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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. V. Carus   6 November 1869


Nov. 6. 1869.

My dear Sir,

I hardly know how to thank you for your last letter and the exceedingly kind and decidedly undeserved offer you make me.1 You are really too good; for all I did, was done for the interests of science. I wished to make my countrymen acquainted wth your wonderful way of looking to facts under the guidance of ideas in the best German form possible.2 I thought this the more to be my duty, as our Zoologists and Physiologists have almost forgotton to think and to reason on facts and are of opinion that science is nothing but an accumulation of single facts. Every describer of a new form of cells or of a new worm or of a slight alteration of the electric current in nerves is now a great man. Of course all these things must be found out and new facts are to be worked out, but there must be a tie to keep all the details together. But, who ventures to bring the different facts under general headings and to discover (or to try to discover) the common bearing of a larger set of facts, he will entirely be decried as “philosopher”. This has been my fault. However, Prof Vogt is wrong. I am still, what I was before, Professor of Comparative Anatomy in Leipzig    And yet my position is far from being so agreeable as it was before. I hoped and I had been promised to get the place of the late Professor of Zoology. There I failed.3 Owing to the great influence of a man, who has, as he says himself, no “Organ” for morphological relations, who looks on Embryology only as on a help for physiological researches, and who overlooks that, even in the purely mathematical sense of the word, form is nothing but a function of the matter, owing to him Leuckart got the place.4 It is so perfectly natural that one cannot wonder at it, that the mere fact of his being called here from another university gives him the air of being so much the superior.5 I should not like to compare myself with him, he knows a great deal more than I certainly, but I can say positively he is no comparative Anatomist. For this I am sorry; for as he got the regular Professorship he will get influence on the students, and although I always had a nice class of intelligent young men, yet he is the bigger now.6

Excuse me for becoming personal, but I thought that I owed you so much that I am obliged to explain to you why I get sometimes a little bitter. I have now been asked to take up the Natural History, Anatomy and Physiology of Domestic Animals. This I try to do, especially as I hope to get thereby an opportunity of learning more of this subject which, as far as I see already has been neglected by far too much by Zoologists, and also of impressing the minds of my unprejudiced hearers with the force of your arguments and your whole theory. And yet, I want some strength of mind to get through my work now.

It was my duty to tell you all that about my position here. Now I must leave it entirely to you if you will give me the right of translation. As your kind letter was written under the impression of a misunderstanding, I could not accept it purely. At all events I should be happy if you would allow me to translate your book, especially as I intend to give in one of our next terms a course of lectures on Anthropology, which is not taught here at all.

I am happy to think that I shall be able ere long to thank you personally and orally better than I can do it in a letter and to tell you how deeply I feel, how very kind you are.7

Believe me | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | J. Victor Carus


See the letter to J. V. Carus, 30 October 1869; CD had asked Carus to translate Descent.
Carus may refer to his outspoken support of CD’s views; see letter from Carl Vogt, 26 October 1869.
Carl Vogt had written that Carus’s application for the chair of zoology at Leipzig had not been successful (see letter from Carl Vogt, 26 October 1869); CD evidently thought that Carus had lost his existing position (see letter to J. V. Carus, 30 October 1869).
The supporter of Rudolf Leuckart’s appointment may have been the anatomist Ernst Heinrich Weber, who was one of the senior professors in the Leipzig medical faculty (Lynn K. Nyhart, personal communication, and Nyhart 1995, pp. 81–3, 173).
Leuckart had been professor of zoology at the University of Giessen.
Leuckart’s position in zoology at Leipzig was a full professorship while Carus’s professorship of comparative anatomy was not (Nyhart 1995, pp. 81, 96).
Carus planned to travel to England in March 1870 (see letter from J. V. Carus, 20 October 1869).


Nyhart, Lynn K. 1995. Biology takes form. Animal morphology and the German universities, 1800–1900. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


Thanks CD for his kind offer [of translation rights for Descent].

Feels it a duty to make CD’s "way of looking to fields [recte facts] under the guidance of ideas" known to his countrymen, especially since zoologists and physiologists seem to think science is nothing but the accumulation of facts and have almost forgotten to reason about them.

Explains that, contrary to Carl Vogt’s report to CD, he continues as Professor of Comparative Anatomy at Leipzig, but he has failed to get the place of the late Professor of Zoology, as he had hoped.

Letter details

Letter no.
Julius Victor Carus
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161: 73
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6974,” accessed on 23 January 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17