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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   11 March 1869

The Cottage | Guard Bridge | Fifeshire. N.B

(Thursday) March 11/69

Dear Mr Darwin,

I was going to write further to you at any rate, and to ask whether additional observations this season, by myself and others, might not be still of use. Of this I shall speak after answering your question.1

I do not think that at 5 weeks old (or even so soon as 5 months old) the difference in stature between puppies of the opposite sexes is equal or appears equal to the difference when they are adult. This, I think, is the question. I must answer it more fully, however. 1st I am confident that, although there is probably then a difference, invariably in favour of the male in all deerhound dogs—yet it does not show itself on the average so decidedly at that early age, in stature, length, strength, or weight—I take these all together. Hence, so far as this conviction is traversed by the record of weights I gave, I should say those weights are probably to be viewed as exceptional, accidental, and insufficiently-extended data. The record was the first of the kind I ever made— it is not easy to weigh puppies, because one is afraid to hurt, expose, or risk their falling, when inexperienced in the process, and not provided with all necessary apparatus for weighing. The mother & the nurse-bitch are to be considered. The mother may be worth laying stress upon— She was herself the smallest bitch in a litter of seven (4 dogs & 3 bitches)— she always “throws” large dogs and small bitches very obviously (her sisters do so not quite so obviously, in one case when the same dog was father.) She (the mother of the pups weighed), I may mention, is one of the bitches whose case I gave you as strongly marking sexual preference—notwithstanding the fact about the Russian interloper, she evinces a marked preference in every case for the large Deerhound (in his prime) to whom she was first put, and who has all along been concerned in her various litters, in fact never failing even when admitted secondarily (it seems.)2

2d. The adult difference of stature &c—may be pretty correctly but roughly stated from all experience and testimony, thus—

(in modern times)
Height of male ranging from 27 inches (very low) to 33 or 34 inches (rare)
female— from 23 in (not abnormal) to 2712 or 28 uncommon
one female only in all the pedigrees I know of, stood 30 inches
Length— in proportion.
Girth of chest &c. in more than proportion favourable to the male from exercise, I should say,
Weight of male from 80 lbs (low) up to 120 lbs or considerably more
female from 50 lbs to 70 or 80 at farthest.

These figures might be brought to accuracy, if it were required, with time given me.

3. The male grows in stature till from 12mos. to 18mos. in length similarly— In weight &c.—from 18 to 24mos. The female grows in stature till from 9mos to 14 or 15mos in length similarly. In weight & general size from till 12mos. to 15mos.

This, I think, is as correct as any amount of opinion & judgment (apart from scientific statistics) would give it. And for general purposes Nos. 2 & 3 may be depended upon.

The table meanwhile should perhaps yield to these.

As to further observations proposed or obtainable:—

In regard to weights of puppies, male & female, at same age— I am confident that Mr Wright 3 has a series of records. I shall therefore endeavour to get these from him at once, if your time allows them yet to come in to consideration.

I could obtain records of the same kind, I believe, from a very careful observer (in Gloucestershire, a friend of Mr Wright’s and mine)4—in regard to Cross-bred puppies, however. They are specially bred with a view to reproducing a large Wolfhound strain (like the old Irish)—on the stock of the Scotch deerhound.

I could myself, during the whole course of this year, take careful comparative weights from the litters of no less than five Deerhound bitches of my own—to be put to three or four different dogs (Deerhound) of my own. If this is not too long a time to talk of, the result would be perfectly reliable, now that I have begun.

At present I have two dog-puppies alone, between 2 & 3 weeks old, from the bitch whose former puppies were weighed. The others will come successively, from summer to autumn. (The rest of the present litter died when newly-born—females in a minority of 3 to 4 dogs this time, as before.)

I have just now two pure Newfoundland puppies, dog & bitch, of one litter—3 to 4 months old. I could weigh and measure them weekly. I could also command measurements on the part of two or three gentlemen who have got bitches from me.

