Darwin and the
by Jeff Burton
The story of
Charles Darwin and the Beagle has been well
documented. There have been books, documentaries,
films and even a set of collector cards which,
while never being a big seller, have ardent
followers among Darwin's legion of schoolboy fans.
Now, after much research, the relationship
between Darwin and another breed, the basset, can
Late in 2009,
a Scottish professor of linguine living in
Johannesburg was reviewing his private collection
of limpet pornography when he discovered a cache
of private letters that Darwin wrote to a Lady
Breathless of Aberdeen. The contents have shocked
the academic world but now at last have been
verified and opened to public scrutiny.
letters are specifically related to Bassets and
Darwin's fascination and delight with the breed.
Early in the
correspondence Darwin writes: 'When I was but a
child our family pet was a basset, Ralph. How
fondly I remember the long idle hours we spent
together on the wild moors, discussing philosophy.
Ralph favoured Spinoza.' Darwin wrote with much
affection of the time he spent in Ralph's company
Apparently, Ralph and the young Darwin put on
plays for the family on cold winter evenings.
Their performance of King Lear utilising shadow
puppets and a ball of string was fondly recalled.
candidly of his crisis of faith on Ralph's death:
'How could this saintly creature die? In what
divine plan does Ralph's demise by melon make any
kind of sense?' Further details are sketchy but
the emotional impact of the event scarred Darwin
for life and even spread its influence to his
emotional reaction to all fruits. From this seed
we can trace Darwin's revulsion with organised
religion and summer desserts.
Darwin's relationship with bassets borders on the
obsessional: 'I must have more bassets! Please
send me more money to rescue another six hounds
from the workhouse. With just six more my
theories will be complete. Have you seen my hat?'
It is known local traders vied with each other to
supply Darwin with an enormous number of beasts.
His beloved hat was never recovered. What exactly
Darwin was doing with the bassets thus acquired
is never really made clear. Some inferences may
be drawn by Darwin's purchase at about the same
time of seven bicycles and large quantities of
fruit flavoured gelatine.
book, 'The Origin of Species' was originally
dedicated to his dear Ralph. Later editions
removed the dedication for its unwholesome
undertones. Darwin was heartbroken to the last,
dismissing his work as a 'mere footnote' to what
Ralph had accomplished.