Prichard on species 2

James Cowles Prichard (1786 - 1848), English anthropologist.
James Cowles Prichard (1786 – 1848), English anthropologist.

James Prichard wrote his Researches into the physical history of mankind in 1813, in which he argued not only that humanity was a single species (a view called monogenism), but that they were effectively the same in their intelligence and faculties.

In the course of this, he spoke repeatedly about what counted as a species. In the course of my revising my book Species for a second edition (whether or not I get a contract), I came across this passage. As it is influential (even Wallace cited it), and summarises the standard view at the turn of the century among naturalists, I thought it worth posting here. There’s much more in volume I, and you can download a copy from The Hathi Trust.

I’ve had to transliterate the Greek because of WordPress. You can also get the Word file I created here. The odd spelling is in the original.

Prichard, James Cowles. 1836. Researches into the physical history of mankind. 3rd ed. 5 vols. Vol. 1. London: Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper; Vol I, bk II, ch. 1, 105–111.


ANALYSIS OF THE DIFFERENT METHODS OF DETERMINING ON IDENTITY AND DIVERSITY OF SPECIES.

Section I.—Meaning attached to the terms Species—Genera—Varieties—Permanent Varieties—Races.

The meaning attached to the term species in natural history is very definite and intelligible. It includes only the following conditions, namely, separate origin and distinctness of race, evinced by the constant transmission of some characteristic peculiarity of organization. A race of animals or of plants marked by any peculiar character which has always been constant and undeviating, constitutes a species; and two races are considered as specifically different, if they are distinguished from each other by some characteristic which the one cannot be supposed to have acquired, or the other to have lost through any known operation of physical causes; for we are, hence, led to conclude, that the tribes thus distinguished have not descended from the same original stock. This is the purport of the word species, as it has long been understood by writers on different departments of natural history. They agree essentially as to the sense which they appropriate to this term, though they have expressed themselves differently according as they have blended more or less of hypothesis with their conceptions of its meaning. Thus Cuvier, with reference to the animal kingdom, and not without an allusion to the favourite speculations of some of his contemporaries says, “We are under the necessity of admitting the existence of certain forms which have perpetuated [106] themselves from the beginning of the world, without exceeding the limits first prescribed: all the individuals belonging to one of these forms constitute what is termed a species.” And M. De Candolle admitting that there is something hypothetical in the sense attached by him to this term, observes, that “we unite, under the designation of a species, all those individuals who mutually bear to each other so close a resemblance as to allow of our supposing, that they may have proceeded originally from a single being or a single pair.” He adds, “that this fundamental idea is evidently founded on an hypothesis, at least as far as its particular applications are concerned, though it is the only one which conveys precisely what naturalists mean by species. The degree of resemblance which authorises our bringing together individuals under this designation varies very much in different families; and it happens not unfrequently that two individuals belonging really to the same species, differ more among themselves in appearance than do others of distinct species: thus the spaniel and the danish dog are, as to their exterior, more different from each other than the dog and the wolf. And the varieties of our fruit-trees offer greater apparent differences than many species.”*

* M. De Candolle. Physiologie Végétale, tome ii. p. 689.

M. De Candolle is certainly right in limiting what is hypothetical in the conception of species in its particular applications. The meaning of the term, as I have endeavoured to define it, is sufficiently distinct. To discover some better ground-work than hypothesis on which to rest in particular applications, is the main object of this part of my work.

It is worth while to remark, that the same meaning seems to have been originally attached to the word genus or genos,† which we now appropriate to species. These terms, as well as our English word kind, came at length to be applied, by unscientific observers, to particular assortments of organized beings, which so resemble each other as to surest an idea of some near relation between them. Naturalists however, finding that such expressions as the ox-kind, the dog-kind, [107] the cat-kind, were, in popular language, too comprehensively applied to correspond with the results of accurate observation, introduced the use of the term species, to designate exactly what genus originally expressed.

