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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Ernst Haeckel1   12 October 1872

Jena

12 Oct. 72.

Hochverehrter theurer Freund!

Ihr lieber letzter Brief, durch den Sie mich sehr erfreut haben, war insofern allzu gütig, als Sie den geringen Antheil, welchen ich an der Foerderung und Verbreitung Ihrer Ideen habe, gewiss überschätzen und der “Natürlichen Schöpfungsgeschichte einen Werth zuschreiben, den sie nicht besitzt.2 Diese und ähnliche Bücher sind doch nur weitere Ausführungen der mächtigen Anregung, welche Sie gegeben haben, und das Verdienst, welches ich und ähnliche “Darwinisten” uns im besten Falle erwerben können, ist nicht zu vergleichen mit dem unschätzbaren Verdienste des Meisters, der zuerst unserer Wissenschaft freie Bahn gebrochen hat.

Die Polemik gegen Rütimeyer, welche ich in die Vorrede der III. Auflage aufgenommen habe, ist mir durch die unaufhörlichen Angriffe dieses Pseudo-Darwinisten abgedrungen, welcher bei jeder Gelegenheit meine Arbeiten als “unwissenschaftlich” verleumdet und sich ähnlich wie ein bellender Hund beträgt, der sich über den raschen Lauf eines schnellen Pferdes ärgert.3 Ich würd ihm übrigens nicht so hart die Wahrheit gesagt haben, wenn ich nicht wüsste, dass hinter seiner Polemik die elendesten Motive verborgen sind. Professor Rütimeyer ist ein echter Schweizer, und das alte Sprichwort sagt: “Kein Geld kein Schweizer”. Seine Baseler Landsleute, von denen er besoldet wird, sind sehr kirchlich fromm, und da er sich bei ihnen durch seine trefflichen Arbeiten in den Ruf eines halben Darwinisten gesetzt hat, sucht er dies dadurch wieder auszugleichen, dass er andere Darwinisten verleumdet.

Die Untersuchungen des Englischen Dr. Bastian über spontane Generation, von denen Sie mir schreiben, habe ich auch im Auszuge gelesen.4 Es sind darin sehr interessante Angaben. Doch gestehe ich, dass ich in die Qualität des Dr. Bastian als Beobachter und Kritiker kein grosses Vertrauen setze. Es wird noch mit viel mehr Sorgfalt und Kritik über die Urzeugung beobachtet und experimentirt werden müssen, ehe diese fundamentale Frage von der empirischen Seite wirklich gefördert wird. Von der philosophischen Seite ist sie hinlaenglich klar. Besonders durch die Entdeckung der Moneren scheinen mir hier die meisten Schwierigkeiten gehoben zu sein.5 Eine andere Schwierigkeit hat die phylogenetische Frage, wie sich die die durch Urzeugung entstandenen und etwa jetzt noch entstehenden Formen vom Moneren zu den Wurzel-Formen des Thierreichen Protisten-reichs und Pflanzenreichs verhalten.

Meine Monographie der Calcispongien ist nun nahezu fertig und ich hoffe, sie Ihnen im November senden zu können.6 Ich hoffe, dass Manches darin Sie interessiren wird, vor Allen der wunderbare Grad von Variabilitaet und Anpassungsfähigkeit den diese merkwürdigen Thiere besitzen. Der gewöhnliche Grad von Variabilitaet wird hier weit überschritten, und die gewöhnlichen Vorstellungen von “Species” hören hier ganz auf. In dieser Beziehung sind die Spongien vielleicht die interessantesten von allen Organismen.

Mit den besten Wünschen für Ihre Gesundheit, und mit der Hoffnung dass Sie uns noch recht lange als Hauptführer und “Feldmarschall” im “Kampfe um die Wahrheit” vorangehen, bleibe ich, hochverehrter Freund, Ihr treuer, von Herzen ergebener | Ernst Haeckel

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix I.
See letter to Ernst Haeckel, 2 September 1872. Haeckel had sent a copy of the third edition of his popular book on the natural history of creation (Haeckel 1872b).
Ludwig Rütimeyer had written a review of the first edition of Haeckel’s book (Haeckel 1868), in which he noted that Haeckel had described his work as both popular and scientific. Rütimeyer observed that while no one could argue against Haeckel’s first claim, he could hardly expect the second to be taken seriously (Rütimeyer 1868, p. 301). Rütimeyer took issue with Haeckel’s illustrations of early stages of dog, chick, and turtle embryos (Haeckel 1868, p. 248), stating that the three illustrations were clearly from one and the same woodcut and that this could be described as nothing other than trifling with both the public and science (Rütimeyer 1868, p. 302; for more on the criticism of Haeckel’s illustrations, see Hopwood 2006).
See letter to Ernst Haeckel, 2 September 1872. For CD’s view of Henry Charlton Bastian’s book, The beginnings of life (H. C. Bastian 1872), see the letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 August [1872].
Haeckel believed he had discovered organisms lacking both nucleus and organelles, and formed of undifferentiated protoplasm, and had classified them within a group he termed Monera, a subdivision of his kingdom Protista, single-celled organisms (Haeckel 1866, 1: 135). According to Haeckel they were the ancestors of all animals (see S. J. Gould 1977, p. 170).
Haeckel 1872a was published in December 1872 or January 1873 (letter from Ernst Haeckel, 10 December 1872).

