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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. J. Wedgwood [1867–72]1

1, Cumberland Place, N.W.

My dear Uncle Charles

I enclose you the extract from Charma,2 on the origin of nodding & shaking the head, which I promised so long ago. I have marked so X the passage itself, what goes before is merely to make it clearer. I at first omitted the clause of the sentence about "sa faible tête" as I thought it was truer without any reference to the repetition of the signs however what he means is clearer written at length. He does not seem to have made the same mistake (of supposing the action to be several times repeated at once) with reference to shaking the head, where however it would curiously be much nearer the truth, as one nod is enough both for the baby & the Yes but one movement from right to left wd be insufficient for the No.

Of course you will not answer this. I am so glad to hear you are to be in town next week. Georgina Tollet is exceeding anxious At Emma shd have a sight of Gem, but she is candid enough to say she is not pretty.

Ever yr affec Niece. FJW.

[Enclosure]3

(—Charma was summoned in 1831 to the vacant chair of Philosophy at Caen, a dignity which entailed the preparation of 2 theses before the position could be regularly taken. The 2nd of these was his Essai sur le Langage, which was published at once, & the 1st. edition being soon exhausted a 2nd., much revised, was issued in 1846, from which my Extracts are taken.4 It is a work of much interest & thought, but hardly touches the problem of Language)

“Dans L’invention du langage comme en toute chose la nature nous donne l’exemple et opère devant nous. Mais les signes que nous lui devons gardent éternellement leur premiers caractères, que les races à peu près stationaires s’en arrangent, à la bonne heure. Essentiellement progressive notre espèce en sentit bientôt l’insufficance. De nouveaux moyens d’expression etaient necessaires, ils furent. L’homme alors pour rendre sa pensée que les symboles primitifs ne pouvaient plus traduire, transforme et en les transformant s’appropria les signes que la nature lui avait fournis. Ce langage ultérieur, fils de l’humanité, non plus par adoption seulement, mais par une génération veritable, fruit de l’industrie ou de l’art, c’est le langage artificiel.

Le langage artificiel met donc a contribution, en les modifiant pour les accomoder aux besoins nouveaux de la pensée, les symboles primitifs.

(The following note on this passage contains the explanation of nodding & of shaking the head.)

J’ai surpris à leur naissance en moment même de leur formation quelques-uns de ces signes. Nous hochons la tête en avant et verticalement pour dire oui, horizontalement et à gauche pour dire non. Voyez l’enfant se jetant avec avidité sur un aliment qui lui plait, il porte en avant la bouche pour saisir l’objet qui’l convoite, mais sa faible tête, vivement agitée, et ne pouvant soutenir la secousse qu’elle se donne, tombe pour se relever aussitot, se relêve pour retomber encore, elle oscille tendant toujours vers l’objet, et par consequent de haut en bas … ce signe dit Je veux, ce signe dit Oui. Qu’un aliment, au contraire, qui déplait à l’enfant lui soit présenté, qu’arrive-t-il? Il écarte sa bouche autant qu’il est en lui tournant la tête de droit a gauche, ou de gauch à droit, voila le non dans son principe et son origine.

CD annotations

Enclosure:
1.5 1846] underl pencil
5.1 J'ai surpris] ink cross in margin
5.1 J'ai surpris … non 5.3] double scored pencil
Top of enclosure: ‘note only important part‘ pencil

Footnotes

The date range is established from the fact that the content of the letter relates to CD’s work on expression (see n. 4, below). CD was working on expression with a view to publishing between 1867 and1872.
Antoine Charma.
For a translation of the enclosure, see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix I.
CD cited Charma 1846 on the origin of nodding and shaking the head in Expression, p. 273 and n. 17, thanking ‘Miss Wedgwood‘ for having given him the information. The extract is from Charma 1846, p. 23, and pp. 187–8 n. 14. Wedgwood makes a number of omissions.

Translation

From F. J. Wedgwood [1867–72]1

(—Charma2 was summoned in 1831 to the vacant chair of Philosophy at Caen, a dignity which entailed the preparation of 2 theses before the position could be regularly taken. The 2nd of these was his \Essai sur le Langage\, which was published at once, & the 1st. edition being soon exhausted a 2nd., much revised, was issued in 1846, from which my Extracts are taken.3 It is a work of much interest & thought, but hardly touches the problem of Language)

“In the invention of language as in all things nature gives us the example and works before us. But the signs that we owe to her keep eternally their original characters: that the almost stationary races so arrange it, good for them! Essentially progressive, our species soon felt the insufficiency. New modes of expression were required; they were. Man then, to render such thoughts as the primitive symbols could not translate, transformed them and in transforming appropriated the signs that nature had provided. This subsequent language, the son of humanity, not by adoption only, but by a true generation, the result of industry or art, is artificial language.

The artificial language therefore makes use of the primitive symbols, modifying them to accommodate new needs of thought.

(The following note on this passage contains the explanation of nodding & of shaking the head.)

I surprised at birth in the very moment of their formation some of these signs. We nod the head forwards and vertically to say yes, horizontally and to the left to say no. Observe the infant falling eagerly upon a food that he likes; he carries his mouth forward to seize the object that he covets; but his feeble head, strongly agitated, and unable to withstand its own shaking, falls to rise at once, rises to fall again, wobbles stretching always towards the object, and consequently up and down. This sign says I want, this sign says Yes. When a food, on the other hand, that the child doesn't like is offered to him, what happens? He pulls aside his mouth as if he is turning his head from right to left, or from left to right; here is the no in principle and in its origin.

Footnotes

For a transcription of this enclosure in its original French, and the letter with which it was enclosed, see pp. 595–6. The first and fourth paragraphs were in English.
For a translation of the enclosure, see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix I.
CD cited Charma 1846 on the origin of nodding and shaking the head in Expression, p. 273 and n. 17, thanking ‘Miss Wedgwood‘ for having given him the information. The extract is from Charma 1846, p. 23, and pp. 187–8 n. 14. Wedgwood makes a number of omissions.

Summary

Sends extract from Charma [Essai sur le langage (1846)] on the origin of nodding and shaking the head [See Expression, p. 273 n. 17].

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-7060
From
Frances Julia (Snow) Wedgwood
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Cumberland Place, 1
Source of text
DAR 181: 47, DAR 195.1: 52
Physical description
3pp, encl 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7060,” accessed on 1 May 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7060

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20 (Expression supplement)

letter