† The word genos might have been defined—hoia ginontai kai aph hôn.

It is evident that there exist in Nature, beyond the limits of what we now term species, certain groupes or assortments comprising tribes, whether of plants or animals, in which the particular races are strikingly similar to each other, and of which all the individuals or breeds in each groupe are very clearly distinguished from those belonging to other groupes. Such are all the species of the horse kind; the races of oxen, buffalos, bisons, and auroxen, and the dog and cat kinds furnish other familiar examples. We are unacquainted with any physical causes capable of producing such differences of structure as those which distinguish from each other the different breeds comprehended in each of these groupes; yet they appear to be so modelled upon particular types, that many persons have been led to entertain an opinion, that the differences between such tribes are posterior in time to the era of their first existence. The phenomena of resemblance appear to require some explanation, not less than those of diversity; and a reference of several slightly varied forms to a common type, cannot fail to suggest the idea of original affinity.* Our observation of the influence which external agents have exercised on races of organized beings reaches back† to no very remote period; and it seems by no means improbable that this influence may have been more powerful in the early stage of the existence of each tribe, than it [108] is at present known to be.** It is true that this kind of speculation loses a great part of its probability when pursued to the extent to which those naturalists carry it, who maintain generally the transmutation of genera and species; and it might be argued, in opposition to their views, that there are in many departments of nature defined groupes referable to particular types or generic forms, which are still very distinct and strongly marked. But we are stopped in limine, by the consideration that all such ideas are merely conjectural, and that the investigations in which we are engaged, refer to matters of fact and not to probabilites. In the present state of our knowledge, a genus is to be considered as an assortment of tribes, on a principle merely of resemblance, and it may, therefore, include more or fewer species, according to the particular views of the naturalist; and the term species must be solely applied to those collections of individuals which so resemble each other that, by referring merely to the known and well ascertained operation of physical causes, all the differences between them may be accounted for, and present no obstacle to our regarding them as the offspring of one stock, or, which is the same thing, of races precisely similar.

* M. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, et M. Serres. Mem. du Museum, 9éme année.

† This is undoubtedly true, if we consider the subject on an extensive scale; and the observation as a general one is not refuted by particular instances in which the antiquity of species has been demonstrated, even though M. Bonastre found, either represented or preserved, eighty existing plants in the remains of ancient Egypt, and M. Kunth a twentieth part of our actual plants in the fragments of mummies. These relations are, as it must be admitted, very surprising. De Candolle speaks of such facts as establishing the permanency of species for a period of 3000 years. But it must be remembered that the art of embalming in mummies was still in use subsequently to the establishment of Christianity in Egypt; and even in the time of St Augustin, viz. in the fifth century. See Blumenbach, Beytraege zur Naturgeschichte, and Walch de Mumiis. Christianis in Comment. Reg. Soc. Sc. Goetting, tom. iii.

** See some excellent observations by M. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and M. Serres, in the Mémoires du Muséum, 9ême année.

Varieties, in natural history, are such diversities in individuals and their progeny as are observed to take place within the limits of species. Varieties are modifications produced in races of animals and of plants by the agency of external causes; they are congenital: that deviation from the character of a parent-stock which is occasioned by mixture of breed, has been regarded as a kind of variety; but varieties are quite as well known in the animal kingdom as the mere result of agencies, often little understood, on the breed, independently of such mixture. Varieties are hereditary, or transmitted to offspring with greater or less degrees of constancy.

Varieties are distinguished from species by the circumstance [109] that they are not original or primordial, but have arisen, within the limits of a particular stock or race. Permanent varieties are those which having once taken place, continue to be propagated in the breed in perpetuity. The fact of their origination must be known by observation or inference, since the proof of this fact being defective it is more philosophical to consider characters which are perpetually inherited as specific or original. The term permanent variety, would otherwise express the meaning which properly belongs to species. The properties of species are two, viz. original difference of characters and the perpetuity of their transmission, of which only the latter can belong to permanent varieties.

