural inference is that the reason you refuse to entertain the principle in question, is because you show the backward tendency of indiscriminate variability [to be] inadequate to contend with the conservative tendency of long inheritance. The converse of this is expressed in the words "That the struggle between Natural Selection on the one hand, and the tendency to reversion and variability on the other hand, will in the course of time cease; and that the most abnormally developed organs may be made constant, I see no reason to doubt" ("Origin," page 121). Certainly not, if, as I doubt not, the word "constant" is intended to bear a relative signification; but to say that constancy can ever become absolute--i.e., that any term of inheritance could secure to an organ a total immunity from the smallest amount of spontaneous variability--to say this would be unwarrantable. Suppose, for instance, that for some reason or other a further increase in the size of a bat's wing should now suddenly become highly beneficial to that animal: we can scarcely suppose that variations would not be forthcoming for Natural Selection to seize upon (unless the limit of possible size has now been reached, which is an altogether distinct matter). And if we suppose that minute variations on the side of increase are thus even now occasionally taking place, much more is it probable that similar variations on the side of decrease are now taking place--i.e., that if the conservative influence of Natural Selection were removed for a long period of time, more variations would ensue below the present size of bat's wings, than above it. To this it may be added, that when the influence of "speedy selection" is removed, it seems in itself highly probable that the structure would, for this reason, become more variable, for the only reason why it ever ceased to be variable (i.e., after attaining its maximum size), was because of the influence of selection constantly destroying those individuals in which a tendency to vary occurred. When, therefore, this force antagonistic to variability was removed, it seems highly probable that the latter principle would again begin to assert itself, and this in a cumulative manner. Those individuals in which a tendency to vary occurred being no longer cut off, they would have as good a chance of leaving progeny to inherit their fluctuating disposition as would their more inflexible companions.
LETTER 264. TO G.J. ROMANES. July 16th, 1874.
I am much obliged for your kind and long communication, which I have read with great interest, as well as your articles in "Nature." The subject seems to me as important and interesting as it is difficult. I am much out of health, and working very hard on a very different subject, so thus I cannot give your remarks the attention which they deserve. I will, however, keep your letter for some later time, when I may again take up the subject. Your letter makes it clearer to me than it ever was before, how a part or organ which has already begun from any cause to decrease, will go on decreasing through so-called spontaneous variability, with intercrossing; for under such circumstances it is very unlikely that there should be variation in the direction of increase beyond the average size, and no reason why there should not be variations of decrease. I think this expresses your view. I had intended this summer subjecting plants to [illegible] conditions, and observing the effects on variation; but the work would be very laborious, yet I am inclined to think it will be hereafter worth the labour.
LETTER 265. TO T. MEEHAN. Down, October 9th, 1874.
I am glad that you are attending to the colours of dioecious flowers; but it is well to remember that their colours may be as unimportant to them as those of a gall, or, indeed, as the colour of an amethyst or ruby is to these gems. Some thirty years ago I began to investigate the little purple flowers in the centre of the umbels of the carrot. I suppose my memory is wrong, but it tells me that these flowers are female, and I think that I once got a seed from one of them; but my memory may be quite wrong. I hope that you will continue your interesting researches.
LETTER 266. TO G. JAGER. Down, February 3rd, 1875.
I received this morning a copy of your work "Contra Wigand," either from yourself or from your publisher, and I am greatly obliged for it. (266/1. Jager's "In Sachen Darwins insbesondere contra Wigand" (Stuttgart, 1874) is directed against A. Wigand's "Der Darwinismus und die Naturforschung Newtons und Cuviers" (Brunswick, 1874).) I had, however, before bought a copy, and have sent the new one to our best library, that of the Royal Society. As I am a very poor german scholar, I have as yet read only about forty pages; but these have interested me in the highest degree. Your remarks on fixed and variable species deserve the greatest attention; but I am not at present quite convinced that there are such independent of the conditions to which they are subjected. I think you have done great service to the principle of evolution, which we both support, by publishing this work. I am the more glad to read it as I had not time to read Wigand's great and tedious volume.
LETTER 267. TO CHAUNCEY WRIGHT. Down, March 13th, 1875.