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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Archibald McNeill   24 January 1869

73 Gt. King Street | Edinh.

24th. Jany. 1869

Dear Sir

I am much pleased to learn from yours of the 18th. that the information sent by me to Mr. Cupples has been interesting to you—1

As to the question on wh. you now wish information vizt. whether the branches on the horns of deer are intended for use or ornament I feel some diffy., but am of opinion that they are probably intended for both purposes— For while I know that some of the branches are useful in attack and defence, there are others that I never saw brot. into action and I am inclined to think your remark correct that a single point at the top of the horn wd. be more effective in combat than three points and in fact stags frequently have only one point—but the brow antlers wh. incline downwards are a great protection to the forehead, & as the their points are turned outwards they are used effectually in attack—2

I have very seldom had a dog killed by a deer for my dogs were deer hounds & not Stag hounds and were used only for coursing, and as a Stag will not turn to bay till he is exhausted a good deer hound will run up to him & pull him down before he is blowen— on this subject you may perhaps find in Mr. Scropes Book on deer stalking some of the information you desire—3

In regard to the other branches I am not aware that they are much used in their fights with each other but I have seen stags in a half tame state use them when fighting with Bulls by bringing the antlers into contact with the Bulls forehead & in every case with success—

I may here mention what is not Geny. known that I have frequently seen Stags in a half tame serve Cows, but of course there was no proginy—

The long hair on the Stags neck may be intended for ornamint but it is also a great protecton to him when hunted by dogs who generally seize the throat—4

I am sorry that I cannot give more specific information on a Subject in wh. I take great interest having had for many years an opportunity of studing the habits of difft. sorts of animals

Believe me to be | Yours faithy. | Archd. Mc.Neill

CD annotations

1.1 I am … dog killed 3.1] crossed ink
2.2 I feel … purposes— 2.3] double scored ink
3.1 by a deer … desire— 3.5] crossed blue crayon
4.1 In … success— 4.4] crossed ink
5.1 I may … cannot 7.1] crossed blue crayon
6.1 The long … throat— 6.2] double scored ink
7.1 give … animals 7.3] crossed ink


CD’s letter has not been found, but see the letter from George Cupples, 15 January 1869.
In Descent 2: 253, CD cited McNeill for this information.
McNeill refers to William Scrope and Scrope 1838.
CD cited McNeill for this information in Descent 2: 268.


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

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.


Answer to CD’s query as to whether horns on deer are for use or ornament. [See Descent 2: 252–3.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Archibald McNeill
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 83: 175–6
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6574,” accessed on 6 April 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17