The instances are so many in which it is doubtful whether a particular tribe is to be considered as a distinct species, or only as a variety of some other tribe, that it has been found by naturalists convenient to have a designation applicable in either case. Hence the late introduction of the term race in this indefinite sense. Races are properly successions of individuals propagated from any given stock; and the term should be used without any involved meaning that such a progeny or stock has always possessed a particular character. The real import of the term has often been overlooked, and the word race has been used as if it implied a distinction in the physical character of the whole series of individuals. By writers on anthropology, who adopt this term, it is often tacitly assumed that such distinctions were primordial, and that their successive transmission has been unbroken. If such were the fact, a race so characterised would be a species in the strict meaning of the word, and it ought to be so termed.

Section II.Observations on the means of determining as to Identity and Diversity of Species—Analogical Investigation—Ethnographical Investigation.

From what has been said it is obvious, that there must, in some instances, be a difficulty in ascertaining whether two races of animals or of plants, belonging to the same genus [110] and similar in many respects but different in others, are in reality so many distinct species or merely varieties of one species. The doubt can only be removed by a comprehensive survey of the phenomena related to the origin of varieties in breeds, and of facts in the animal economy, connected with their propagation. The inquiry divides itself into two heads; the first is an investigation of phenomena taking place in the particular races to be compared, and in respect to which the question has been set on foot; the second refers to other tribes bearing some analogy in their structure, and in the general laws of their economy to these particular races. The most immediate and decisive proof that the diversities observed between any given tribes constitute only varieties, arises from the discovery of corresponding phenomena of variation in those very races which are the subjects of comparison. Thus, if any one should maintain that asses are degenerated horses, he would establish his opinion to the conviction of every one, if he could only point out an instance in which horses have actually degenerated into asses. A less direct though still sufficient evidence may be furnished by facts which bear, by analogy, on the subject of research. If it can be proved that certain deviations in the form and structure of individuals, analogous to those which are the subjects of inquiry, actually occur in other tribes, that a provision is made for their developement in the laws of the animal economy, that there is nothing in the change supposed to have taken place out of the usual course of organized nature, the inference that such deviations constitute merely varieties, and do not amount to specific distinctions, will be established with a considerable degree of probability, though scarcely with that decisive evidence which the direct manner of proof affords. In adverting to researches into the physical varieties of mankind, the former method of inquiry must be termed the historical or ethnographical one, and the latter the analogical. The first comprises a survey of the different races of men, an investigation of their physical history, the ethnography, as it is termed, of every tribe of the human family, undertaken and pursued in such a manner as to enable us to determine what changes [111] have actually arisen in the physical characters of nations or human races. The second involves every consideration founded on physiology, or the laws of the animal economy, that may serve to elucidate the relation of different tribes to each other in respect to their physical characters and constitution.

 

4 thoughts on “Prichard on species 2

  1. Nice to see these meaty posts again! This one lets me draw a conclusion in regard to something else from the footnotes.

    ‘Physiologie Végétale’

    Populist science history of the 1930’s is sometimes drawn to presenting ‘garden history’, pre-historic celtic land is a blasted heath filled with trolls before it becomes a well ordered Anglo Saxon estate, which forms the basis for a new Eden.

    Texts express regret at the decline of “the decayed science of garden history”

    I suspect its the sense of order and the ideas that underpin the Victorian garden and the percieved disorder of modernity and the 1930’s that evokes loss.

    Emotional history here as well, a psychologie végétale.’

  2. Merry Christmas John.

    Thanks for your Christmas gift of, as Jeb says, a meaty post. For a plumber, meaty means close to unreadable but I fought my way through it.

    Sorry for the length by the way.

    Prichard published Researches Into the Physical History of Mankind when Darwin was aged four – his third edition in 1836 when Darwin was close to home on the Beagle – and then he died, Prichard that is, eleven years before Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’. So a time of transition – between pre-Darwinian definitions of ‘species’ and what came after – amounting to 26 definitions. Has anyone come up with another since your 26th?

