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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Anton Dohrn   15 February 1872

Naples. Palazzo Torlonia.


My dear Sir!

There must have been some benevolent spirit somewhere, who knew, that I should be very proud to get a letter from You, and who knew also, that You would be so kind as to write even on behalf of such an insignificant thing, as that article of mine in “Das Ausland.”1

I am innocent of troubling You with my wisdom on Your great theory, and would never have sent that third hand article myself. But since somebody else must have done it, I am exceedingly thankful, that You noticed it, and wrote me Your kind letter in reply.

I infer from Your silence on it, that Your health is at present not a bad one, and that You are going to give us some new book out of the immense store-house of Your experience and speculation, and though You will perhaps know it best Yourself, I believe, whatever You would publish, will give a signal to new fighting on the new and the old grounds.

I am sorry, You think the publication of the Descent of Man a mistake,— the excitement produced by it shows, how utterly necessary it was, that You spoke plainly on the matter of Man’s descent.2

I have been burying myself for longtime in the history of our great literary epoch from Lessing to the Romantic School, including all the greatest Genius, Germany perhaps produced for the past as well as for the future. And the greatest lucubrations of Lessing, Goethe, Kant, Beethoven3 were almost without exception received with little or no consent from the side of the critics and with great alarm from the public. The single individual is perhaps standing to near, to view the whole importance of such productions, by and by he gets better acquainted with it, and—the excitement passed,—he is more ready to acknowledge and to do justice. I wished Goethe was still alive, and had seen the Revolution, Your books have worked,— no greater satisfaction he could have felt than that.4

I shall be very proud, if You will send me a copy of the next edition of the Origin with the addition of the Chapter on the Incipient Structures;5 it will always remind me of the great obligation, we all have against You.

If I may be allowed to speak of my things, I cannot say much about the progress of the Station,—only it is to be done.6 The difficulties in this country are something quite unheard of for all of us northern people. The indolence, dishonesty, hatred even against a good and disinterested enterprise, are quite regular qualities with this people, and it wants one’s last resources of nervous energy to overcome the physical hindrance and the moral disgust, it fills one with. I am now so far, that I can begin the construction, having happily wrought me out of all dishonest elements, which first clung to my affair.

I hope that I shall be able to give some more specialized information on the way I intend to build and to organize the Station in one or two other articles in “Nature”, where also some woodcuts will illustrate the whole.7

I shall be very sorry to miss Professor Huxley on his return home.8 It is almost certain, that I am to pass March and April in Germany as well for finishing some observations on fish-Embryology as for the sake of the Station.9 I hope his health will be fully restored by his journey,— I remember last time, when I stayed with him at St. Andrews I viewed his position quite so as it has turned out.10 And I believe, there are struggles for him in store, for which he will want all his energies to fight them through. Practical life is Scylla and Charybdis at once,—and he may easily meet stronger opponents than Miss Helen Taylor.11

Ray Lankester, who is staying with me since October wishes to be remembered to You most kindly. He works at Cephalopoda and Sipunculus.12 With my best compliments to Mrs. Darwin and Your son,13 Believe me, my dear Sir | Yours most sincerely | Anton Dohrn


Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Many German researchers, and notably Ernst Haeckel, saw Goethe as a precursor to CD (see Haeckel 1868, pp. 59–79).
The reference is to Origin 6th ed.; see letter to Anton Dohrn, 3 February 1872 and n. 6.
Building of the zoological station at Naples was delayed, but started in March 1872 (see Heuss 1991, pp. 114–20).
Dohrn’s article on the founding of the zoological station appeared in Nature, 8 February and 4 April 1872 (Dohrn 1872a). A longer essay on the purpose of the station appeared in Preussische Jahrbücher (Dohrn 1872b).
Thomas Henry Huxley was returning from Egypt via Naples. See letter to Anton Dohrn, 3 February 1872 and n. 3. Huxley stayed at Dohrn’s house in Naples from 27 March 1872 until the beginning of April (A. Desmond 1994–7, 2: 34).
Dohrn spent March and April in Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland) and returned to Naples in May 1872 (Heuss 1991, pp. 118–19).
Huxley had stayed in St Andrews, Scotland, in September 1871 (A. Desmond 1994–7, 2: 24).
Dohrn alludes to Helen Taylor’s article ‘The new attack on toleration’, which appeared in the December 1871 issue of the Fortnightly Review (H. Taylor 1871); in it, Taylor criticised Huxley’s article ‘Administrative nihilism’ (T. H. Huxley 1871c) in the November 1871 issue of the same journal.
Edwin Ray Lankester studied development in the squid genus Loligo (Cephalopoda), and the histology of Sipunculus nudus, an unsegmented marine worm of the family Sipunculidae (see Lankester 1873).
Dohrn had visited CD on 26 September 1870 (Heuss 1991, p. 108). It is not known which of CD’s sons Dohrn met.


AD is sorry CD thinks publication of Descent a mistake. The excitement shows it was necessary for someone to speak plainly.

His great difficulties (Italian indolence, dishonesty, hatred) in establishing zoological station. Can at last start construction.

Letter details

Letter no.
Felix Anton (Anton) Dohrn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 208
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8214,” accessed on 23 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20