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Darwin and the dog breeders: on correspondence and class in 19th-century Britain

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In November 1870, a ‘very happy, lazy & handsome’ package travelled 400 miles from rural Fifeshire, Scotland, to King’s Cross station in London. Tucked up in a little basket, ‘Bran’, the Scottish deer hound, was greeted at 9am in the busy metropolis by a servant, who took him to an inn and gave him some water, before accompanying him to Down House. Bran was sent to Charles Darwin by George Cupples (1822–91), a correspondent who introduced himself in his first letter to Darwin as ‘an enthusiastic amateur-breeder of a special race of dogs’. At the time Darwin received Bran, Darwin was working on Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Darwin’s interest in deer-hounds stemmed from the fact that the sexes differed more in size than those of any other breed. In this talk, I will explore some of the themes from Darwin’s correspondence with Cupples and a vast network of dog breeders, which encompassed a wide range of individuals from different social statuses in 19th-century Britain.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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