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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Boott   23 January 1863

24 Gower St.

Jany 23. 1863.

My Dear Darwin

My Son1 is troubled in his mind about the Cub, supposed to be the progeny of a Lioness & a mastif, & I have promised him to appeal to you for his relief.2 The Letter of Frank Buckland in the Field paper, I have sent to Lyell, with a request that he will send it on to you.3 You may have seen it, but I found yesterday that Lyell had not heard of it.

You will see a mention of the Cub in the note enclosed from my Son.4 In it he alludes to a photograph of the cub & his owner,5 which I have seen. If this strange birth is what Buckland considers it,6 is it not strange that cats & Dogs have not paired?

Do not return the paper, which Lyell will send, but pray say something to comfort my Son, if you know more than Buckland imparts.

I found Lyell with one of his last proofs, & full of scorn of Owen, for the proof had wood cuts of Brains, which brought him before us—7

Yrs sincerely | F. Boott

Charles Darwin Esq


Boott’s son has not been identified.
Boott refers to a report of two cubs, the result of an alleged cross between an African lion transported to England, and a large dog, itself the product of a true English Mastiff and a St Bernard (Bell’s Life in London, 16 November 1862, p. 5; Field, 6 December 1862, p. 515). No letter from CD on this subject has been found.
Boott refers to Charles Lyell and to the article by Francis Trevelyan Buckland entitled ‘Supposed hybrid between a lion and mastiff’, which appeared in the Field, 6 December 1862, p. 515 (see n. 2, above).
The enclosure has not been found.
In 1859, William Henry Patten-Saunders brought the lioness from Africa as a present for his mother (Bell’s Life in London, 16 November 1862, p. 5). A photograph of the cub has not been found.
Buckland had been invited to inspect the creatures, and although the owner emphasised the lion-like qualities of the cub, Buckland confessed that in his own ‘humble judgement’, the animals were ‘in external appearance, teeth, &c., amazingly like ordinary dogs, with much of the mastiff-mongrel about them’ (Field, 16 December 1862, p. 515).
Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a) was published on 9 February 1863 (Athenæum, 7 February 1863, p. 176). The last chapter considered the transmutation doctrine in relation to humans (pp. 471–506, with woodcuts of brain sections on pp. 482–3). In it, Lyell reviewed the public controversy between Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley concerning the similarities and differences between human and simian brains, now often referred to as the ‘hippocampus controversy’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 480–93). On the hippocampus controversy, see Correspondence vols. 8–10, A. Desmond 1982, and Rupke 1994.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

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

Desmond, Adrian. 1982. Archetypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.


His son wants CD’s opinion about a cub supposed by Frank Buckland to be progeny of a lioness and mastiff.

Lyell working at last proofs [of Antiquity of man]; he is scornful of Owen.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Boott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Gower St, 24
Source of text
DAR 160: 254
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3938,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11