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Letter 7121

Kovalevsky, V. O. to Darwin, C. R.

28 Feb [1870]


Describes his brother Alexander’s discovery of male of Bonellia, a striking example of dimorphism. Encloses a plate with notes on his brother’s work.

The difficulty his wife, Sofya Kovalevsky, has had as a woman in being admitted to Berlin University. Kirchow [Gustav Robert Kirchhoff], at Heidelberg, has taken an interest in her.


Dear Sir!

Your letter adressed to Heidelberg was delivered there to my wifeand so I received it some days ago at Munich.f2 As You are kindenough to take an interest in our doings I schall give You somedetails of our common plans. My brotherf3 book now a leave fromRussia for 18 months and is now in the position of a boy before thelong vacation not knowing how to make the best of it; he intended togo to Naples or Chersof4 to finish the developement of the Boneliacommenced two years ago, but not finished as it was not the season ofdevelopement. The thing is very interesting (if his conclusion aboutthe supposed males is correct), as it present us with such a completedimorphism, the male and female at first glance seeming to belong todiferrent groups or even classes of worms. As it may interest You, andthe little notice of it is printed in Russian I send You the Plate andsome explanation.f5 You certainly know the very interesting paper ofLacase Dudier in the Annales des Sciences Natur. on the Bonelia andthe splendid figures given there,f6 Lacase had in hands about ahundred Bonelias, but always females; Smarda who also wrote an articleabout these Sipunculidaef7 could never detect a male, so was it thefirst time with my brother; he found at a lucky place a whole colonyof Bonelias, but all were females and after mutilating hundreds hegave it away in despair; but returning to the same place in September 68 and beginning a new massacre he saw in the outer bag orinfundibulum of the sexual organ of the animal (female) in everyspecimen some strange planarias, very small, from 2 to 7 in everyfemale. They were covered with cilia and seemed quite like SmallTurbellarias with a white patch or line in the centre, this white linecontained spermatazoa. As at this special period literarly everyfemale had these planarias living in her sexual organs there is greatprobability that they are the males. If the case will stand futureinvestigation it will certainly be one of the best instance ofdimorphism, the female being a Sipunculus and the male a Planarianlike animal; so as I said his intention was to go to Naples, but as itseems he changed his mind and intends to go to a new place where nonaturalist worked before, the little bay is called Thor and lays onthe Sinai peninsula not very far from Suez, facing rich coralreefs. I, for my part am against his undetaking the journey beforeOctober, as in the summer the pilgrims going from Africa to Mekkagenerally bring with them pest, cholera and what not.—f8

My wife wished to go to Berlin, and the Rector the knowphysiologist Dubois Reymondf9 was one of our advocates, and a betterone is difficult to have, but the matematicians were against it, holdingto the strict sense of the law. Generally the matematicians are the worstthing living, not only in Germany but also in our country andI hope in England. One of the principal opponents to the admission of ladieswas Kunt,f10 a true pure, who at one of the Natural Science Congressproposed a toast “for the theory of numbers (Zahlenteorie) as a partof mathematics that till the present was not besmeared with practicalapplication”. So are they all, more or less. But happily Kirchhowtook a great interest in her and promised to give her a specialinvestigation about light in the summer, so she remains a suer atHeidelberg.f11 For my part I am quite incertain what to do, going toVienna and working with the assistance of Tehermak and Suess,f12or going to England and working alone whithout direction. I thinkI’ll take the latter course; firstly because with Your kindnessto me I will have as good assistance as can be; scondly because I willhave the use of the best collections existing.—

The one point which most interest me is, can I have trough a memberthe use of the Library of the Geological Society, not only readingthere, but taking the books out to my lodging as my principal workinktime is in the night. I think I shall take the liberty to write aboutthis point to Mr. Huxley, as the free use of the Library is one ofthe Chief point which determine my going to London.—f13 Thevacation commences this Sunday, and Monday I hope to break off and goto Nizza with my wife and one of her friends, a young lady about herage but “learned in the law”, as she is pursuing now law studies atHeidelberg.f14 What will Your ladies say of such an ultra bluestocking.

The principal attraction of the coast of Nizza for me isthe rich fauna of mollusks, the splendid series of deposits from thetrias to the upper Chalk and especially the wonderful new Wealden,only not of the Jurrasic but of the Upper Cretaceous period with adevelopement of 600 feet of freschwater sediments and lignites, atleast so is it affirmed by Coquand and I am very restless to see thewonder with my own eyes and especially to collect and study itsfauna.f15 In case You write me, please to adress Nizza, posterestante. With Your permission I write You from Nizza.— Mycompliments to Mrs. Darwin and the ladies

Yours very truly | W. Kowalevsky

Munich | 28 February


1. Grown up female of Bonelia always sticking with her pyriformand in an aperture of a rock (Lacase— Ann. des Sc. Nat. vol X.)

2. Bonelia cut from the dorsal side g. ova in the Leibeshöhle,q. anal aperture; m. uterus; p. inpundibulum trough which theova pass from the F cavity of the thorax into the uterus   v bagwhere the planarias live


3. Supposed male magnified 70 diam; rs receptaculum seminis t.infundibulum; h. granular mass clothing the cavity, from whichundeveloped spermatozoa are cast of; s. glomercili of spermatozoansswimming freely in the cavity

4. Infundibulum of the receptae. sem. (magnified 500 diam). withflimmerzellen

DAR 169: 61



The year is established by the reference to Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya’sbeing in Heidelburg; she was there between May 1869 and mid-1870(Koblitz 1983, pp. 88, 97).
Letter to V. O. Kovalevsky, 22 February [1870]. Kovalevsky’s wifewas Sofia Kovalevskaya.
Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky.
Cherso: now Cres, in Croatia.
See enclosure. Bonelia is an incorrect subsequent spelling ofBonellia, a genus of spoon worms.
Kovalevsky refers to Félix Joseph Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers andLacaze-Duthiers 1858. The article had four plates, showing the generalmorphology, and the digestive,reproductive, and nervous systems of the animal.
Bonellia is now in the familyBonelliidae in the phylum Echiura. The family Sipunculidae is nowplaced in the phylum Sipuncula (peanut worms). Kovalevsky refers toLudwig Karl Schmarda’s description of Bonellia viridis (Schmarda 1852).
Tor, on the south-west coast of the Suez Peninsula, served as aquarantine station for pilgrims returning from Mecca (Columbiagazetteer of the world).
Emil Heinrich Du Bois-Reymond.
Kovalevsky refers to August Kundt.
Gustav Robert Kirchhoff was a professor at Heidelberg (DSB).
Gustav Tschermak and Edward Suess.
Thomas Henry Huxley was president of the Geological Society ofLondon (ODNB).
Nizza: Nice. Kovalevsky also refers to Anna Mikhailovna Evrainova.
Kovalevsky refers to Henri Coquand.
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