skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   1 May 1868

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

May 1/68.


I hope you will excuse the liberty a stranger takes, and that my letter may show ground for the indulgence. It is long since I began to know your works from the “Voyage of a Naturalist” (having myself gone half round the world, and been in the East Indies for a short time in early life)—1 I read the “Origin of Species” with great interest, and have now been reading your recent book.2 I have no further scientific knowledge than educated people and litterateurs ordinarily possess—but I see there is one slight relation to it which I may claim after observing your frequent references to facts communicated by “breeders”. It so happens that I have been for many years an enthusiastic amateur-breeder of a special race of dogs—namely, Scotch Deerhounds. Not only so, but I think I may say that no one else has ever taken so much pains, or gathered so much information, in regard to this one breed of dogs—a breed in various respects quite peculiar, as you yourself incline to believe.3 I am preparing for publication a “Monograph” on the subject—and the object of my letter mainly is to state on the one hand that I might possibly be able to furnish a few facts in connection, supposing you ever to require more notes on Dogs—on the other hand to ask if you might perhaps favour me with your opinion on one or two points, should they turn up in that view while my brochure proceeds. They would be put in a single note, and your command of the whole range of such questions, as well as of books, is such that they could not trouble you.4

At all events I take the opportunity which may be my only one, to mention one or two trifles that occur to me at present.

Mr Scrope (quoted three or four times in your recent work) was no authority whatever on Deerhounds, as he admits, himself. The whole of that portion of his book was contributed by Mr Mc.Neill, brother of Lord Colonsay and Sir John Mc.Neill—who were the three preservers of that breed of dogs from extinction, in Europe at least.5

The special proportion of size between male and female deerhound is a point, perhaps, worth going into more particularly—so perhaps are their colours—the date to which the race may be traced back—also their ethnical relations & associations—with other matters.

In reference to the question whether the imagination of a (human) mother may be so affected as to influence the character of offspring—I venture to think that authentic cases of it could be proved as clearly as possible in any matter of circumstantial proof. The proof might not directly favour the “hypothesis of Pangenesis”, but might it not do so, indirectly?6

Hoping to be pardoned in any view of such matters, I remain, Sir, | yours obediently | George Cupples

Charles Darwin, Esqre.

CD annotations

4.1 The … matters. 4.4] scored red crayon


Cupples refers to Journal of researches; the second edition of 1845 had the spine title Naturalist’s voyage, and the 1860 edition had the spine title Naturalist’s voyage round the world. When he was about 16 years old, he had served as an apprentice on the Patriot king on an eighteen-month voyage to India and back (Cupples 1894, Modern English biography).
Cupples refers to Origin and Variation.
In Variation 2: 73, CD stated that the two sexes of the Scottish deer-hound differed in size more than those of any other variety of dog.
Cupples’s work on deer-hounds was published posthumously in 1894, in Scotch deer-hounds and their masters (Cupples 1894). CD and his work in Origin, Variation, and Descent were discussed in Cupples 1894, pp. 163–8.
William Scrope’s Art of deer stalking (Scrope 1838) was cited in Variation 2: 73 (see n. 3, above), and ibid, p. 121 (for his opinion that the rarity and deterioration in size of Scottish deer-hounds was due to close interbreeding). The discussion of deer-hounds or greyhounds in Scrope 1838, pp. 333–45, was contributed by Archibald McNeill, brother of Duncan McNeill, Baron Colonsay and Oronsay, and of John McNeill. CD drew attention to this fact in Descent 2: 261 n. 34.
CD threw doubt on the belief that the mother’s imagination could affect her foetus in Variation 2: 263–4. He put forward his provisional hypothesis of pangenesis in Variation 2: 357–404. For more on belief in the effect of maternal imagination, see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to George Maw, 4 June [1865] and n. 3.


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

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.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Modern English biography: Modern English biography, containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850. By Frederick Boase. 3 vols. and supplement (3 vols.). Truro, Cornwall: the author. 1892–1921.

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.

Scrope, William. 1838. The art of deer-stalking; illustrated by a narrative of a few days’ sport in the forest of Atholl, with some account of the nature and habits of red deer, and a short description of the Scotch forests; legends; superstitions; stories of poachers and freebooters, &c. &c. London: John Murray.

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


Has read Variation;

is preparing a monograph on Scotch deerhounds. Offers CD information on size of male and female deerhounds.

Might not the effect of human mother’s imagination on "character of offspring" support Pangenesis?

Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Guard Bridge
Source of text
DAR 161: 283
Physical description
2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6157,” accessed on 18 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16