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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Whitney   5 August 1874

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. [Bassett, Southampton.]

Aug 5 1874

Dear Sir

I am particularly obliged to you for having sent me your essay— It seems to me most clearly reasoned, & by far the best argument against Max Müller’s views which has ever appeared.1 I heartily wish I had read it 2 or 3 months ago, as I cd have quoted several passages with great advantage in a new ed. of my Descent of Man; but the part in question has been printed off. I have however quoted from one of your previous works, your judgment on the main question, & have added a few remarks of my own, but they are quite feeble compared with yours.2 I have been the more gratified by your article, as in the July number of our Quarterly there is an abusive attack on my short discussion on language; & your essay is so splendid an answer to it, that I have tried to get it reprinted in the Contemporary, but the Ed. is unwilling to break through his fixed rule of not republishing any thing.3

Dear Sir yours faithfully & obliged— | Charles Darwin


There is an annotated offprint on Whitney’s essay review of Friedrich Max Müller’s ‘Lectures on Mr. Darwin’s philosophy of language’ (Max Müller 1873, Whitney 1874) in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Descent 2d ed. was published in November 1874 (letter from R. F. Cooke, 12 November 1874). CD cited Whitney in Descent 2d ed., pp. 86 n. 53, 88 n. 63, and added a paragraph on the relationship between language and thought in Descent 2d ed., pp. 88–9. Max Müller had claimed that the use of language implied the ability to form general concepts, and that animals could not form general concepts, while CD argued that they could form general concepts to a certain degree. Whitney had argued that it was possible to think without language (Whitney 1874, p. 77).
St George Jackson Mivart, in an anonymous review of works by John Lubbock and Edward Burnett Tylor in the Quarterly Review, had accused CD of ignorance of some elementary distinctions in the study of language ([Mivart] 1874, p. 45). The editor of the Contemporary Review was James Thomas Knowles; see letter to J. T. Knowles, 31 July 1874, and letter from J. T. Knowles, 4 August 1874.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

[Mivart, St George Jackson.] 1874b. Primitive man: Tylor and Lubbock. [Essay review of the works of John Lubbock and Edward Burnett Tylor.] Quarterly Review 137 (1874): 40–77.

Müller, Hermann. 1873. Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen beider. Ein Beitrag zur Erkenntniss des ursächlichen Zusammenhanges in der organischen Natur. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.

Whitney, William Dwight. 1874. Darwinism and language. [Essay review of works by August Schleicher and Friedrich Max Müller.] North American Review 119: 61–88.


Praises WDW’s essay on language [North Am. Rev. 119 (1874): 61–88] which argues against Max Müller’s views and is a good defence against an attack made in Quarterly Review on CD’s short discussion of language.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9583,” accessed on 2 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22