I may be able to find out yet about Mr Barr’s5 statistics of male & female numbers —and I might obtain other statistics in this direction. Would it be of any value to have cattle statistics here—and those of sheep, pigs &c.? Such could perhaps be had. Where prize poultry are bred, would their statistics be of any service?

I feel strongly how puerile from a scientific point of view the various statements are, which the desire to serve has led me to offer. Such as they are, however, they are free from bias—as I have of course no notion of your drift or analogical anticipation. Should it at any time occur to you that a statement of your expectation or question might surely & usefully be proposed. I have only to say that I think I should now be able to look-out through it with the most religious integrity, and to give candid replies. Sometimes this seems to help the inexpert. But I am aware you cannot wait till observers have grown up round you.

Pray believe me ever truly yours | George Cupples

Charles Darwin, Esq! | &c &—


Note of comparative weights of 7 Deerhound puppies (4 Dogs & 3 bitches) as taken week by week from the age of 2 weeks to that of 7 weeks. With additional note of weights—and supplementary statement &c.

The mother of these puppies is a Scotch Deerhound bitch, rather small—about 24 inches high at top of shoulder-blade. The paternity requires remark— it was an undoubted case of there being two fathers to the litter—the one being a Scotch Deerhound (1st. prize breed) above 30 inches high at shoulder—the other a young Russian deerhound or wolfhound (understood to be virtually the same race of dogs) his height then 2712 inches—since grown to 28 inches. From the Scotch Deerhound father there were unquestionably 5 puppies (3 dogs & 1 bitch) from the Russian 2 puppies (dog & bitch) marked as such in the table. The four dogs were left to be suckled by the mother—the three bitches were transferred to a foster-mother, a colley in good condition, whose own puppies were removed, so that the bitches may be supposed to have been on at least equal terms with the dogs.

Born May 12th. 1868
Weight on May 26. Dogs { No. 1. 5lbs 14oz. 1
when 14 days old. No. 2 5. 8.
No 3 5. 4
No 4 5. 4* from the Russian Sire.
Bitches { No 1 5lbs 4 oz.
No 2 4. 14.
No 3 2— 6* from the Russian sire.
Weight on morning of Dogs { No. 1 7— 4 2
June 3d 2 6— 14
when 3 weeks old 3 6— 13 1 2
4 6— 6*
Bitches { No 1 5— 14
No. 2 5— 13
No 3 2— 12*
Weight on evening of Dogs { No 1. 9— 6oz 3
June 10th No 2 9— 4
4 weeks old 3 9—
4 8— 10*
Bitches 1 7— 4
2 7— 4
3 3— 8*
Weight June 17th Dogs { No. 1 9lbs 6oz. 4
when 5 weeks old 2 9 5 1 2
3 9 2
4 9 2*
Bitches { No. 1 5 14
2 6 14
3 3 9*
Weight June 24th. Dogs { No 1 10 6 3 4 5
6 weeks old 2 10 6 1 2
3 10 6 1 4
4 10 6*
Bitches { No 1 7 1 2 oz
2 7 3 4
3 3 12*
Weight July 2d. Dogs { No. 1 11lbs 2oz 6
when fully 7 weeks old 2 11 12
3 10 10
4 10 6*
Bitches { No. 1 8 8
2 7 12
3 4 2*

At the same time with these were being weighed 3 bitch puppies of another litter, (the whole litter consisting of 4 bitches) a fortnight older. (A)

when a fortnight old they weighed as follows

all Bitches { No. 1. 4 lbs 1034oz } compare with
— 2 3 11 1st. weighing of Dogs above
— 3 3 8

About same time Mr Wright (of Yeldersley) had a litter of 3 bitches, which he weighed at a fortnight old—as follows–

No. 1 512 lbs These were the largest he ever bred
2 5 lbs (bitches) and have grown to be large,
3 5 lbs but not more than 2712 inches high or 28.

weight of my litter of bitches, marked (A) on July 2d. when fully 9 weeks old, weighed along with the dog-puppies 7 weeks old

No 1 13 lbs (B)
2 12 lbs 10 oz
3 10 12

weight comparative of No. 1 bitch in (A). No 1 bitch weighed 57 lbs. height 2512 inches (of the litter A)

weighed Decr. 22/68—with height
as against
Dog-pup No 1 weighed same day–with height
No. 1 dog weighed 72 lbs. height 2612 inches.
Dog-pup No 4 weighed same day with height
No 4 dog (*Russian) weighed 64 lbs height 2612 inches

Additional remarks.

