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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. B. Brady   18 October 1871

Mosley St, | Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Oct: 18th. 1871

My dear Sir,

I have just returned from a little tour in the United States. Whilst at Boston—Prof Shaler1 shewed me much kindness and one day when talking after dinner at his home I elicited the fol⁠⟨⁠lowing⁠⟩⁠ circumstances which, unless they are already well known to you, will I think be of much interest— if known, no harm is done,— to me they were quite new, but that might easily be. ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ I manifested some ⁠⟨⁠curi⁠⟩⁠osity as to what the rattle of the ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ snake really sounded like— ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ only by the shaking of the ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ skins one sees in European museums. He replied—in reality it is such a sound as you might imagine the dried specimen to produce if hung or a tuning fork or if by any other means a musical rythm could be imparted to it— in fact (he added) knowing rattlesnakes as well as I do, I could ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ now, distinguish their ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ from the whirr of the g⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ so common in the west.2 I suggested that there was wonderful significance in this fact from a Natural Selection point of view & to this he not only assented but said it had long appeared to him to be the real explanation.— I don’t know how far this observation may be original—but I told Prof. Shaler I shd. transmit it to you on my return on the chance of its being of value—, the rattle snake having been regarded by many as a difficulty in the way of the natural selection doctrine.3

I met my friend Mr. Pryor4 of Trin. College at Philadelphia again a little more than a fortnight ago at the 5th Ave. Hotel at New York.— Your sons were with him & well;5 but as chance had it, though a good deal with Mr Pryor I never met them personally.

Yours very truly | Henry B. Brady.

Charles Darwin Esq MA. F.R.S. | &c. &c. &c.

CD annotations

End of letter: ‘Dog & [Hybridism] | [quote] Flower’

Footnotes

In Expression, p. 107, CD cited an 1872 publication by Shaler for the information that the rattlesnake sounded like a cicada in the same district; however, he disagreed with Shaler’s theory that the rattling served to attract birds, believing rather that it was a warning to predators (ibid., n. 27).
Some authors thought that the rattlesnake was furnished with a rattle in order to warn its prey: see Origin, p. 201.
George Howard and Francis Darwin were travelling in the United States (see letter to Asa Gray, 16 July [1871]).

Bibliography

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Summary

On visit to Boston was told by N. S. Shaler how habits of rattlesnake are consistent with natural selection. Informs CD, as rattlesnake is considered by some a difficult case for his theory.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-8015
From
Henry Bowman Brady
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Source of text
DAR 160: 277
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged †, 2 CD notes damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8015,” accessed on 16 August 2022, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-8015.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19

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