    Prichard has only one definition: – ”The meaning attached to the term species in natural history is very definite and intelligible. …. A race of animals or of plants marked by any peculiar character which has always been constant and undeviating, constitutes a species;”

    Well that’s easy enough – species are constant and undeviating.

    Prichard says:- “ … two races are considered as specifically different, if they are distinguished from each other by some characteristic which the one cannot be supposed to have acquired, or the other to have lost through any known operation of physical causes; for we are, hence, led to conclude, that the tribes thus distinguished have not descended from the same original stock.”

    So branching, as we might expect, is not in his pack of cards, and somehow in what seems a veiled reference to use and disuse he appears to dismiss Lamarckism.

    He continues:- “This is the purport of the word species, as it has long been understood by writers on different departments of natural history. They agree essentially as to the sense which they appropriate to this term, though they have expressed themselves differently according as they have blended more or less of hypothesis with their conceptions of its meaning.”

    His stance then – Species don’t change and that’s a fact – and anything else is just theory so not to be believed. He’d be very happy in bible-belt land.

    You say his passage summarises the standard view at the turn of the century among naturalists. I beg to differ, even at Christmas when people buy me chocolate. To me, his passage summarises only his cherry picking to support his no change view. I think the Naturalists of the day were more enlightened – with chocolate coated cherries.

    Prichard’s view would dismiss the long steady struggle of naturalists towards an understanding of evolution – the attempts by naturalists, and many of them, to answer the basic question – fixed species or evolution.

    De Candolle, pondering the wealth of variety, clearly put much thought into this:- “we unite, under the designation of a species, all those individuals who mutually bear to each other so close a resemblance as to allow of our supposing, that they may have proceeded originally from a single being or a single pair.” So close but yet so far away.

    Pritchard notes though that De Candolle adds:- “ … this fundamental idea is evidently founded on an hypothesis, at least as far as its particular applications are concerned, though it is the only one which conveys precisely what naturalists mean by species.”

    Then Pritchard, straight for the jugular, dismisses all De Candolle’s deep thinking:- “M. De Candolle is certainly right in limiting what is hypothetical in the conception of species in its particular applications. The meaning of the term, as I have endeavoured to define it, is sufficiently distinct. To discover some better ground-work than hypothesis on which to rest in particular applications, is the main object of this part of my work.”

    Certainly Prichard deals with varieties at length, to determine whether they can be called races, species or any other term. I love his punch line though:- “But we are stopped in limine, by the consideration that all such ideas are merely conjectural, and that the investigations in which we are engaged, refer to matters of fact and not to probabilities.”

    My theory’s fact says Prichard and yours aren’t, they’re theories. – Ouch. Has he never heard the word maybe.

    So Prichard dismisses hundreds of years of naturalists pondering the imponderable.

    During those years, the species problem, fixed or evolving species had swung back and forth – and there are landmarks in this vacillation.

    Try sir Walter Raleigh in his History of the World [1614]. A seaman, he was puzzled how Noah’s Ark could have had room for two each of life’s abundant variety? He wrote: “… many of the species, which now seem differing, and of several kinds, were not then in rerum natura. For those beasts which are of mixed nature, either they were not in that age, or it was not needful to preserve them; seeing they might be generated again by others, as the mules, the hyenas, and the like; the one begot-ten by asses and mares, the other by foxes and wolves.” – He was tantalisingly close to evolution – aware of environmental effects too: “We also see it daily that the nature of fruits are changed by transplantation, some to better, some to worse, especially with the change of climate … the best of melons will change in a year or two to common cucumbers by being set in a barren soil”. (That’s the story of my life. – I could have been Mick Jagger.)