Translation

From Ernst Haeckel1   12 October 1872

Jena

12 Oct. 72.

Highly honoured friend!

Your recent kind letter, which pleased me greatly, was too kind in that you certainly overestimate the limited role that I play in supporting and spreading your ideas and you assign “Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte an importance it does not possess.2 This and similar books surely are mere expositions of the powerful impulse that you have given, and the recognition that I myself and similar “Darwinists” can, at best, deserve is not to be compared to the inestimable achievement of the master who first blazed a trail for our science.

The polemic against Rütimeyer, which I included in my preface to the III. edition, I was forced to engage in because of the continuous attacks of this pseudo-Darwinist, who at every opportunity slanders my work by calling it “unscientific” and who behaves like a barking dog angered by the swift progress of a fast horse.3 I would, moreover, not have told the truth quite so harshly, had I not known that behind his polemic the most miserable motives are concealed. Professor Rütimeyer is a true Swiss, and an old saying goes: “Where there’s no money, there are no Swiss”. His fellow-countrymen of Basel, who pay his salary, are very sanctimoniously pious, and since his excellent works have earned him the reputation of being half Darwinist, he seeks to make up for this by slandering other Darwinists.

I have read an abstract of the researches of the English Dr. Bastian on spontaneous generation, about which you write to me.4 It contains some very interesting data. However I confess that I don’t have much faith in the quality of Dr. Bastian as an observer and critic. It will require much greater care and review in observation and experimentation on abiogenesis before this fundamental question can be truly advanced on the empirical side. From the philosophical side, it is already sufficiently clear. Particularly through the discovery of the Monera, it seems to me, most of the difficulties in this respect have been overcome.5 The phylogenetic question has another difficulty, how the forms of Monera that originated through spontaneous generation and that perhaps are still arising, are related to the root-forms of the animal, protist, and plant kingdoms.

My monograph on the calcareous sponges is now nearing completion and I hope to be able to send it to you in November.6 I hope that quite a few things in it will be of interest to you, particularly the marvellous degree of variability and adaptability of these peculiar animals. They exceed the common degree of variability by far, and the usual notions of “species” totally cease to apply. In this respect sponges are perhaps the most interesting organisms of all.

With the best wishes for your health, and in the hope that you may for quite some time yet continue to lead us as our principal guide and “field marshal” in the “struggle for truth”, I remain, much venerated friend, your faithful, wholly devoted | Ernst Haeckel.

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original German, see pp. 443–4.
See letter to Ernst Haeckel, 2 September 1872. Haeckel had sent a copy of the third edition of his popular book on the natural history of creation (Haeckel 1872b).
Ludwig Rütimeyer had written a review of the first edition of Haeckel’s book (Haeckel 1868c), in which he noted that Haeckel had described his work as both popular and scientific. Rütimeyer observed that while no one could argue against Haeckel’s first claim, he could hardly expect the second to be taken seriously (Rütimeyer 1868b, p. 301). Rütimeyer took issue with Haeckel’s illustrations of early stages of dog, chick, and turtle embryos (Haeckel 1868c, p. 248), stating that the three illustrations were clearly from one and the same woodcut and that this could be described as nothing other than trifling with both the public and science (Rütimeyer 1868b, p. 302; for more on the criticism of Haeckel’s illustrations, see Hopwood 2006).
See letter to Ernst Haeckel, 2 September 1872. For CD’s view of Henry Charlton Bastian’s book, The beginnings of life (Bastian 1872), see the letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 August [1872].
Haeckel believed he had discovered organisms lacking both nucleus and organelles, and formed of undifferentiated protoplasm, and had classified them within a group he termed Monera, a subdivision of his kingdom Protista, single-celled organisms (Haeckel 1866, 1: 135). According to Haeckel they were the ancestors of all animals (see S. J. Gould 1977, p. 170).
Haeckel 1872a was published in December 1872 or January 1873 (letter from Ernst Haeckel, 10 December 1872).

Summary

Much experiment and observation needed before spontaneous generation will be empirically advanced, but philosophically the matter is clear.

Thinks Ludwig Rütimeyer has attacked EH to satisfy pious opinion in Basel.

Will soon be finished with his monograph Die Kalkschwämme [1872].

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-8556
From
Ernst Philipp August (Ernst) Haeckel
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Jena
Source of text
DAR 166: 58
Physical description
4pp (German)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8556,” accessed on 23 June 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-8556

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

letter