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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   22 March 1869

Guard Bridge | Fifeshire. N.B.

March 22/69.

Dear Mr Darwin,

Today I was about to write to you at any rate—when I got your note.1

In the first place I have to say that I shall during the whole of this season look out in every possible way for statistics as to comparative number in the sexes of any animals whose birth-records have been at all taken.2

Secondly I shall weigh every litter of puppies I may have—beginning at a week old—and I will secure aid in the same way from several other breeders of deerhounds and similar dogs, most of whom have been in the habit of weighing their puppies at any rate.

Lastly—to return to the trifling results of previous contributions on my part. These would appear to have gone against your own drift, so far—but on looking at the figures you bring out in comparison between male and female, if you mean that the adult dog & bitch measure as 90 to 70 lbs, I cannot agree that this proportion truly marks the difference. A bitch of 70 lbs would, if I can judge in the rough way, be a well-sized if not a large bitch—whereas a dog of 90 lbs (deerhound) would not be remarkable. I think the dogs go up much higher, and the bitches not so— then a bitch is fleshier, and the dog has generally been weighed in running condition—i.e. when lean. I lately measured a dog (Russian Wolfhound so-called, from the Emperor’s Kennels, with nothing of the Deerhound breed about him, but still of the hound type). he stood 33 inches high at shoulder, or nearly so—and in low condition weighed 152 lbs. The Scotch Deerhound & the Irish Greyhound (Wolf-dog, same race as Deerhound) is universally testified of as standing, in former days when thoroughly used & bred, up to 34, 35, and even 36 inches. His weight must have gone up near 200 lbs. Quere—did the bitches share in the present degeneracy? N.B. Within the last 20 years, the effect of English breeding and Dogshows on Deerhounds has been to raise the average and extreme height of the Deerhound again, about an inch, or more—i.e. from an average of 28 inches to 29 &c., and this without the benefit of suitable active use in the Forest. I believe that the previous resort to crossing, in Scotland, obviously brought down the difference between male & female.

I merely throw out these hasty notes, trusting to clear the ground at least. It is for you to judge whether the Deerhound (as the present race of dogs for about 3000 years at any rate) is worth building anything upon. If so, then any trouble that can come near statistical accuracy nowadays is worth taking in the matter.

If Wolves could in any way be reached, it might be important—but I suppose they cannot. The weight of a large Russian wolf has been found in one case 101 lbs (or 110, I am not sure at this moment which) in running condition (as a wolf always is.) His height I suppose from from 28 up to 29 inches at the shoulder—his shoulder being disproportionately high, I believe. In some of the old manuals about Wolfhunting in France, I think there are minutiae about the difference between the sexes in some points.

As to the comparative size of the young puppies, my belief is that the weighings given you by me (however correct) are not to be depended on as representing the normal facts. 90 to 83 is what you find here, as I understand it, for the proportion. The proper way would be to weigh a number of litters, when the puppies are all left with their own mother—and where the total number does not exceed 4 or 6 puppies. No breeder does otherwise, as a rule. It has to be considered that sometimes 12 or even 14 puppies may be born—at other times 2, 3, 4 &c. Mr Wright’s3 bitch-puppies (3 born, I think) weighed near, or more than, my dog-puppies (of a 7-born litter.) At the same time I had 4 bitch-puppies (4 born, 1 dying in a day or two, 1 dying in a week)—and they weighed near Mr Wright’s.

In your last note you say “On reflection I daresay the Bitch-puppies so soon exceeding in weight the Dog-puppies was caused by their foster-mother having fewer to nurse.” I suppose there is a lapsus styli4 here—you mean the Dogs exceeding the bitches so soon, I presume. The bitches were with the foster-mother. But I incline to agree that a difference may have been exaggerated by this. The mother, I suspect, was the more favourable nurse, ceteris paribus.5

In short, As your drift would be contradicted apparently by this very insufficient instance, I am glad to repeat what I said before I knew the drift—that I believe the difference does not mark itself to that degree at so early an age.

Most anxiously do I wish I could contribute even the slightest point of (pregnant) fact—and shall see what this year can do.

It has sometimes been a question with me whether—on the one hand the mother ever gives any early preference to the male puppy as bigger, and on the other hand whether the forwardness and precocity of the female puppy is ever so soon marked as to give itself an advantage, or perhaps to redress any balance in this respect. Such queries are, I suppose, mere ineptitude.— Again as to number of the sexes, I should certainly like to know when you hear anything from the Greyhound quarter—or from Stud-books. The male in man, I presume, is undoubted during the short period in which statistics have been taken.

Please to excuse my prolixity. My next steps will be to communicate with Mr Wright and two or three others—and I shall endeavour not to trouble you with mere trifles.

Believe me Most truly yours | George Cupples

Charles Darwin, Esq.

CD annotations

1.1 Today … far 4.2] crossed blue pencil
4.4 adult … marks 4.5] double scored blue pencil
4.5 judge … female. 4.20] crossed blue pencil
5.3 If … matter. 5.4] double scored blue pencil
8.2 weight … here— 8.3] scored blue pencil


CD’s letter has not been found.
For more on CD’s interest in proportion of sexes in domestic animals, see the letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 5 February [1869] and n. 2.
John Wright.
‘Lapsus styli’: slip of the pen (Latin).
‘Ceteris paribus’: all other things being equal (Latin). CD hypothesised that characteristics acquired later in life tended to be transmitted to one sex alone (see Descent 2: 260–2). Under this hypothesis, CD expected the size of the male and female puppies to remain similar, only diverging at a later stage of development.


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


Will look for sex ratio statistics.

Will weigh pups.

Deerhound breeding;


Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Guard Bridge
Source of text
DAR 161: 291
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6679,” accessed on 26 January 2021,

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