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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Frédéric Baudry1   4 December 1872

Paris,

4 Xbre2 72

Monsieur

Mme Michelet a bien voulu me prête〈r votre〉 livre sur l’Expression des émotions.3 Je l’ai lu 〈avec〉 l’ardeur que je mets à lire tous vos ouvrages, mais 〈étant〉 inconnu de vous, je ne me serais pas permis de v〈ous〉 écrire si je n’avais tenu à vous communiquer un petit fait de nature à vous intéresser et à compléter un de vos chapitres. C’est un passage du Râmâyana, où une mère, retrouvant le cadavre de son fils, lèche “avec sa langue le visage du mort en gémissant comme une vache privée de son veau” (Si vous voulez vérifier, voici le texte sanscrit: mātā ca asya mrĭtasya api jihvayā nihatam mukham vilatapa ati karunam gāur vivatsā ïva vatsalā mater que ejus mortui etiam linguâ caesum vultum ingemuit flebiliter vacca sine-vitulo quasi tenera (épisode de la mort de Yajnadatta, [II], 26))

Voilà une expression de douleur et de tendresse tout à la fois, qui ressemble terriblement à ce que ferait une chienne sur la cadavre de son petit. Serait-ce l’origine du baiser?4

Un autre fait encore: vous mentionnez quelque part, sans en expliquer l’origine, le geste des chiens qui se couchent sur le dos et gesticulent des quatre pattes pour jouer ou se faire caresser. Il est à ma connaissance que le blaireau (ursus meles)5 se met en cette posture pour se défendre contre les chiens, parce qu’elle lui permet de se servir à la fois contre eux de sa gueule et de toutes ses griffes. Ne serait-ce pas l’origine de l’attitude analogue chez le chien! La posture de combat aurait dégénéré en 〈    〉 offensif.6

〈    〉 j’ai pris la liberté de vous écrire, me pardonnerez-〈vous de vou〉s indiquer deux points que je crois pouvoir 〈expliq〉uer autrement que vous ne faites.

〈Il〉 s’agit d’abord du geste de l’impuissance, lever les épaules, abaisser les bras et ouvrir les mains. Vous l’interprétez par un mouvement d’antithèse. Je verrais plutôt dans les épaules levées le geste de celui qui s’apprête à recevoir un coup sans résistance. Essayez de menacer un enfant d’un soufflet, vous le verrez aussitôt lever les épaules comme pour y faire rentrer son cou et sa tête. Le lèvement d’épaules serait, selon moi, cette attitude primordiale affaiblie, et l’on comprend très bien comment elle se serait transformée en signe de résignation. Quant aux bras abaissés et aux mains ouvertes, j’y verrais un symbole comme vous en avez admis un pour les mains jointes de la prière chrétienne. Ce serait le signe qu’on est désarmé, qu’on n’a rien dans les mains et qu’on ne se défendra pas, complément tout naturel des épaules soulevées.

Dans les bras élevés et les mains ouvertes de la surprise, je ne verrais pas non plus une antithèse, mais plutôt un reste de l’attitude effrayée, avec les bras et les mains en avant comme pour parer un coup. Au point de vue psychologique, la surprise chez l’homme procède de la peur chez les animaux.7

Enfin, Monsieur, excusez-moi si, étant li〈nguiste〉 de profession et appartenant à l’école de Bopp, de 〈    〉 Müller et de Whitney, j’ai un peu frémi devan〈t les〉 citations que vous tirez d’un livre de M. Wedgwood sur l’origine du langage.8 Si j’en pouvais juger par ces extraits, cet ouvrage serait une rêverie peu digne de figurer dans vos livres qui sont toujours régis par la méthode expérimentale la plus rigoureuse. Il faut renvoyer au Cratyle de Platon les théories cent fois réfutées sur l’affectation spéciale des sons à exprimer certaines idées; et c’est encore une circonstance aggravante que d’en chercher la preuve dans les mots de la langue anglaise, sans tenir compte des mille modifications phonétiques qu’ils ont subies depuis l’origine9

J’espère, Monsieur, que vous admettrez ces critiques avec plus de bonté que si je vous envoyais des complimens. D’ailleurs si j’entreprenais de vous énumérer tout ce que j’approuve et ce qui m’instruit dans votre livre, je m’exposerais à le copier en entier.