Having unfortunately taken no previous notes of the sort, I cannot say more myself about the matter of the relative size & growth of the sexes. Mr Macneil’s6 statements may be depended on, so far as they go. Mr Wright (John Wright, Esqr., Yeldersley House, near Derby) is of all men I know of, the likeliest to have made careful & continued notes on these points—indeed I believe he has various such memoranda.

Cross-bred families of dogs seem to differ less in size sexually than pure races do. But Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, &c—do not differ as deerhounds do in this respect.

The difference in deerhounds seems to be similar to that in the human race, however. [Quere] In the South Sea Islands, where there are very large men, do we find that the women are large? I think not. So among some of the finest & largest races of Indians (North American)—see the discovery of a Northwest Passage by Land, published of late years.7

Mr Mcneil speaks of the deerhound bitch not being used much in the field, except by way of experiment—viz—to judge of her quality & spirit. N.B. All Mr Macneil’s remarks refer to Coursing deer unwounded—not to modern deer-stalking.

The comparative prominence of the Deerhound dog may be traced far back in a legendary way. The celebrated dogs of Ossian &c were male— Bran. Luath, Phorp. &c. but the bitch Sceolan is mentioned, as mother of Bran. + + In the mythical accounts of the first coming of the Scoti or Milesians to Ireland from the East, the “greyhound” (bitch) Partholan is specially associated with the event. + + In one of the old Irish stories about Ossian’s return to earth, or revival from trance, after the fall of the Fenian heroes—is a curious illustration of the fact that the old hunters must have been rigorous in their selection of puppies for the chase. Ossian is represented as taking up successively a litter of “greyhound” puppies which he sees lying, and he dashes each against a rock, to try which will bear it best, or survive the test, so as to become a good dog on the hill if reared to maturity.—8 So much for the slight traces backward as to Deerhound peculiarity.

Richardson, a well informed writer on dogs, says of crosses between greyhound & foxhound.9 “I have seen smooth deerhounds in Scotland— & merely a cross between ordinary greyhound and foxhound. In such case it is better that the greyhound should be father, as more likely to obtain size & power, combined with swiftness. This is more particularly to be attended to when it is the rough greyhound to which you resort, for amongst all the rough greyhounds, and more especially those of Ireland and Scotland (?) there exists a greater disparity of size between male and female than in the case of any other member of the canine family. E.g., of a litter of pups—a dog shall grow to the height of, say, 30 inches at the shoulder—and not a female of the same litter shall exceed 24 inches.”

The preceding statement of the disparity is not exaggerated—it is, I think, a literally correct one. But I should suppose that it extends through all the real (old) greyhound family (from which at all Civilized periods men seem to have bred a factitious smooth greyhound by crossing and acclimatization.) I have reason to see that it does in the Russian or Siberian greyhound (wolfhound or deerhound)—e.g. the puppies No. 4 of the dogs, and No. 3 of the bitches, same litter. The dog is now twice the size of the bitch—and at 14 days old, he appears to have been twice the weight.

Of the numerical proportions of the sexes born.

My own limited experience cannot go for anything here, I should say. On the whole, my impression has been that I have had more females born.

N.B. Most of the bitches are drowned—they are almost invariably the devoted victims to necessity and Malthusian principle. This, in one way, furnishes a kind of guide to the memory. All races of dogs are subject to the same rule in this respect.

