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Darwin Correspondence Project

To S. L. Lovén   28 January 1876

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Jan 28 76

Dear Sir

Owing to an accidental delay in London, I received your very kind letter of Jan 14th, only yesterday, and a few days before your work on the Echinöidées.1 That you should have sent me so fine a present, I look at as a great honour. I have admired the wonderfully clear drawings & will soon read the text. A more difficult problem than that of the homologies of such complex organisms can hardly be imagined   I can quite understand what you say about the impossibility of tracing at present the genealogy of the members of this group; and in my opinion some naturalists have been very rash in their attempts in this line.2

I remain dear Sir | With very sincere thanks | Yours faithfully | Charles Darwin


See letter from S. L. Lovén, [14 January 1876]. CD’s copy of Lovén’s paper on the Echinoidea (heart urchins, sand dollars, and sea urchins; Lovén 1872a) is in the Darwin Library–Down.
Although CD never worked on echinoderms, he was aware of some of the difficulties they posed (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Fritz Müller, 20 September [1865] and n. 11). Among those who had worked on echinoderm classification were Alexander and Louis Agassiz, Thomas Henry Huxley, Johannes Peter Müller, and Richard Owen; for more on the debates surrounding their work see Winsor 1976. Lovén developed a system of numbering ambulacral plates around the mouths of echinoids, allowing the identification of echinoderm-ray homologies; the system later became known as Lovén’s law. For a synopsis of Lovén’s system, see David 1995.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

David, Bruno, et al. 1995. The ontogenetic basis of Lovén’s Rule clarifies homologies of the echinoid peristome. In Echinoderm research 1995, edited by R. H. Emson et al. Rotterdam: A. A. Balkema.

Winsor, Mary Pickard. 1976. Starfish, jellyfish and the order of life: issues in nineteenth-century science. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


Thanks for SL’s [Études sur les echinoïdées (1875)]. Nothing could be more difficult than the homologies of this group.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10373,” accessed on 18 April 2021,

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