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Darwin Correspondence Project

To V. O. Kovalevsky   21 May 1873

May 21 1873

My dear Sir

I thank you for yr extremely interesting letter.1 Your paper in the Proc. of the Royal Soc. appeared to me a very valuable contribution to science; & if I had known yr address I shd have written to you at the time.2 But what is far more important than my judgment, I observe that Prof. Flower, in his lectures, quotes & approves of several of yr generalizations3   I am extremely glad to hear that you have been successful in yr further researches. The dedication of which you speak will be very gratifying to me, & I look at it as a great honour.4

I am much obliged to you for telling me about your brothers work   I am not sure whether you mean to say that the larva of Argiope shews some real affinity to Sagitta, or merely resembles it in external form.5

In the former case it is a wonderfully fine discovery; for I remember even in the days of the Beagle, speculating on what relationship Sagitta could have to the other great groups of the animal kingdom. If I am right in my supposition, few men will have made such fine discoveries as your brother with respect to this case, & that of the Ascidians6

The discovery of the bird with teeth & bi-concave vertebræ is indeed a grand one   Some of our paleontologists think that Dinoceras was a true ungulate; & if so, it ought to come unde your review   Cope however maintains that is a true proboscidian7   I can plainly see that you & yr brother, in your different ways, have a grand career before you. As for myself my health has been of late somewhat better; & I am now entirely engaged on the fertility of plants8

With all good wishes believe me yours very sincerely | Ch Darwin


Kovalevsky’s paper ‘On the osteology of the Hyopotamidae’ (V. O. Kovalevsky 1873) had been read on 6 February 1873 and was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.
William Henry Flower referred to Kovalevsky’s research in his lecture ‘On palaeontological evidence of the modifications of animal forms’, delivered on 25 April 1873 at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (see Flower 1873, p. 102).
Kovalevsky had asked whether he could dedicate his forthcoming work to CD (V. O. Kovalevsky 1873–4; see letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 17 May 1873 and n. 4).
See letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 17 May 1873 and n. 6. No reply to CD’s letter from Kovalevsky has been found. Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky stated that the elongation and division of the Argiope embryo into three segments following the gastrula stage was similar to that of Sagitta, which he had described in A. O. Kovalevsky 1871b, p. 8 (see A. O. Kovalevsky 1874, p. 3 and table I, figs 1–8).
During the Beagle voyage CD had been at a loss as to how to rank arrow worms (Sagitta) among the other animals (see R. D. Keynes ed. 2000, p. xi), and in 1844, he stated that the species of the genus Sagitta were remarkable for the ‘obscurity of their affinities’ (‘Observations on Sagitta’, p. 1). Before working on brachiopods, A. O. Kovalevsky had published on ascidians (sea squirts); there is a heavily annotated copy of his main paper on ascidians (A. O. Kovalevsky 1866) in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. He had promised to send A. O. Kovalevsky 1871a (also on ascidians) to CD (see Correspondence vol. 18, letter from A. O. Kovalevsky, 25 September 1870 and n. 3), but there is no copy in the Darwin Archive. CD cited A. O. Kovalevsky 1866 for information on the homologies between ascidians and vertebrates in Descent 1: 205 n. 22.
See letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 17 May 1873 and nn. 9 and 10, for Othniel Charles Marsh’s discovery of the cretaceous fish-bird, and for Edward Drinker Cope’s ‘bone wars’.
According to his ‘Journal’ (Appendix II), CD began writing on the ‘evil effects of intercrossing’ on 3 February 1873.


VOK’s paper ["Osteology of Hyopotamidae", Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 21 (1872–3): 147–65] appears a very valuable one.

Discusses work of VOK’s brother [Alexander] on Sagitta and the ascidians.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8916,” accessed on 16 December 2017,

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