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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   20 June 1869

The Cottage | Guard Bridge | Fifeshire. N.B.

June 20 /69.

My Dear Mr Darwin,

On hearing from you I at once wrote to Mr Elliot again, inclosing exact copy of your letter (the one intended for him), and have been waiting to hear from him.1 I have not yet had any reply, but meanwhile have written to some other sheepowners not mentioned in his list— Two of these are among the very foremost breeders in the Border districts—and I send you an answer received from one of them yesterday—along with a minor one from a gentleman near here. Mr Aitchison of Linhope writes very obligingly, at all events—2 I do not need to have any more letters returned to me, as I shall keep notes so far as necessary for re-writing to these correspondents. Perhaps you might give me a brief hint or two for further guidance, so as to extract more definite information. I intend to write to all the persons named by Mr Elliot—and to others—both for sheep and cattle. As to horses, I daresay you can manage best in England. Swine are bred by far most largely, I suppose, in England and Ireland. With regard to dogs, greyhounds and foxhounds are the only chance; I should say.

If the statistics are really reliable as to the number of births among sheep, I think there is no doubt I could get returns of many thousands for the present year—probably in some cases for previous years also. Writing the letters gives me no trouble.3

All that I have got about the births among dogs may be thus summed up.

Mr Barr stated that out of a certain considerable number of litters, there was an excess of females (precise amount of excess not given, I think.) From what he said at the time, I infer that the breeds of dogs in question were various (not deerhounds alone.)4

Captain Graham, of Redrock, Dursley, Gloucestershire5—states his decided impression that females exceeded in his experience.

My own experience was similar.

Mr Wright, of Yeldersley House, near Derby,6 had similar experience—but entered his caveat against any conclusion to that effect—as a large induction through a number of years and circumstances would be required.

Every dog-breeder seems to think females in excess (because bitches are less valued?)7 As in table-turning the involuntary sympathetic nervous action works, so perhaps here! I have lately a letter from the Headforester of the Breadalbane deer-forest8—in which he says “I never kept a journal of the litters of deer-hounds, as to number of males and females, but I may mention in trusting to my memory, that in general there are more females than males in a litter of deerhounds, and I believe it is the case in all other animals of the Dog tribe—and it is the same with Sheep, but as to cattle I am not sure about them”—(!!!)

Valeat tantum.9

I shall be sending letters on sheep & cattle to you from week to week—and only hope there may be some actual information in the result. I have lost a litter of puppies, but expect more during the season.

Mrs Cupples has not yet returned. She has only told us that she was delighted with her visit to you, and with your kindness and Mrs Darwin’s. We expect to hear all in a few days.10

Pray excuse haste | ever most truly yours | George Cupples

CD annotations

1.1 On … years also. 2.3] crossed pencil
1.9 Perhaps … information. 1.10] scored blue crayon
8.1 Every … Headforester 8.3] scored pencil
10.1 I shall … result. 10.2] double scored blue crayon
10.1 I shall … Cupples 12.1] crossed pencil
11.1 Mrs Cupples … Mrs Darwin’s. 11.2] scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Sheep | Sexual selection’ pencil


CD’s letter to Cupples has not been found. Cupples refers to Robert Elliot (see letter from Robert Elliot to George Cupples, 4 June 1869).
CD thanked Cupples for having procured returns for sheep from Scotland in Descent 1: 305 n. 41.
George Augustus Graham.
CD reported Cupples’s opinion in Descent 1: 304.
Peter Robertson.
A variation of Valeat quantum valere potest: ‘take it for what it’s worth’. ‘Appropriate when passing information of doubtful authenticity’ (Ehrlich 1986).
No further information on Anne Jane Cupples’s visit to the Darwins has been found.


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.

Ehrlich, Eugene. 1986. Nil desperandum: a dictionary of Latin tags and useful phrases. London: Robert Hale.


On proportion of sexes in litters of dogs.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Guard Bridge
Source of text
DAR 86: 58–9
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6789,” accessed on 7 December 2021,

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