“Darwin and the Basset,” by Jeff Burton

Aug 9th, 2023 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

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 be told.

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 have finally been verified and opened to public scrutiny.

Several 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.

He speaks 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 organized religion and summer desserts.

At times, 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?’ he wrote in a lettuce. 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 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.

Darwin’s first 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.


Jeff Burton is an Australian author, poet and songwriter who ought to know better by now but apparently does not. He will be very famous after his death. His greatest creative work must surely be seen in the lives of his three sons. Were he to be judged by these alone, he would be happy. This would be unfair, of course, since his wife, Robyn, is mostly responsible for their uncommon sense and integrity. Jeff’s cats love him without reservation as he loves them. He finds great comfort in this since he is convinced animals are a much better judge of character than humans. He believes humanity is a fine concept in theory but that it tends to fail in its execution. He has great hopes for ducks.

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