Item 1 - Letter from Alfred Newton to W. Aldis Wright

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Add. MS b/74/7/1


Letter from Alfred Newton to W. Aldis Wright


  • 20 Mar. 1880 (Creation)

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1 folded sheet, 1 envelope

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Magdalene College, (Cambridge).—Sends and discusses the results of his investigations into the phrase ‘cur of Iceland’ (Henry V, II. i. 40) (see 7/2).

(With an envelope.)



Magd. Coll.
20 March 1880.

My dear Wright,

I have been looking after the “cur of Iceland” {1} and here are some of the results {2}, which are heartily at your service, though I am afraid they are not of much use.

I have not got Wilkin’s big edition of Sir Thomas Browne, but only Bohn’s reprint, in which Theodore Jones’s letters (given in the former) are not included, but only Browne’s summary, which is not much to the purpose, as follows:—

“Besides shocks and little hairy dogs, they bring another sort over, headed like a fox, which they say are bred betwixt dogs and foxes [bosh!]; these are desired by the shepherds of this country” [i.e. England]. {3}

Of the extracts I send herewith that from Sir Wm Hooker’s book is perhaps the best—but the others being from books very little known in this country may have some interest—and Mohr was a very careful observer. Henderson I dare say knew more about Icelandic dogs than any other Englishman, but he does not seem to mention them in his book.

I have not looked at Hamilton’s book but I doubt his having access to any more original authorities than I have given you.

When I was in Iceland in 1858 I had a commission from a lady to bring back an Icelandic dog for her, & I dare say that had I gone more into the interior I could have found a pure-bred one, but I mistrusted the pedigree of the dogs in the Danish trading stations & their neighbourhood, and I cannot be sure that I ever saw a pure-bred example. I saw enough however to know what it would be like, & you can get a very fair notion of one by looking at a “Spitz” or “Pomeranian” without going to Iceland.

It is the fashion to liken (as Hooker does) the Iceland dog to the Esquimaux dog, but I take it there is no real affinity between them—& I should be inclined to suppose the Iceland breed is cognate with the “Spitz” & the real Lapland dog—which itself is a scarce animal, and only seen in its purity (or impurity considering its usual food, at which Thienemann, in the extract I send, hints) in the interior of that country.

Since communication with Iceland has become so easy & frequent of course the breed there has got much mixed. I therefore don’t think it worth looking through the works of recent travellers, especially as none who have been published on the matter have been much of naturalists. I think however that Faber (who was a good man) may have mentioned something about dogs in his many papers on Icelandic zoology, published in the ‘Isis’—but I have never had time to study then even for my own purposes.

Believe me, yours very truly
Alfred Newton.

[Direction on envelope:] W. Aldis Wright, Esq. | Trinity College.


There are no marks of posting on the envelope.

{1} Cf. Henry V, II. i. 40.

{2} See Add. MS b. 74/7/2.

{3} The square brackets in this sentence are in the MS.

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      This description was created by A. C. Green in 2022.




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