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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas Seare   18 September 1876

At Mrs. R. White’s | Aspley Heath | Woburn Sands

18 Septr— 1876—

Sir

I am induced to trouble you with this note under the belief that you must be glad to receive a communication even from a stranger of any curious incident in Natural History, especially when bearing upon such subjects as are treated of in your works— I have just been informed by a superannuated gamekeeper on the estate of a very great noble, that in one of his rambles he started a hare just as she was in the act of dropping a leveret. Upon coming up to her nest, he found there another leveret, which had also been very recently born (perhaps about 5 minutes before his arrival)— Leverets, he told me, are born with their eyes open.1 And he assured me that he saw the elder of the abovementioned pair begin at once to lick the younger as if it had been its offspring, & go through the task so completely that, before concluding, the younger one was as clean as the elder.

He was evidently not aware of its being customary for leverets to perform such a work for their younger brothers & sisters. But unless such a custom exists, & is transmitted in the character of hereditary leveret work (if I may so express myself) the case seems inevitably to be one of transmission to young of a practice preexisting in parents only— My informant did not state whether he had observed the sex of the precocious matron—but, if that be important, I can enquire about it—

May I ask (as an additional venture) whether your attention has been directed to Dr Richardson’s recent communications to “Nature” upon Vivisection—especially to a passage in the 2nd. column of p 340 of vol 14 now in course of publication. It there appears that rabbits, through breathing air charged with the vapour of nitrite of amyl were cured of a species of lepra—the increased capillary circulation causing the scales to fall off & healthy skin to appear, upon which fur began to grow—2 I feel my presumption, but I cannot help submitting to your consideration the question whether some great change in the terrestrial atmosphere in past ages,—or the closing up in reptiles of the 2 auricles of the heart—may not have been the cause of a change of covering, from scales to fur or feathers in their descendants— If the idea I have presented is nonsensical,:—or already familiar in some shape or other—I trust you will excuse it—& pray excuse also my adding how grateful I feel for the enormous pleasure which (although an unscientific person) I have derived from the perusal of your wonderful books—

I am Sir, with | profound respect, | Your obedt. Servt | Thos. Seare—

Chas. Darwin Esqre.

CD annotations

3.10 from ... nonsensical, 3.11] scored blue crayon

Footnotes

Seare evidently refers to Lepus europaeus (the brown hare). Babies (leverets) are born fully furred with eyes open, unlike rabbits, which are born naked and blind.
In the sixth part of his seven-part report on animal experimentation ‘for the advance of practical medicine’ (B. W. Richardson 1876, pp. 339–41), Benjamin Ward Richardson described the effects of nitrite of amyl on human and animal subjects and noted that rabbits with a skin disease resembling human lepra improved after contact with the vapour (ibid., p. 340). Richardson evidently used the term lepra as a synonym for psoriasis; in modern usage, it refers to the leprosy bacillus (OED).

Bibliography

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Richardson, Benjamin Ward. 1876. Abstract report to ‘Nature’ on experimentation on animals for the advance of practical medicine. Nature, 15 June 1876, pp. 149–52; 22 June 1876, pp. 170–2; 29 June 1876, pp. 197–9; 20 July 1876, pp. 250–2; 3 August 1876, pp. 289–91; 17 August 1876, pp. 339–41; 31 August 1876, pp. 369–72.

Summary

Describes example of instinctive behaviour in new-born leveret.

Cites experiment in which rabbit breathed vapour of nitrite of amyl.

Suggests that change in terrestrial atmosphere is responsible for evolution from scales to fur or feathers.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-10607
From
Thomas Seare
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Woburn Sands
Source of text
DAR 177: 125
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10607,” accessed on 16 September 2021, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-10607.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24

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