From Hensleigh Wedgwood [before 29 September 1857]1
I do not see that it is at all important to your argument, or rather illustration that the series connecting the unlike relations should be lost in all the other European languages than that in which they may be found. You might consider that language alone and then Head & chief would afford a good illustration in addition to Bishop & the numerals. These are all admitted by every one. Head, OE. heved, AS heafod, G. haupt Goth. haubith Lat capit (is) It. capo Fr. chef E. chief. If we had only E, It & Fr remaining nobody would have guessed it possible that head & chief could be different forms of the same word.
Perhaps one or two striking instances as this & bishop afford a better illustration than a longer series of less decisive ones—2
I have often thought that there is much resemblance between language & geology in another way. We all consider English a very mixed language because we can trace the elements into Latin, German &c. but I see much the same sort of thing in Latin itself & I believe that if we were but acquainted with the previous state of things we should find all languages made up of the debris of former tongues just as every geological formation is the grinding down of former continents.3
I am going to Hartfield4 tomorrow to meet Fanny.5 Mrs Gaskell cannot have them till the 9th which will allow a tidy visit at H—6
Adieu | H. W.
Suggests CD use the common origin of the French "chef" and the English "head" or "évêque" and "bishop" to illustrate the parallels between extinction and transitional forms in language and palaeontology [see Natural selection, p. 384].
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2070,” accessed on 21 October 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2070