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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   22 April 1871

The Cottage, | Guard Bridge, Fifeshire.

April 22/71

My Dear Mr Darwin,

It was truly kind of you to write as you did.1 I delayed replying, in order to have time to put in a dog-anecdote which came to mind—besides which the weather has been so fearful here that I caught cold and could hardly write.

I send two American Journals which came to me the other day—having marked one or two references which may interest you.2 The description of Profr. Huxley3 is characteristic of the Americans at any rate. I don’t see the Times—and no echoes of its thunder have reached here, to damage the “small beer” (as Thackeray would have called it) of the local press.4 Sir Alexr. Grant, principal of the Edgh. University, gave an orthodox address lately about your book.5 Everybody that can get hold of the book of course reads it. It seems strange for me to say, but I have not myself read it yet— it was begged from me immediately by our doctor in the neighbourhood, who carried off Vol 1st—and directly after came the liberal clergyman of my acquaintance, (a great admirer of Herbert Spencer &c &c) who snatched off Vol II, regardless of the order of things—and goodness knows how many readers there will be of my copy before I rescue it.6 However I always wait, on principle, to let people have their breath out before I read an important book— meanwhile I like to see all that is said. Before long, perhaps I may be allowed to give you any impressions that occur to me from the joint effect of carefully reading the Text, and general attention to the Commentaries.

My health has not been good—but I hope to be better soon, as the season improves, with the help of continued treatment. Dyspeptic causes are at the bottom of it, and hence it is difficult to manage.

It gives me great pleasure to hear of your setting about further work.7 In this view I do wish that I might hit on something in the way of facts about animals, to send you. Possibly some questions might occur to you, by the way, which would set one on the track of such.

I am exceedingly glad that “Bran” promises to turn out well—and hope his height will be what it ought—his roughness also.8 The irregular position of the ear is doubtless a relic of the half-erect (originally erect?) attitude which characterized the old Deerhound in that respect.

Meanwhile I mention what strikes me as a good anecdote. When the father of your Bran was a puppy of 3 or 4 months old, there were two puppies about a month (or more) older, sent to me by my brother-in-law9 in the Highlands, full cousins of the Deerhound puppy—Deerhound by the mother’s side, Retriever by the father’s, very intelligent and at the same time very quarrelsome towards their deerhound cousin “Wolf”. Wolf fought with them by turns most determinedly—and to his credit, always had the best of it in the end, though younger— The cross-bred puppies, however, going at him individually like young bulldogs. Once I was watching one of these juvenile fights without interference, except to keep off the disengaged puppy from assisting his brother (which the two had no scruple about doing)— there was at the same time near hand a grown-up deerhound or two, including, I think, little “Wolf’s” own mother, none of whom gave much heed, at any rate none of them did anything in the matter; whether withheld or not by deference to the master’s inaction, I cannot say. The contest became really so vicious, blood flowing, and throats being mutually worried, that I was on the point of putting a stop to it—when from the opposite end of the short avenue came running up another dog of the Kennel, the oldest of the lot, a five-year-old deerhound, uncle of the deerhound puppy Wolf, also uncle of the cross-bred combatant. This dog, Waterloo, rushed direct to the spot, seized the cross-bred puppy by the back, shook him well for a few seconds, then dropped him a little way off, in a bewildered condition which effectually terminated the battle—after which the big dog walked off as if satisfied that he had done the proper thing. What made it odder to me was, that the cross-bred puppy was as usual getting rather the worst of it—and though older, was not larger or stronger than his deerhound relative whom he fought. Could it be that the point of purity of blood had any part in the arbiter’s decision? The only other consideration by which the latter could be influenced, was that the cross-bred puppies had not been long in the Kennel, having come from a distance—whereas the pure-bred one had been all along familiar to him. In any view the incident is curious—more particularly for deerhounds, a race by no means comparatively intelligent. I give the circumstances exactly.

Speaking of deerhounds—there is a sound that some of them make, especially the bitches, when expressing high pleasure and courting notice (from wellknown people)—as near as possible like the purring of a cat, though not sustained for any time. Other dogs may perhaps do the same, but I have never observed it—though I have had dogs of various kinds.

One deerhound bitch, if I feed her myself, never begins to eat without first looking up to me, with a motion to lick my hand.— This same animal most remarkably exemplies the preference as to breeding, which I mentioned before.— I suppose you know that bitches, after suckling their puppies for a certain time, begin to feed them by bringing up partly-digested food which they themselves have swallowed. (This, to a breeder anxious to keep his puppies from flesh-diet, is a nuisance.)

My experience, and hearsay, still tend to the belief that female births are more numerous among dogs—that females are healthier, less liable to disease. I see it corroborated in some statistics about hydrophobia—what I had conjectured from general impression—that this disease is rarer in the female.— The digging, hole-scraping tendency comes out in them, as if transmitted through them(?)— With regard to “expression”, all of them are more fawning, more courtly in their ways, curling their lips and noses up in a very odd way to express a mingled shyness and desire to attract notice— you would certainly have thought a Newfoundland bitch I lately had, felt conscious anxiety in this sense, as to whether she was to be received or not into the same favour as deerhounds were.

