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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hensleigh Wedgwood   [before 29 September 1857]1

Dear Charles

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.

CD annotations

Top of first page: ‘Ch 8’7 pencil, circled pencil
Bottom of last page: ‘Day & [’Journa‘ del] Jour | Dies | Diurnes | Giorno | Journal, Jour’ pencil; ‘Episcopus | Obispo | Bishop’ pencil; ‘vescovo | evesque | eveque’ pencil


The date is based on CD’s use of the information given by Hensleigh Wedgwood in the closing pages of his chapter 8, ‘Difficulties on the theory of natural selection in relation to passages from form to form’ (Natural selection, p. 384), which was completed on 29 September 1857 (‘Journal’; see Correspondence vol. 6, Appendix II).
Hensleigh Wedgwood was preparing a dictionary of English etymology (H. Wedgwood 1859–65), the first volume of which included the example given in the letter. CD used the case of ‘bishop’ and ‘évêque’ in Natural selection, p. 384, in order to show how apparently dissimilar words were derived from a common source. The general comparison between animal and plant ancestry and etymology was made again in Origin, pp. 422–3.
In H. Wedgwood 1859–65, Hensleigh Wedgwood argued for etymology to be placed on a solid scientific basis, pointing to geology among the physical sciences as a suitable model.
Two of Hensleigh Wedgwood’s sisters lived in Hartfield, Sussex: Sarah Elizabeth (Elizabeth) Wedgwood at ‘The Ridge’ and Charlotte Langton at ‘Hartfield Grove’.
Frances Mackintosh Wedgwood, Hensleigh’s wife.
The Wedgwoods were friends and distant relations of Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell and her husband William. The Wedgwoods’ daughter, Frances Julia, had assisted Mrs Gaskell with her biography of Charlotte Bronté (Gaskell 1857) (B. Wedgwood and H. Wedgwood 1980, p. 258). Throughout the summer of 1857, Mrs Gaskell entertained a series of guests who had come to see the Art-Treasures Exhibition in Manchester (A. B. Hopkins 1952, p. 218).
A reference to chapter 8 of CD’s species book (see n. 1, above).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn 1857. The life of Charlotte Brontë. 2 vols. London.

Hopkins, Annette Brown. 1952. Elizabeth Gaskell: her life and work. London: John Lehmann.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Wedgwood, Barbara and Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1980. The Wedgwood circle, 1730–1897: four generations of a family and their friends. London: Studio Vista.


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].

Letter details

Letter no.
Hensleigh Wedgwood
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 48: A80–1
Physical description
ALS 4pp ††

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2070,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6