skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Friedrich Max Müller   7 January 1875

Elibank, | Taplow.

7 Jan. 1875

My dear Sir,

It was very kind of you to write to me.1 I had no idea the article in the Quarterly was so bad as you say.2 I only gathered from your son’s article that he felt induced to write against me on account of what had been said by the writer in the Quarterly, and I imagined that he suspected me to be some way or other answerable for what had been said in the Quarterly.3 I have not yet seen that article, and after what you say I hardly care to look at it. I had to write my reply on the very shortest notice, and as the Christmas holidays intervened, the printers would not even let me have a second revise—hence the numerous misprints. I only undertook to answer those arguments which your son had made his own. He does not only report the argument of my American critic, but he speaks of his article “as a powerful attack, and, as we think, successful refutation of the somewhat dogmatic views of our Oxford linguist.”4 I have not seen the original article, and I should never have noticed it, unless your son had brought it so prominently before the English public. I feel towards the writer very much as you feel towards the writer in the Quarterly, and during the many years that he has been attacking me in his own peculiar way, I have never taken any notice of him.5

I hope in the course of the year to be able to place my whole argument before you. Even if I cannot hope to convince you, I trust at least to be able to show to you that there are difficulties connected with the origin of language which deserve careful consideration—which possibly to me may seem greater than to you, but which, I feel sure, you would be the last person to wish to ignore. I can assure you I feel as strongly as any mere layman in natural history can feel it, the impulsive force of your arguments. If I hesitate in following you in your explanation of the last animal metamorphosis, it is not because I am afraid, but simply because I see certain elements in human nature which would remain unexplained. To ordinary observers these elements may seem infinitesimally small and hardly worth a thought: but you know how the infinitesimally small is after all what is really important in evolution. You know better than anybody how infinitely great is the difference between man and animal: what I want to know is the first small and hardly perceptible cause of that difference, and I believe I find it in language & what is implied by language.

Believe me, my dear Sir, | Sincerely yours | Max Müller


The article in the Quarterly Review was [Mivart] 1874; it contained an attack on George Howard Darwin (see Correspondence vol. 22, Appendix V).
Max Müller had written a paper titled ‘My reply to Mr. Darwin’ (Max Müller 1875) for the January 1875 issue of the Contemporary Review, in answer to George’s paper defending CD’s views on language (G. H. Darwin 1874). Müller noted that George’s defence had been inspired partly by comments in an anonymous article in the Quarterly Review ([Mivart] 1874), and denied that he was the author of that article.
In his article (G. H. Darwin 1874), George had drawn attention to William Dwight Whitney’s essay review of Max Müller’s lectures on Darwinism and language (Max Müller 1873) in the North American Review (Whitney 1874). The quotation is from G. H. Darwin 1874, p. 894; the ‘Oxford linguist’ was Max Müller himself.
In his letter of 5 January 1875, CD had revealed that the author of the anonymous article in the Quarterly Review ([Mivart] 1874) was St George Jackson Mivart. Whitney and Max Müller had been engaged in a public feud over Sanskrit and general linguistics from the 1850s (ANB s.v. Whitney, William Dwight). See Alter 2005, pp. 181–92.


Alter, Stephen G. 2005. William Dwight Whitney and the science of language. Baltimore, Md., and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

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

Max Müller, Friedrich. 1875. My reply to Mr. Darwin. Contemporary Review 25 (1874–5): 305–26.

[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.


FMM discusses his reply to George Darwin’s article [see 9711].

Intends within a year to place his whole argument before CD when, he hopes, his difficulties connected with the origin of language will be carefully considered by CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
Friedrich Max Müller
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 285
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9808,” accessed on 29 February 2020,

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