    Raleigh calculated with biblical mathematics, that the Ark could take on board two each of some 80 distinct species – 100 or so if you threw in a few “several kinds” – and that the rest ‘developed’ later. He thought that, from a few species created at the start, all current species evolved. But John Ray in his 1686 History of Plants wrote: “… one species never springs from the seed of another ….” Ray thought SPECIES WERE FIXED.

    Lamarck went for continual change by use and disuse, with miraculous moments providing seeds of new species here and there. He thought SPECIES EVOLVED. But Cuvier thought species were unchangeable, though he recognised transmutation. To explain this, based on his interpretation of the fossil record, he proposed wholesale catastrophes with successive Creations of whole new ranges of unchangeable species, this. To him the current range of SPECIES WERE FIXED.

    Lamarck and Cuvier set the stage. Naturalists who followed, way too many to list here, debated the pros and cons of transmutation. Surely Darwin took on board much from their literature. Prominent were his grandfather Erasmus Darwin with his Zoonomia and Robert Jameson, Professor of geology at Edinburgh, one of whose lectures was titled Origin of the Species of Animals.

    In 1813, many naturalists were persuing transmutation – but Pritchard dismisses all their work as mere speculation. Species and races are immutable he says. I have defined species so. And that’s that.

    My opinion, for what its worth, is that Prichard’s view somehow gives the feeling that, before Darwin came along, everybody was wrong. He fails to pay due respect to the work that naturalists were doing – and that his view hardly sums the standard view among naturalists. For hundreds of years many naturalists had studiously worked on transmutation. Darwin effectively managed to put all their pieces of the puzzle together, adding a means of evolution that did not require miraculous moments, so to give us his version of evolution.

    Thus Darwin answered the question housed in the word species. – ‘Are species fixed or do they evolve?’ He went for the latter – SPECIES EVOLVE.

    So why the species problem? Why 26 different definitions of the word.

    Of course, it’s not easy to define something that won’t stand still long enough to be defined – like species. But to confuse an already confusing issue, Eldredge and Gould came up with Punctuated Equilibrium, saying that species stand still for most of the time until punctuated moments.

    So species do change – but species remain stable. Define that if you can. It’s like trying to define Father Christmas. I mean we know he’s there – but not all the time.

    De Candolle’s work was in the classification of plants. The species problem is exemplified by classification. By listing all species, giving them names, the implication is that they will not change and will remain discrete. Cladistic classification though joins all species genetically to a common ancestor, so there is only one species. So why is it so hard to define it?

    It’s down to the question housed in the word. Initially that was simple – are species stable or changing? Now the question has evolved. Species do change but how – what exactly is the mechanism of evolution?

    Darwin’s answer was, the incremental addition or subtraction of variants to the whole – continual joined-up-change. But the shark we are familiar with has stayed the same for 100million years, long before any body even thought of Father Christmas.

    Prichard held that species don’t change. Ox stay Ox kind, Cats stay Cat kind and Dogs stay Dog kind – with gaps between them. That’s a fact he says – any disagreement is speculation and no more. But is the situation any different two hundred years later? What are the facts of evolution today – and what is speculation.

    This is my list of facts: Have I missed any?

    There is variety in life.
    The fossil record, backed by genetics, shows that life houses some form of family relationship between all species, and an overall tendency to evolve from simple to complex.
    Species can remain remarkably stable and long-lived.
    There are evident gaps between species in extant life.
    There are gaps between species in the fossil record.

    This last fact – gaps in the fossil record – is denied by science. But if someone had found just one full sequence of fossils to fill just one small gap between any two of billions of extinct species, they would be more than famous. In hundreds of years of fossil hunting, no one has ever found such fame.

    Darwinism supposes that incremental joined-up-change fills the evident gaps between species in the fossil record. In effect, that the width of variety extends to cross the gaps between extinct species. What is clear though is that, in extant life, the width of variety never seems to extend to cross the evident gaps.

    Why should variety expand its width to cross gaps between stable species in the fossil record – yet fail to do so in extant life?

