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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin to W. D. Whitney   21 December 1875

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington S.E.R.

Dec 21. 75

My dear Sir,

Both my Father & I were very sorry to have missed seeing you when in England.1 I hope I may be able to visit the U.S again some day & then we may perhaps meet, even if you do not visit England again.

Max Müller sent the part of the ‘Chips’ to my Father, which contains his defence(!) against your attacks.2 I confess that I found it so intolerably dull that I could not read it, but I looked thro’ a great part of it. I am a little sorry that you are going to write in answer, as I think that very few will trouble themselves to read it (Max Müller) & those who do so will see that it is the work of a man out of himself with anger. I of course did not perceive the various cases of injustice to your linguistic views to which you refer; these coming ex cathedrâ must be very galling. I confess I felt it a little hard on myself to be dragged into the foreground & chaffed—rather savagely however.3

In my Contemp. article I thought I had made it pretty clear that I wrote as an ignoramus & only intended to represent your views, with such comments as ordinary intelligence without linguistic knowledge wd. allow me.4 It was also unjust both to you & me to coolly assume that you have manoeuvred to ‘get hold of the pen of the Son fondly hoping it would carry the weight of the father’s’—sous entendu that I am rather a fool & you rather a knave.5 One does not see the end of this kind of polemic & if it were I myself, I think I should have been rather inclined to allow time to cool the heats of controversy & bring forth the just view of the case. However it is very hard to put oneself in another’s place, & I daresay I misjudge the difficulty of sitting down under the attacks of one bearing the name of great authority

Believe me | Yours faithfully | Geo. H Darwin

My Father dictates as follows to you:

“There is a sentence in the Chips in wh. M.M expresses great satisfaction at having received a letter from me, and which seems to imply that I had said that I thought that you were wrong in the controversy & he Max Muller right, whereas there was nothing whatever in the letter which could bear any interpretation of this kind”.6


Whitney, who had spent the summer in England, attempted to meet CD in May 1875 and again in September (see letter to W. D. Whitney, 1 September 1875 and n. 1). George had visited America between August and October 1871, and met Whitney at least twice (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from Chauncey Wright, 11 October 1871 and n. 8).
Friedrich Max Müller’s defence was in an essay recently published in the fourth volume of Chips from a German workshop (Max Müller 1867–75, 4: 473–549); he had sent a copy to CD in October (see letter from Friedrich Max Müller, 13 October [1875]). Max Müller was responding to Whitney 1875.
Max Müller’s essay continued a debate over the origins of language between Max Müller, Whitney, and George Darwin that had started in 1874 (see letter from Friedrich Max Müller, 13 October [1875] and n. 3). A section of the essay, ‘Mr. George Darwin’s article in the “Contemporary Review”’ (Max Müller 1867–75, 4: 482–5), took George to task for supporting Whitney’s views.
George had published his article ‘Professor Whitney on the origin of language’ in the Contemporary Review (G. H. Darwin 1874).
Max Müller made this statement in Max Müller 1867–75, 4: 535. ‘Sous entendu’ (French): insinuating.
See Max Müller 1867–75, 4: 483. Max Müller probably referred to the letter to him of 5 January 1875.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Max Müller, Friedrich. 1867–75. Chips from a German workshop. 4 vols. London: Longmans, Green.

Whitney, William Dwight. 1875. Are languages institutions? Contemporary Review 25 (1874–5): 713–32.


Müller has sent Chips [from a German workshop (1867–75)] and a boring defence against WDW’s attack. GHD feels he is maligned for using the weight of CD’s name in his Contemporary Review article. CD says Müller has misinterpreted a letter from CD as supporting him in his controversy with WDW.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10314,” accessed on 23 February 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23