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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Friedrich Max Müller   29 June 1873

Parks End, | Oxford.

29 June 1873.


In taking the liberty of forwarding to you a copy of my Lectures,1 I feel certain that you will accept my remarks as what they were intended to be—an open statement of the difficulties which a student of language feels when called upon to explain the languages of man, such as he finds them, as the possible development of what has been called the language of animals.2 The interjectional and mimetic theories of the origin of language, are no doubt very attractive and plausible, but if they were more than that, one at least of the great authorities in the Science of Language, Humboldt, Bopp, Grimm, Burnouf, Curtius, Schleicher ec. would have adopted them.3 However, it matters very little who is right and who is wrong; but it matters a great deal what is right and what is wrong, and as an honest, though it may be unsuccessful attempt at finding out what is true with regard to the conditions under which human language is possible, I venture to send you my three Lectures, trusting that, though I differ from some of your conclusions, you will believe me to be one of your diligent readers and sincere admirers


Max Müller’s ‘Lectures on Mr. Darwin’s philosophy of language’ had been delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in March and April 1873. They were published in Fraser’s Magazine in May, June, and July (Max Müller 1873a). CD’s annotated offprint is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD had discussed the origin of language from animal sounds in Descent 1: 56–62. He expanded his discussion in the second edition, addressing Max Müller’s claim that animals lacked language, and that they therefore also lacked the ability to form general ideas or concepts (Descent 2d ed., pp. 83, 88–90).
Max Müller refers to Karl Wilhelm von Humboldt, Franz Bopp, Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm, Eugène Burnouf, Georg Curtius, and August Schleicher.


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.


Sends three lectures on the origin of human language [see 8962].

Although a "sincere admirer", he differs with CD on the relation of human to so-called animal language.

Letter details

Letter no.
Friedrich Max Müller
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 284
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8957,” accessed on 18 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21