skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Lawson Tait   11 June [1875]1

Abinger Hall | Wotton, Surrey

June 11th

My dear Sir

I telegraphed to my son to bring Bronn, but he has brought wrong work, & I cannot hunt for passage about tails of mice, if, as I believe there is such a passage.2

I enclose memorandum by my eldest son, who has just read book referred to, & quotes from my memory, but you may trust his his memory— The case illustrates well your view of use of bushy tails.—3

I shall be proud if you think fit to dedicate your essay to me.—

It is very kind of Mrs Tait to offer to aid me in proofs, but I fear that it is indispensable for me to correct my own proofs.—4

Believe me | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. It has just occurred to me to look at the Origin of Sp. (6th Edit. p. 170, & it is certain that Bronn in the appended Chapt. to his translation of my book into German, did advance ears & tail of various species of mice as a difficulty opposed to Nat. Selection.— I answered with respect to ears by alluding to Schöbl curious paper (I forget when published) on the hairs of the ears being sensitive & provided with nerves.—5 I presume he made fine sections: if you are accustomed to such histological work, wd it not be worth while to examine hairs of tail of mice?

At p. 189 I quote Henslow (confirmed by Günther) of Mus messorius (& other species?) using tail as prehensile organ.—6


Dr. Kane in his account of the Second Grinnell Expedition says that the Esquimaux in severe weather carry a fox’ tail tied to the neck which they use as a respirator by holding the tip of the tail between their teeth7

He says also that he found a frozen fox curled up with his nose buried in his tail.

NB. It is just possible that the latter fact is stated by McClintock not by Dr Kane8


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Lawson Tait, 5 June [1875].
See letter from Lawson Tait, 5 June [1875] and n. 4. Heinrich Georg Bronn had argued that some features, such as the length of the tail in rats, had no value, and hence they could not be subject to natural selection (Bronn trans. 1860, pp. 495–520). It is not known which of CD’s sons delivered the book, but it was probably Francis Darwin, who was CD’s secretary.
William Erasmus Darwin wrote the enclosure. Tait had argued that bushy tails were used by animals to retain heat when curled up (see letter from Lawson Tait, 12 March [1875]).
See letter from Lawson Tait, 5 June [1875]. Tait’s wife was Sybil Anne Tait.
See Origin 6th ed., pp. 171–2. CD mentioned Josef Schöbl’s work but did not cite a specific paper; Schöbl’s remarks were published in his paper, ‘Das äussere Ohr der Mäuse als wichtiges Tastorgan’ (The outer ear of the mouse as an important tactile organ; Schöbl 1871).
In Origin 6th ed., p. 189, CD referred to observations made by John Stevens Henslow and Albert Günther (see also Correspondence vol. 2, letter from J. S Henslow, 19 April 1841). Mus messorius is a synonym of Micromys minutus, the harvest mouse.
For the observation and an illustration, see Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic explorations (Kane 1856, 2: 24–5). The privately financed Grinnell expeditions of 1850–1 and 1853–5 were carried out by the US Navy to search for the Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin, lost in 1845; Kane was the surgeon and official historian on the journeys (ANB).
The statement was made by Kane in a diary entry of 17 January 1855, and published in Kane 1856 (see n. 7, above). Francis Leopold McClintock led a later expedition to the Arctic to search for the Franklin expedition (see McClintock 1859).


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Kane, Elisha Kent. 1856. Arctic explorations: the second Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, 1853, ’54, ’55. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson.

McClintock, Francis Leopold. 1859. The voyage of the Fox in the Arctic seas: a narrative of the discovery of the fate of Sir John Franklin and his companions. London: John Murray.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


Has found that H. G. Bronn in the chapter appended to his translation of Origin cited ears and tail of mice as facts opposed to natural selection. Suggests RLT examine hairs of tails of mice for possible nerves.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Sent from
Abinger Hall
Source of text
DAR 221.5: 24–5
Physical description
4pp, encl 1p (Photocopy)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10013,” accessed on 2 March 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23