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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Herman Semmig   27 August 1877


August 27th. 1877.

Honoured Sir,

From a literary portion of the Parisian Journal “Le Français” (No. 210, 2 Août 1877) I have just learned that an article of the Parisian scholar Taine on the intellectual development of a child has caused you to publish a diary, which you have made about one of your children 37 years ago.1 The above mentioned article says that you have observed and marked daily the psychologic manifestations of the child.

The very same thing I undertook, when on the 16th. of May 1867 à Orléans (France) at the birth of my first child, a girl, I began to keep a diary, of which the editor, Hartung et Son here, has just sent you a copy of the second edition.2 Urged on the matter by the debates on “Kraft und Stoff”, but convinced as much of the reality of the mind as of that of the matter, I hoped through close observation of the development of the child to seize, as it were, the mind it its spring.3 I did not succeed; however, “Le Français” sas as well of you as of Taine: “Deux philosophes sont entrés récemment dans cette ètude de la psychologie infantile, et, quoiqu’ils n’y aient pas fait jusqu’ici de découverte bien saillante, ils ont au moins ouvert la voie”.4 By the way I note that the mentioned Journal, being advertised through me, will say in future: Trois philosophes. My treatise was undertaken and published before Taine’s; yours, honoured Sir, is older with regard to time, but has also appeared later on the market. My observations, therefore, are quite independent and original.

Now I beg you, honoured Sir, to read my book, perhaps there will be, on your recomandation, a translator in England; a little allusion to English prudery, as I hope, be pardonet, is it a saying to be heard every where.5

But to the correct judgement and appreciation I add the following: In the course of the keeping of my diary I have somewhat deviated from the original aim and purpose, or rather, I have enlarged on the plan. Of a poetic disposition, I have interspersed now and then descriptions of nature and home life in prosa and in verses, so that my book has become a picture of family life. Besides this I am also politically occupied and have, in consequence, sometimes added criticisms of social conditions and ideas of a politic and pedagogic nature etc.

Yet throughout the whole the original aim is visible. In the printed book I have not marked the dates (at least not the days); but from the noted weeks and months the reader will almost learn the chronology. If you, honoured sir, would deign to take notice of my book, I should, in a third edition, mark the days of my observations.

You will also find your name in it; it was inevitable.6 I regret not being educated in physiology, metaphysics prevailing in my youth in Germany.7 But I rest on a passage of Feuerbach to support the right of philosophic speculation with that of investigation into natural history.8

I hope, honoured sir, that you will pay a kind regard to my essay to solute the problem, as you will find the matter sufficiently interesting and important, to treat it yourself, and, therefore, hope for a favorable answer.9 You would oblige me, if you would send me your treatise, which, until now, I only know from the “Français.”

With high esteem | Yours | faithfully | Herman Semmig, ph. dr.

Turnerstr. 2, II.


Hippolyte Taine’s essay on the acquisition of language by children appeared in translation in the journal Mind (Taine 1876 and 1877); CD’s ‘Biographical sketch of an infant’ was published in the July issue (see letter to G. C. Robertson, 27 April 1877 and nn. 1 and 2). The article in Le Français discussed several of CD’s observations on the sensory and intellectual development of infants (Fonssagrives 1877).
Semmig’s daughter was Bertha Semmig. CD’s annotated copy of Semmig’s book, Das Kind: Tagesbuch eines Vaters (The child: diary of a father; [Semmig] 1876) is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Kraft und Stoff (Force and matter; Büchner 1855) was a book by the German philosopher and physician, Ludwig Büchner; he presented a materialistic, atheistic interpretation of the world, and notably, explained mind and conciousness as epiphenomena of the physical state of the brain, produced by matter in motion. For Semmig’s view on the mind, see [Semmig] 1876, pp. 50–2.
The quotation may be translated: ‘Two philosophers have recently entered into this study of child psychology, and, while they have not yet made any remarkable discovery, they have at least opened the way.’
No English translation of Semmig’s book was published.
See [Semmig] 1876, p. 81. Semmig mentioned CD’s name only in passing, noting that animals had made a deep impression on humans long before Darwin.
Semmig received a doctorate in philosophy from Leipzig, where he also studied history and theology (DBE).
The passage from Ludwig Feuerbach has not been identified. For Feuerbach’s changing position on the relationship between philosophy and natural science, see F. Gregory 1977, pp. 20–5.
No response from CD has been found.


‘Biographical sketch of an infant’: A biographical sketch of an infant. By Charles Darwin. Mind 2 (1877): 285–94. [Shorter publications, pp. 409–16.]

Büchner, Ludwig. 1855. Kraft und Stoff. Empirisch-naturphilosophische Studien. In allgemein-verständlicher Darstellung. Frankfurt am Main: Weidinger.

DBE: Deutsche biographische Enzyklopädie. Edited by Walter Killy et al. 12 vols. in 14. Munich: K. G. Saur. 1995–2000.

Gregory, Frederick. 1977. Scientific materialism in nineteenth century Germany. Dordrecht, Netherlands, and Boston, Mass.: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

[Semmig, Herman.] 1876. Das Kind: Tagesbuch eines Vaters. 2d edition. Leipzig: H. Hartung & Sohn.

Taine, Hippolyte. 1876. Note sur l’acquisition du langage chez les enfants et dans l’espèce humaine. Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 1: 5–23.


Sends a published diary [Das Kind, 2d ed. (1876)] in which he recorded the early growth of his first child. Hopes it may find an English translator.

Letter details

Letter no.
Friedrich Herman (Herman) Semmig
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 134
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11115,” accessed on 19 September 2021,