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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Clair James Grece   29 December 1867

Dear Sir,

There has lately appeared a learned and elaborate English grammar, very far beyond aught of its kind which has been published before. In fact there is no other grammar of the English language with which it can be at all compared. It is a work of prodigious research and erudition, the author having traced in the historical manner, the descent of the finest shades of usage from the teutonic and romance sources whose confluence formed the English tongue.

It is marvellous how a foreigner could ever come to discriminate shades of usage whose subtlety almost baffles the apprehension of a native. He has brought to his work a thorough acquaintance with the science of language, and of thought, its counterpart, and an intimate knowledge of eight tongues. It can be compared only with Kuehner’s Greek or Grimm’s German grammar;1 and, like these, it is the production of a German, Professor Maetzner of Berlin, and it is written in the German language.2

This work, which can scarcely fail to take rank, sooner or later, as a leading authority on our tongue, and as an indispensable complement to Webster’s, Wedgwood’s or Richardson’s dictionary,3 in every well-stocked library, ought not, I think, to be confined to such Englishmen and Americans as can read German, wherefore I have conceived the project of devoting my unoccupied time to translating it. But, as this would entail a very considerable expenditure of effort, the work consisting of three octavo volumes, each of about 500 pages, it is important, on commencing it, to ensure that I shall be able to unite myself with a publisher, as else much time and labour might be consumed in vain. I have been recommended to negotiate with Mr. Murray, and, it was hinted that if I were sustained by an introduction from one of his authors, his attention would be more likely to be fairly bestowed upon the project than if I approached him abruptly.4

It at once occurred to me that you would not object to give me a letter to Mr. Murray in which you might refer to me as the person mentioned in the note to your “Origin of Species”.5 Of my competence to render the ideas from the High Dutch into the English idiom so far as they are capable of being transfused, you can, of course, say nothing.

I am, Dear Sir, | yours very truly, | Clair J. Grece

Redhill, Surrey;

29th. December, 1867


The references are to Raphael Kühner and Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm, and to Kühner 1834–5 and Grimm 1819–37.
Grece refers to Eduard Mätzner and his Englische Grammatik (Mätzner 1860–5).
On Noah Webster’s and Charles Richardson’s English dictionaries, see, for example, Micklethwait 2000. Hensleigh Wedgwood compiled a dictionary of English etymology (H. Wedgwood 1859–65).
Grece refers to John Murray. See letter to John Murray, 31 December [1867] and n. 4.
Grece had previously pointed out to CD a passage in Aristotle that indicated, according to Grece, some understanding on the part of ‘the ancients’ of the principles of natural selection (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from C. J. Grece, 12 November 1866 and n. 3); CD added this information to the historical sketch in Origin 4th ed., p. xiii n., acknowledging Grece as its source.


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

Grimm, Jakob Ludwig Karl. 1819–37. Deutsche Grammatik. 4 vols. Göttingen: bei Dieterich.

Kühner, Raphael. 1834–5. Ausfürliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache. 2 vols. Hannover.

Mätzner, Eduard. 1860–5. Englische Grammatik. 3 vols. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

Micklethwait, David. 2000. Noah Webster and the American dictionary. Jefferson, N.C., and London: McFarland & Company.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.


Asks CD to write a letter on his behalf to John Murray. CJG plans to translate Eduard Maetzner’s Englische Grammatik [1860–5] if publication can be arranged.

Letter details

Letter no.
Clair James Grece
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 221
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5742,” accessed on 28 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15