Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection


The possibility, or even probability, of inherited variations of instinct in a state of nature will be strengthened by briefly considering a few cases under domestication. We shall thus be enabled to see the part which habit and the selection of so-called spontaneous variations have played in modifying the mental qualities of our domestic animals. It is notorious how much domestic animals vary in their mental qualities. With cats, for instance, one naturally takes to catching rats, and another mice, and these tendencies are known to be inherited. One cat, according to Mr. St. John, always brought home game birds, another hares or rabbits, and another hunted on marshy ground and almost nightly caught woodcocks or snipes. A number of curious and authentic instances could be given of various shades of disposition and taste, and likewise of the oddest tricks, associated with certain frames of mind or periods of time. But let us look to the familiar case of the breeds of dogs: it cannot be doubted that young pointers (I have myself seen striking instances) will sometimes point and even back other dogs the very first time that they are taken out; retrieving is certainly in some degree inherited by retrievers; and a tendency to run round, instead of at, a flock of sheep, by shepherd-dogs. I cannot see that these actions, performed without experience by the young, and in nearly the same manner by each individual, performed with eager delight by each breed, and without the end being known--for the young pointer can no more know that he points to aid his master, than the white butterfly knows why she lays her eggs on the leaf of the cabbage--I cannot see that these actions differ essentially from true instincts. If we were to behold one kind of wolf, when young and without any training, as soon as it scented its prey, stand motionless like a statue, and then slowly crawl forward with a peculiar gait; and another kind of wolf rushing round, instead of at, a herd of deer, and driving them to a distant point, we should assuredly call these actions instinctive. Domestic instincts, as they may be called, are certainly far less fixed than natural instincts; but they have been acted on by far less rigorous selection, and have been transmitted for an incomparably shorter period, under less fixed conditions of life.

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