    Eldredge and Gould’s Punctuated Equilibrium presents long-lived stable and discrete species. We are still with Prichard here – stable species with gaps between them. But what happens in the punctuation marks? That is still in the realm of speculation – enough now to feed 26 definitions of ‘species’.

    Does Darwin’s incremental change fill the gaps between one species and the next? Or is it possible that maybe there can be a leap between one stable species and the next.

    The problem with leaps in speciation though, is that science has only its one Darwinian mechanism of evolution, producing ‘joined-up-change’ – so science must deny leaps, as well as gaps.

    I’m fairly sure that I have a second mechanism that facilitates a leap. I have nearly finished ‘the book’ – but it has taken forty years. Maybe senility will get me before it’s finished. (Prichard’s claim to fame is that he defined senile dementia.)

    I’ve just met a problem with ‘the book’ though. My mechanism relies on the production of a ‘very special variant’ in ‘very special circumstance’. I need to give it a name. I did think one up, but with my snail-pace writing, some-one-else has used it in their publication first. No big deal. I came up with another, which has been happily ensconced in ‘the book’ for the past five years. Last week though I checked it out on google and guess what – someone has now used it for their concept. It now seems almost impossible to make a new word that no-one has already bagged – try it. Eventually, after an afternoon of trying, I made-up zlexp – nobody seems to want it this minute. So that’s the name for my ‘very special variant’ this week. A zlexp – pronounced leap of course.

    So what has this to do with Prichard? I am intrigued by the weird prospect that, in the evolution of language, because of the ubiquity of computers, new words are becoming hard to find. We are at a point where any convenient brief combination of letters has already been used for catchy names, acronyms, astronomical objects, crazy computer-speak words, scientific terms, genes, you name it.

    It’s sort of the species problem again.

    When De Vries named his Pangene and his Mutation, there weren’t too many new things to name nor computers to ‘spread the word’ – nor even that many people who could read. The computer is rapidly allowing a full spectrum of words – with no limitation. Without limitation, then there is soon a full spectrum of variety.

    Species are long-lived relatively stable discrete groups of variants – fact says Prichard – and let’s face it – that still seems the situation. There is not a merging spectrum of variety. Something limits variety – so that there are named species with gaps between them.

    Species then is about what of variety has disappeared – like Diplodocus – to leave gaps in what otherwise would be a full spectrum of variety.

    Check out our friend Tremaux you introduced us to on your blog a while ago, a contemporary of Prichard.

    He extended the ‘blending inheritance’ idea of two types becoming three. He said, if that idea is applied to the next generation, then the next and so on – before long you have countless types – in other words a full spectrum. But Tremaux’s thrust was that species attain equilibrium – remaining stable and discrete – in the same vein as Eldredge and Gould.

    He rationalised the situation in this manner: “But wait! A hair, an imperceptible thread, has slipped into this reasoning and vitiated it; the defect is this: the father and the mother belong to the current generation that is going to disappear, the child to the generation that succeeds it. Thus, the generation which disappears unites as a type in the following generation.”

    He makes a clear distinction between the current generation and the next – and that from one to the other, something disappears.

    Walter Raleigh in the preface to his 1614 History of the World, says: “There being nothing wherein nature so much triumpheth, as in dissimilitude.”

    But perhaps Nature so much triumpheth in a battle against disordered dissimilitude.

    Some of variety disappears – to provide the fact of stable discrete species – with gaps in what otherwise would be a full spectrum of life. Maybe Pritchard was right then.

    If this is so, then to explain evolution we need two mechanisms – one that produces ordered stability, and a second mechanism that leaps gaps between stabilities on occasion. Of course that’s where the zlexp comes in. (It’s pronounced ‘leap’ by the way.)

    [p.s. As it’s Christmas, am I allowed to mention the man who went into a hardware shop and asked for four Candolles?]

  3. The link to the archive.org leads to “The Natural History of Man,” which is not the same book as the “Researches into the Physical History of Man” later “… Mankind.”

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