Excerpt from Appendix, Note B, pp.364-365
This excerpt is the first three sentences from the first paragraph of Note B. In these three sentences, Matthew aptly summarises the precepts that generate the principle of natural selection. In the rest of Note B, Matthew uses this natural law to critique the laws of entail (laws of inheritance via first-born sons, regardless of their ability). Note B is given the title “On hereditary nobility and entail” in the book’s Contents.
THERE is a law universal in nature, tending to render every reproductive being the best possibly suited to its condition that its kind, or that organized matter, is susceptible of, which appears intended to model the physical and mental or instinctive powers, to their highest perfection, and to continue them so. This law sustains the lion in his strength, the hare in her swiftness, and the fox in his wiles. As Nature, in all her modifications of life, has a power of increase far beyond what is needed to supply the place of what falls by Time’s decay, those individuals who possess not the requisite strength, swiftness, hardihood, or cunning, fall prematurely without reproducing—either a prey to their natural devourers, or sinking under disease, generally induced by want of nourishment, their place being occupied by the more perfect of their own kind, who are pressing on the means of subsistence.