Enfin nous allons pouvoir lire ici le second 〈volu〉me de votre Descent of Man. Mais quelle 〈  〉le traduction que celle du 1er volume par M. 〈Moul〉inier!10 Traduttore=traditore!11 Elle est en plus de cent endroits inintelligible pour ceux qui ne devinent pas la phrase anglaise sous son français ou plutôt sous son patois. Je ne sais comment on nous traduit chez vous, mais en général, je plains les auteurs anglais qui tombent sous la patte de nos traducteurs.

Encore une fois, Monsieur, pardonnez moi, et croyez moi | Votre sincère admirateur | F Baudry | conservateur à la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. | 76, rue Bonaparte—Paris.

CD note:

〈    〉 —curious San〈skrit〉 ab〈out〉 licking the dead〈— 〉after [Dog attitude] Give same notes 〈    〉 English Review that shrug〈ging〉 shoulders in 〈    〉 of defence or rather 〈  〉t re〈  〉 injury passively with as little heed to self as possible.— M〈oreo〉ver [hardly] agrees with shrugging shoulders being so often done when a person says he cannot prevent action by another person.—

I doubt about women— Hands & arms often thrown vertically over head, with no trace of pushing away [interl] action.— Perhaps put note to that effect.—

Weed out reference to H. Wedgwood—12

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix I.
‘Xbre’, signifying the tenth month, was a common French abbreviation that drew on the Latin meaning of December and its place in the ancient Roman calendar (OED).
Athénaïs Michelet’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Expression (see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix V). Michelet had supplied CD with information about crossing in cats, and had offered to send him a copy of her book, Les chats (see letter from Athénaïs Michelet, 17 May 1872).
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic that presents the teachings of Hindu sages in allegorical form. The section describing the death of the hermit boy Yajnadatta had been translated into Latin by Jean Louis Burnouf and published with the transliterated Sanskrit (Chézy 1826, appendix, verse 69); however, Baudry’s translation appears to be his own. For a contemporary English version, see Milman trans. 1835, p. 96. In Baudry’s letter, the Latin equivalent is written above each Sanskrit word. Baudry’s reference was added to the second edition of Expression, edited by Francis Darwin (Expression, 2d ed., p. 126 n. 4).
The European badger is now Meles meles.
See Expression, p. 120. There are no additions to this passage in the second edition of Expression.
For CD’s explanation of these gestures, see Expression, pp. 271, 287–8. In Expression 2d ed., p. 285 n. 7, Baudry’s challenge to the principle of unconscious antithesis is mentioned but qualified by the comment that the protective shrug of a schoolboy threatened with a box on the ears differs from the apologetic shrug.
Franz Bopp and his students Friedrich Max Müller and William Dwight Whitney had pioneered a new approach in linguistics that demonstrated the affiliations between the Indo-European languages through a comparative study of verbal inflections and an emphasis on the genealogies of languages. Hensleigh Wedgwood, although instrumental in introducing Bopp’s work into England, had disagreed with the German school over the development of language in his Origin of language (H. Wedgwood 1866). For more on these debates, see Alter 1999, pp. 11, 52–3, 79–90. CD referred to H. Wedgwood 1866 several times in Expression in relation to the development of language as a consequence of instinctive actions (see Expression, pp. 273–4, 285–6).
Plato’s dialogue Cratylus is a debate about three theories of language: the conventional, the rational, and the natural. Wedgwood had quoted from Cratylus in support of an imitative origin of language, and argued against Max Müller’s claim that this notion of the origin of language could not be ‘scientifically’ determined ‘until some progess has been made in tracing the principal roots not of Sanscrit only, but of Chinese, Bask, and the Turanian and Semitic languages, back to the cries or imitated sounds of nature’ (see H. Wedgwood 1866, pp. 10–11, 14).
Jean Jacques Moulinié translated both volumes of Descent (Moulinié trans. 1872) into French. The first volume had been published on 19 February 1872; the second was published on 18 November (see Journal général de l’imprimerie et de la librarie, 2 March 1872, p. 91, and 30 November 1872, p. 563).
Traduttore=traditore (Italian): ‘a translator is a traitor’.
CD’s references to H. Wedgwood 1866 on the imitative origin of language remained in Expression 2d ed.

