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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Ernst Haeckel   21 January [1876]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Jan. 21st

My dear Hackel

I have read your “Arabische Corallen”,2 & it seems to me a most spirited, clear, & at the same time poetical description of coral-reefs & of their innumerable co-inhabitants. I well remember my own astonishment & enthusiasm when I first wandered over a coral-reef, but I did not admire the beauty of the many animals quite as much as you do.— I was more struck with the grandeur of the whole phenomenon,—to see a whole large island formed by the vital forces.— With respect to the formation of coral islands I think that you lay too much stress on erhebung: the wear & tear of the corals by the breakers & the action of the wind are sufficient.3 I admire as much as I did at first your admirable drawings. That any publisher should bring out so expensive a work (no English publisher would think of such a thing) shows me how popular your name must be in Germany, & I rejoice at the fact.4 As on so many previous occasions you have heaped honours high on my head.5

My dear Häckel | Yours most sincerely | Ch. Darwin

I have read R. Lankester’s article, & am glad to find that badly as I read German I had made out fairly well your most important essay.—6


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Ernst Haeckel, 13 January 1876.
Arabische Korallen (Arabian corals; Haeckel 1876b).
Erhebung: elevation, uplift (German). Haeckel gave a brief summary of the formation of reefs, emphasising the slow uplift of land as a principal cause in the formation of coral islands (Haeckel 1876b, pp. 21–2). CD’s own observations suggested that changes in tidal patterns, and the action of waves and wind in breaking down the coral and depositing other debris, were sufficient to account for the increase in dry land on coral islands (see Coral reefs, pp. 20–1). CD had strengthened this argument in Coral reefs 2d ed., pp. 168–71, in response to James Dwight Dana’s suggestion that many coral islands showed evidence of recent uplift (Dana 1872).
In his letter to Haeckel of 15 January [1876], CD had remarked that the drawings in Haeckel 1876b were the most wonderful things he had ever seen. The book was published by Georg Reimer Verlag, a Berlin firm with a specialist art-publishing division known for its colour lithography (Würffel 2000, p. 700); Haeckel himself had made the five pictures that were reproduced as colour lithographs.
Haeckel referred favourably to CD throughout the book, and specifically praised CD’s pioneering work on coral reefs (Haeckel 1876b, pp. 21, 41 n. 34).
Edwin Ray Lankester had summarised Haeckel’s work ‘Die Gastrula und die Eifurchung der Thiere’ (The gastrula and egg-cleavage of animals; Haeckel 1875a) in his paper ‘An account of Professor Haeckel’s recent additions to the gastræa-theory’ in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (Lankester 1876a).


Coral reefs 2d ed.: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. By Charles Darwin. Revised edition. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1874.

Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

Dana, James Dwight. 1872. Corals and coral islands. New York: Dodd & Mead.

Würffel, Rheinhard. 2000. Lexikon deutscher Verlage von A–Z: 1071 Verlage und 2800 Verlagssignete vom Anfang der Buchdruckerkunst bis 1945; Adressen, Daten, Fakten, Namen. Berlin: Verlag Grotesk.


EH’s Arabische Korallen is spirited, clear, and poetical. With respect to formation of islands, thinks EH lays too much stress on views of Ehrenberg. Admires drawings.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Ernst Philipp August (Ernst) Haeckel
Sent from
Source of text
Ernst-Haeckel-Haus (Bestand A-Abt. 1:1-52/ 37 [9890])
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10363,” accessed on 26 February 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24