Mr Barr’s statement—out of 117 litters, the females were in excess.10 Mr Barr was quite unbiased in this statement, so far as I am concerned— since I gave him no idea of my own impression. He is a careful man, zealous about dogs—still I think it unlikely that he had made any detailed record—and the difficulty is, that he has left Manchester, owing to illness, to live abroad, as I understood. I have not his present address, if he is still alive—but shall try to find out.

Mr Wright is, I think, the likeliest here also. He takes the most rigorous view of the extent of statistics necessary for any conclusion on such a point. I will write to him about it—but if Mr Darwin himself were to do so direct, in the first place, it would be the surer way.

Greyhound (Turf) records would be probably the most capable of affording correct light on the question.

An Advertisement, repeated, in the Field, with a special notice from the Editor—which could be had, I think—might have a useful effect, and bring in statistics from quarters otherwise inaccessible.11

If Deerhounds are particularly wanted in this view, I might find out something, and shall take means to do so.

CD annotations

1.1 I … question. 1.3] crossed blue crayon
2.1 I … puppies 2.2] scored blue crayon
3.1 but … uncommon 3.5] double scored blue crayon; ‘correct’ in margin blue crayon
8.2 cross in margin blue pencil
10.1 ‘If you felt interest yourself’ beginning of paragraph pencil
10.1 cross in margin blue crayon
11.1 At … me. 12.3] crossed pencil
13.1 two crosses in margin blue crayon
14.1 cross in margin blue crayon
Enclosure: Additional remarks
1.1 Having … years. 3.5] crossed blue crayon
1.2 Mr Macneil’s … go. 1.3] scored blue crayon
5.1 three crosses in margin blue and red crayon
5.2 The celebrated … the event. 5.5] double scored blue crayon
5.5 Ossian] after opening square bracket blue crayon
5.8 Ossian is … peculiarity. 5.12] double scored blue crayon
6.1 Richardson … weight. 7.7] crossed blue crayon
Enclosure: Of the numerical proportions of the sexes born
1.1 My … so. 7.2] crossed blue crayon
5.2 cross at end of paragraph blue crayon


CD’s letter has not been found, but an envelope addressed to Cupples with a postmark of 9 March 1869 and annotated by Cupples ‘rec’d March 11 | much abt dogs’ is in the collection of the American Philosophical Society.
John Wright.
Cupples’s friend from Gloucestershire was George Augustus Graham (see letter from George Cupples, 20 June 1869).
J. G. R. Barr.
Archibald McNeill.
See Milton and Cheadle [1865], p. 335.
Cupples refers to dogs mentioned in Celtic mythology. The Milesians were the fifth and last Celtic people to invade and settle in Ireland, purported to be descendants of Míl Espáine and Scota. Ossian or Osín was a warrior and poet, the narrator of the ‘Fenian cycle’ of Irish mythology (Briggs [1976], MacKillop 1998). In Descent 2: 262, CD cited Cupples on ancient references to dogs.
See H. D. Richardson 1847, p. 42. Cupples’s transcription of the passage contains an omission and some minor errors.
CD began gathering information on sex ratios in February 1868 and asked the editor of the Field, William Bernhard Tegetmeier, to insert a request for information on the proportion of the sexes in domestic animals (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 11 February [1868]). The request appeared in the 22 February 1868 issue of the Field, p. 144. Tegetmeier stated that the request had come from CD, and that it was made ‘in the interests of scientific research’.


Briggs, Katherine Mary. [1976.] A dictionary of fairies: hobgoblins, brownies, bogies, and other supernatural creatures. [London]: Allen Lane.

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.

MacKillop, James. 1998. Dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.


Differences in size and weight in deerhounds, with tables of comparative weights according to sex. Promises information on weights of deerhound puppies. Effects of cross- and inbreeding.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Guard Bridge
Source of text
DAR 83: 133–8, DAR 161: 282
Physical description
ALS 4pp †, encl 4pp †, CD notes 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6657,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

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