Translation

From Frédéric Baudry1   4 December 1872

Paris,

4 Xber2 72

Sir

Mme Michelet has been so kind as to lend me 〈your〉 book on the Expression of the emotions.3 I have read it 〈with〉 the eagerness that I apply to reading all your work, but 〈being〉 unknown to you, I would not have permitted myself to write to you if I were not bent on communicating a small fact of nature to interest you and to complete one of your chapters. It is a passage from the Râmâyana, where a mother, on discovering the body of her son, licks “the face of the dead man with her tongue while moaning like a cow deprived of her calf” (If you want to verify this, here is the Sanskrit text: mātā ca asya mrĭtasya api jihvayā nihatam mukham vilatapa ati karunam gāur vivatsā ïva vatsalā mater que ejus mortui etiam linguâ caesum vultum ingemuit flebiliter vacca sine–vitulo quasi tenera (the episode of the death of Yajnadatta, [II], 26))4

Here is an expression of pain and tenderness together, which frightfully resembles what a bitch does to the corpse of her whelp. Might this be the origin of the kiss?

Yet another fact: you mention somewhere, without explaining its origin, the gesture of dogs in throwing themselves onto their backs and gesticulating with all four paws for play or caresses. It is to my knowledge that the badger (ursus meles)5 puts itself in this position to defend itself against dogs, because this allows it to make use of its muzzle and all its claws against them at the same time. Might this not have been the origin of the analogous attitude in the dog! The fighting position might have degenerated into an offensive 〈    〉.6

〈    〉 I have taken the liberty of writing to you, will 〈you〉 pardon me 〈for〉 indicating two points 〈to you〉 which I believe I can explain otherwise than you do.

The first thing is the gesture of helplessness, raising the shoulders, lowering the arms and opening the hands. You interpret it as a movement of antithesis. I should rather see in raised shoulders the gesture of someone who is preparing to receive a blow unresistingly. Try threatening a child with a boxed ear, and you will immediately see him lifting his shoulders as if to tuck his head and neck into them. The shrug may be, in my opinion, that primordial posture weakened, and one can understand very well how it might have been transformed into a sign of resignation. As for the lowered arms and open hands, I should see in these a symbol of the sort that you have admitted for the joined hands of Christian prayer. It would be the sign that one is unarmed, that one has nothing in one’s hands and that one will not defend oneself, a very natural complement of raised shoulders.

In the raised arms and open hands of surprise, I should also see not an antithesis, but rather a residue of the terrified posture, with the arms and hands in front as if to ward off a blow. From the psychological point of view, surprise in man proceeds from fear in animals.7

Finally, dear Sir, excuse me if, being a linguist by profession and belonging to the school of Bopp, 〈    〉 Müller and Whitney, I have rather shuddered at 〈the〉 citations you take from a book by Mr. Wedgwood on the origin of language.8 Judging by these extracts, the work is a reverie unworthy of featuring in your books, which are always governed by the most rigorous experimental method. Theories concerning the special affectation of sounds for expressing certain ideas, which have been refuted a hundred times, should be referred to Plato’s Cratylus; and it is another aggravating circumstance to look for the proof of this in words from the English language, without taking account of the thousand phonetic modifications these have undergone since the origin9

I hope, dear Sir, that you will accept these criticisms with more goodness than if I had sent you compliments. Besides, if I were to undertake to list everything I approve and that has instructed me in your book, I should lay myself open to copying it in its entirety.