An anecdote of a different kind, which I had nearly forgotten. Mrs Cupples was lately at the Revd. Dr Guthrie’s house—where your new book was spoken of, and a pious lady expressed horror at the name.10 Dr Guthrie said, My Dear Madam, I can assure you that there never was a greater compliment paid to Missionaries, for instance, than in one of Mr Darwin’s earlier works, which I have read.11 And so on. The idea among liberal clergymen evidently is—that however terrible your relentlessness as to pushing forward inquiry into unlawful regions, you are not a heathen. My friend Miss Hennell, author of various very able works12—alike frightful to the Christian traditionalist and to the secularizing Positivist—says to me that she wishes she could tell Mr Darwin how the bolder divines will extend their main doctrine so as to cover the whole genealogy in question. Miss Hennell sent me a rough draught of a kind of hymn on the subject, from her own point of view—which indicates that Poetry itself, of the devoutest order, is not extinguished by acceptance of your views to their utmost result.

Mrs Cupples desires to be remembered to Mrs Darwin, to Miss Darwin, and to yourself.13 She will have a book of her own, for juvenile readers, referring to animals—which she hopes to have the pleasure of sending ere long.14

Would it be too much to ask for a copy of your photograph for a lady (an intimate friend of my wife’s, and one of the best of women) who is greatly desirous to have it—though she did not venture to make the least suggestion as to such a request being made. Pray excuse it on my part. My wife says there was a photograph of your house taken—and if a spare one is to be had, would prize it much, in memory of her pleasant visit to Down.

Believe me ever truly yours | George Cupples

Charles Darwin, Esqre | Down—

CD annotations

1.1 It was … respect. 5.4] crossed pencil
2.14 Before … Commentaries. 2.16] scored red crayon
5.2 The irregular … respect. 5.4] double scored red crayon
6.18 This dog … thing. 6.21] double scored blue crayon
7.1 Speaking … nuisance.) 8.6] crossed pencil
9.1 My experience … female.— 9.4] double scored blue crayon; double scored pencil
9.4 that this disease … female.—] underl pencil
9.4 The digging, … on. 10.5] crossed blue crayon
10.6 that however … Down. 12.6] crossed pencil
11.1 Mrs Cupples … long. 11.3] scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘One dog helping another [del ‘in’] & separating combatants ??? G. Cupples’ pencil


The letter to Cupples has not been found, but may have been a reply to the letter from George Cupples, 21 February 1871.
The journals have not been identified.
Thomas Henry Huxley.
Cupples presumably refers to a hostile review of Descent printed in the Times, 7 April 1871, p. 3, and 8 April 1871, p. 5. William Makepeace Thackeray added an introductory essay, ‘On thunder and small beer’ to the second edition of his The Kickleburys on the Rhine (Thackeray 1851), comparing the ‘thunder’ of a negative review of the first edition in The Times with the ‘small beer’ of his own light (but successful) works. The Times was popularly known as the Thunderer.
Alexander Grant’s address to the Edinburgh University Philosophical Society on Descent was published in the Contemporary Review (Grant 1871; see the Newcastle Courant etc, 14 April 1871, p. 6).
Cupples refers to Descent. The local physician has not been identified. The liberal clergyman was probably Thomas Guthrie (see n. 10, below).
Cupples probably refers to CD’s work on Expression.
Bran was a deer-hound puppy given to CD by Cupples; see Correspondence vol. 18, letter to George Cupples, 14 November 1870.
Cupples’s brother-in-law has not been identified.
Cupples refers to Anne Jane Cupples and Thomas Guthrie. The pious lady has not been identified.
CD described the work of missionaries in Tahiti favourably in Journal of researches 2d ed., p. 414.
Sara Sophia Hennell wrote on Christianity and religion in general (see Hennell 1857, 1860a, 1860b, and 1865–[87]).
Cupples refers to Emma Darwin and Henrietta Emma Darwin. Anne Jane Cupples had visited Down in June 1869 (Correspondence vol. 17, letter from George Cupples, 20 June 1869).
Cupples may refer to Bertha Marchmont; or, All is not gold that glitters. A tale for the young (Cupples 1872).


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

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

Grant, Alexander. 1871. Philosophy and Mr. Darwin. Contemporary Review 17: 274–81.

Hennell, Sara Sophia. 1857. Christianity and infidelity: an exposition of the arguments on both sides. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue and Co.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

Thackeray, William Makepeace [M. A. Titmarsh, pseud.]. 1851. The Kickleburys on the Rhine. 2d edition. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


On reception of Descent in Edinburgh.

Anecdote about a dog helping another by separating combatants.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Guard Bridge
Source of text
DAR 87: 111–12c
Physical description
7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7707,” accessed on 29 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19