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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Dawkins   14 March 1875

The Owens College, | Manchester,


My dear Sir,

It is a great satisfaction to me to hear that you are pleased with my imperfect, and to a great extent uncorrected and crude book, written under great pressure and with the idea that it was better to put it forward now, rather than wait for the polish and style of the future, which might never come.1 From your letter and its reception in America, and its translation into German,2 I am very happy in inferring that it has not been written in vain.

I have to thank you also for your note about Oxen—3 Before I wrote I had persecuted Freeman, Stubbs and Green, and read Howel Dha, and the Records of the Kings Council, as far as Henry VII, in vain.4 I cannot guess where Youatt5 found it: but it must have been in some Monastic roll or other.

As you are interested in the question of the northern extension of the Iberians or Basques the last discussion before the Anthropological Institute is not without point.6 The philologers in the Sat. Rev. Athenæum etc have been laying down the law that language is a test of race, and have assumed that, as I did not take up its evidence on the Basque question, language had been altogether ignored in the enquiry.7 On the question being put to Prince Lucien Buonaparte, Sayce, Rhys, and Van Eys8 the other evening, “whether they considered that the Ethiopian could change his skin and whole physique as easily as his speech?”, the answer was obviously “no”. So that as the case stands at present three distinguished philologers hold that language is not a test of race, and consequently the argument as to the Basques—the only argument urged against the Basque theory—falls to the ground. It further appeared in the debate that the Basque tongue has not been written more than two or three centuries, and that it is full of latin and gothic words.

Since the debate Rhys and Sayce have been following up the point which I urged “that the Finns are indistinguishable physically from the Celts,” and have met with fragments of Ugric grammar in Welsh and Erse—9

Probably something of great value will be found out in this quarter— — but I must ask pardon for so long a letter | from | Yours very truly | W. Boyd Dawkins

Charles Darwin Esq F.R.S. | Down.

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Plant which catches moths like Apocynumblue crayon


CD’s letter has not been found, but he had evidently written to comment on Dawkins’s book Cave hunting: researches on the evidences of caves respecting the early inhabitants of Europe (Dawkins 1874a). Dawkins had sent CD a copy in October 1874 (see Correspondence vol. 22, letter to W. B. Dawkins, 18 October [1874]). CD’s lightly annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–Down (see Marginalia 1: 188).
The German translation of Cave hunting was published in 1876 (Dawkins 1876).
Edward Augustus Freeman, William Stubbs, and John Richard Green were historians. The laws of Hywel Dda (Cyfraith Hywel) are a system of native Welsh law named after the medieval Welsh king who was credited with the codification (see Law of Hywel Dda). The records of the King’s Council date from 1386 to 1540, after which they are called records of the Privy Council (for more on these records, see the National Archives, ‘Privy Council since 1386’;
Dawkins refers to a discussion at the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland on 9 February 1875, following the presentation of ‘The Basque and the Kelt’ (Webster 1875). The printed paper included a detailed account of the discussion (Webster 1875, pp. 20–9). It was a critique of Dawkins’s paper ‘The northern range of the Basques’, which had appeared in the Fortnightly Review in September 1874 (Dawkins 1874b). CD mentioned having read Dawkins’s paper in his letter to Dawkins of 18 October [1874] (Correspondence vol. 22).
An unsigned article, ‘Mr. Dawkins on the Basques’, appeared in the Saturday Review, 12 September 1874, pp. 336–7. The reviewer, while accepting the anthropological evidence that Dawkins had highlighted, maintained that language remained an important tool for determining the migration of populations. Dawkins may also allude to a review of Etruscan researches (I. Taylor 1874) in the Athenæum, 9 May 1874, pp. 625–6, in which the reviewer argued that when conflicting interpretations arose, philological evidence should outweigh ethnological evidence.
Louis Lucien Bonaparte, Archibald Henry Sayce, John Rhŷs, and Willem Jan van Eys.
In the discussion following Webster 1875, Dawkins countered the argument in ‘Mr. Dawkins on the Basques’ that the Basques might be of Finnish stock, by noting that Finns were a tall, fair, broad-headed race, physically indistinguishable from Kelts (see Webster 1875, p. 21). Finnish belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

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

Dawkins, William Boyd. 1876. Die Höhlen und die Ureinwohner Europas. Translated by J. W. Spengel. Foreword by Oscar Fraas. (German translation of Cave hunting.) Leipzig and Heidelberg: C. F. Winter.

Law of Hywel Dda: The law of Hywel Dda: law texts from medieval Wales. Translated and edited by Dafydd Jenkins. Llandysul: Gomer. 1986.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Taylor, Isaac. 1874. Etruscan researches. London: Macmillan.

Webster, Wentworth. 1875. The Basque and the Kelt: an examination of Mr. W. Boyd Dawkins’ paper, ‘The northern range of the Basques,’ in the Fortnightly Review, September, 1874. [Read 9 February 1875.] Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 5 (1875–6): 5–29.


Is glad CD is pleased with his book [Cave hunting (1874)].

Relationship between language and race. The Basques.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Boyd Dawkins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Owens College, Manchester
Source of text
DAR 162: 130
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9887,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

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