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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   27 May 1878

The Cottage, | Guard Bridge | Fifeshire. N.B.

Monday | May 27/78

My Dear Mr Darwin,

It is with great reluctance that I venture to intrude on you with a query in reference to the subject I am now busily engaged in—and which I hope to have done with soon now—viz—the Scotch Deerhound breed or race (treated in a popular-monograph way.)1 Probably it will trouble you least if I make no further preliminary, so I may at once say that the query is simply this:—

(Taking for granted your principle—as to the likelihood of peculiarities being sexually transmitted—e.g. greater size on the part of (either I suppose the female or) the male deerhd., according as certain conditions may have obtained—such as that the peculiarity should be found to show itself late in the young, or the reverse—and as cats seem for example to do with colour—&c &c)2

Hitherto I had looked at this on the supposition that the Deerhd. race or breed gradually had increased in size from their original stock—keeping in mind also what you say of the probability that the sexual difference of size is more now “than in the aboriginal parent-species.”3

But I should like to know how the case would stand in regard to your rule or principle if it were supposed that the aboriginal parent-species had been larger than any subsequent derived stock?

I am supposing that the original deerhound is perhaps a nearly-related descendant from an extinct great dog, such as is indicated in the following data.

1. Your own reference to De Blainville’s supposition of a single dog as the source of all dogs, and to the “remains in later tertiary deposits more like those of a large dog than of a wolf—”. Variation of Animals vol. 1. 1.4

2. In Col. Hamilton Smith’s book.

1 { reference to “the Agnotherium” of Kaup
2 “the Canis spelæus of Goldfuss, in the cavern of Gailenruth.”5

3. The large skull mentioned in Richardson’s manual on Dogs, as having been found “in a bog in Westmeath, in Ireland,” and observed to present characteristics that leave doubt whether it was that of a bear (Polar) or of a dog (Irish greyhound type, but) of immense size.6

Now I do sincerely beg pardon for all this—still it may not be uninteresting to you—and if you conveniently (and everyway) can send me a line or two, merely saying whether and how the case would be altered on the supposition that the Scotch deerhound (and Irish greyhd) race is descended (and closely) from any such large extinct dog (as that on the foregoing page)— Might not the case be one of gradual diminution of size and degeneration in various respects—but the male diminishing (and degenerating) more slowly.

Domesticated breeds, I suppose, from what you say in your works, generally increase in size—but I fancy it is sometimes the reverse.7 Men do actually breed deerhounds smaller, of set purpose. The whole history seems to imply gradual degeneration—& I should like to know who Kaup and Gailenruth were.8

The main point is, to know whether the principle (as to sexual disparity of size in favour of the male,) would hold good in any case—such as the reversion or inversion of the process of growth in the size of the said breed.

I take this opportunity of saying that I have had many fresh confirmations from various experts, as to the fact of the said disparity (in favour of the male.) and of its being very marked. Of course this implies that it would become less marked in dogs at all cross-bred. Now, how would this tell? For the farther we go back, it might be that the breed is then to be supposed more pure? And the peculiarity hence more obvious? Yet I am imagining that some difference (in favour of clearness &c) might be obtained to a monographic view of the matter, when the original stock is considered as larger in size—dog and bitch perhaps not at all so disparate as now, however.

I am with great respect and true regard | Yours truly | George Cupples

Postscript | I have added this in order to make explicit apology. What I have written may be too tedious—and besides may have nothing of consequence in it, in which case I of course do not wish to have any reply so far as it is concerned. I should very much like to know, however, how your health keeps. I am myself tolerably well. Mrs Cupples9 is just now in London, and intended to try to make her way by Beckenham, in order to find out whether Mrs Darwin and you are at home. She did not know of my writing to you— indeed it only struck me this morning to do so. George Cupples

CD annotations

8.2 characteristics ... size. 8.4] scored red crayon
10.4 I ... were.] scored red crayon


Cupples’s book Scotch deer-hounds and their masters was published posthumously in 1894 (Cupples 1894).
See Variation 2: 71–5 and Descent 1: 279–99.
Variation 2: 73.
Variation 1: 15–16. CD had cited Henri de Blainville’s work Ostéographie (Blainville 1839–68, 2 (P): 142).
See The natural history of dogs by Charles Hamilton Smith (C. H. Smith 1839–40, 1: 106). The extinct Miocene genus Agnotherium was named by Johann Jakob Kaup; it was a large carnivore, sometimes known as the bear-dog. Georg August Goldfuss had described the late Pleistocene species Canis spelaeus from bones found in the Gailenreuth cave near Muggendorf, Bavaria, Germany (Goldfuss 1823, p. 451).
Henry Downing Richardson discussed the characteristics of the skull and speculated that it belonged to an extinct animal allied to, but not identical with, the dog, with similarities to bears and perhaps hyenas. He noted that the only extant bear with a similar skull was Ursus maritimus (the polar bear; Richardson 1847, pp. 35–6).
See, for example, Origin, p. 11, and Variation 2: 174.
Cupples evidently intended Goldfuss rather than Gailenreuth; see n. 5, above.


Cupples, George. 1894. Scotch deer-hounds and their masters. With a biographical sketch of the author by James Hutchison Stirling. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Goldfuss, Georg August. 1823. Osteologische Beiträge zur Kenntniss verschiedener Säugthiere der Vorwelt. V. Ueber den Hölenwolf (Canis spelaeus). Nova Acta Physico-medica Academiae Caesareae Leopoldino-Carolinae Naturae Curiosorum 11: 451–5 .

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.

Smith, Charles Hamilton. 1839–40. The natural history of dogs: Canidæ or genus Canis of authors. Including also the genera Hyæna and Proteles. 2 vols. (Vols. 4 and 5 of Mammalia in The naturalist’s library, edited by William Jardine.) Edinburgh: W. H. Lizars.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Applies sexual selection to origin of dog race [deerhound]. Proposes descent from a large extinct dog.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Guard Bridge
Source of text
DAR 161: 304
Physical description
ALS 5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11532,” accessed on 1 October 2023,