But does it follow from this that non-sexually-propagated varieties are endowed with the same power of unlimited duration that is possessed by varieties and species propagated sexually—i.e., by seed? Those who think so jump too soon at their conclusion. For, as to the facts, it is not enough to point out the diseases or the trouble in the soil or the atmosphere to which certain old fruits are succumbing, nor to prove that a parasitic fungus (Peronospora infestans) is what is the matter with potatoes. For how else would constitutional debility, if such there be, more naturally manifest itself than in such increased liability or diminished resistance to such attacks? And if you say that, anyhow, such varieties do not die of old age—meaning that each individual attacked does not die of old age, but of manifest disease—it may be asked in return, what individual man ever dies of old age in any other sense than of a similar inability to resist invasions which in earlier years would have produced no noticeable effect? Aged people die of a slight cold or a slight accident, but the inevitable weakness that attends old age is what makes these slight attacks fatal.
Finally, there is a philosophical argument which tells strongly for some limitation of the duration of non-sexually propagated forms, one that probably Knight never thought of, but which we should not have expected recent writers to overlook. When Mr. Darwin announced the principle that cross-fertilization between the individuals of a species is the plan of Nature, and is practically so universal that it fairly sustains his inference that no hermaphrodite species continually self-fertilized would continue to exist, he made it clear to all who apprehend and receive the principle that a series of plants propagated by buds only must have weaker hold of life than a series reproduced by seed. For the former is the closest possible kind of close breeding. Upon this ground such varieties may be expected ultimately to die out; but “the mills of the gods grind so exceeding slow” that we cannot say that any particular grist has been actually ground out under human observation.
If it be asked how the asserted principle is proved or made probable, we can here merely say that the proof is wholly inferential. But the inference is drawn from such a vast array of facts that it is wellnigh irresistible. It is the legitimate explanation of those arrangements in Nature to secure cross-fertilization in the species, either constantly or occasionally, which are so general, so varied and diverse, and, we may add, so exquisite and wonderful, that, once propounded, we see that it must be true.* What else, indeed, is the meaning and