At last we are going to be able to read the second volume of your Descent of Man here. But what a 〈    〉 translation was made of the 1st volume by M. Moulinier!10 Traduttore=traditore!11 It is unintelligible in more than a hundred places for those who cannot divine the English phrase underlying his French, or rather his patois. I do not know how we are translated where you are, but in general, I pity the English authors who fall into the hands of our translators.

Once again, dear Sir, forgive me, and believe me | Your sincere admirer | F Baudry | curator of the Arsenal library. | 76, rue Bonaparte—Paris.

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original French, see pp. 546–8.
‘Xbre’, signifying the tenth month, was a common French abbreviation that drew on the Latin meaning of December and its place in the ancient Roman calendar (OED).
Athénaïs Michelet’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Expression (see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix V). Michelet had supplied CD with information about crossing in cats, and had offered to send him a copy of her book, Les chats (see letter from Athénaïs Michelet, 17 May 1872).
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic that presents the teachings of Hindu sages in allegorical form. The section describing the death of the hermit boy Yajnadatta had been translated into Latin by Jean Louis Burnouf and published with the transliterated Sanskrit (Chézy 1826, appendix, verse 69); however, Baudry’s translation appears to be his own. For a contemporary English version, see Milman trans. 1835, p. 96. In Baudry’s letter, the Latin equivalent is written above each Sanskrit word. Baudry’s reference was added to the second edition of Expression, edited by Francis Darwin (Expression, 2d ed., p. 126 n. 4).
The European badger is now Meles meles.
See Expression, p. 120. There are no additions to this passage in the second edition of Expression.
For CD’s explanation of these gestures, see Expression, pp. 271, 287–8. In Expression 2d ed., p. 285 n. 7, Baudry’s challenge to the principle of unconscious antithesis is mentioned but qualified by the comment that the protective shrug of a schoolboy threatened with a box on the ears differs from the apologetic shrug.
Franz Bopp and his students Friedrich Max Müller and William Dwight Whitney had pioneered a new approach in linguistics that demonstrated the affiliations between the Indo-European languages through a comparative study of verbal inflections and an emphasis on the genealogies of languages. Hensleigh Wedgwood, although instrumental in introducing Bopp’s work into England, had disagreed with the German school over the development of language in his Origin of language (H. Wedgwood 1866). For more on these debates, see Alter 1999, pp. 11, 52–3, 79–90. CD referred to H. Wedgwood 1866 several times in Expression in relation to the development of language as a consequence of instinctive actions (see Expression, pp. 273–4, 285–6).
Plato’s dialogue Cratylus is a debate about three theories of language: the conventional, the rational, and the natural. Wedgwood had quoted from Cratylus in support of an imitative origin of language, and argued against Max Müller’s claim that this notion of the origin of language could not be ‘scientifically’ determined ‘until some progess has been made in tracing the principal roots not of Sanscrit only, but of Chinese, Bask, and the Turanian and Semitic languages, back to the cries or imitated sounds of nature’ (see H. Wedgwood 1866, pp. 10–11, 14).
Jean Jacques Moulinié translated both volumes of Descent (Moulinié trans. 1872) into French. The first volume had been published on 19 February 1872; the second was published on 18 November (see Journal général de l’imprimerie et de la librarie, 2 March 1872, p. 91, and 30 November 1872, p. 563).
Traduttore=traditore (Italian): ‘a translator is a traitor’.

Summary

Sends anecdotes relating to Expression;

criticises CD’s use of Hensleigh Wedgwood’s views on language.

Complains about J. J. Moulinié’s translation of Descent.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-8543
From
Baudry, Frédéric
To
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Paris
Source of text
DAR 160: 95, 95/1
Physical description
4pp (French) †, CD note damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8543,” accessed on 24 February 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-8543

letter