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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky   20 February [1870]1

Münich— | Gluckstrasse N 6.

Febr. 20.—

Dear Sir

It is an eternity that I had no news of You, and if from my part I did not write it was for not forcing You into an answer and robbing in this way Your time. The whole winter I worked in the great palaeontological Museum at Münich but chiefly composed of the mesosoic fauna from the Trias to the newest tertiary, I think it is one of the largest collections existing for the Jura and for the much discussed and yet not settled Titonic fauna, holding an intermediate position between the Portland and the Neocomien, perhaps a continental marine equivalent for your Purbeck.2 The Belemnites, Ammonitidae3 and the Brachiopoda of the Titonic group have a decidedly cretaceous character and the whole fauna is in many respects intermediate between Jura and the Cretaceous formation,—as for instance the prodigious quantity of large bivalves holding a place between the Diceras arietina of the Upper Jura and the Caprinas of the Untere Kreide.4 The whole fauna is even undetermined and not named yet, only the Brachiopoda were published by Suess.5 I am quite certain that we will find there many facts supporting Your theory, although he is now so firmly settled as not to require support. As one of the wonderful illustration of it could serve the splendid specimens of the Triassic Turrilites with sutural lobes of the Ceratites existing in a very rich private collection of a certain Dr. Fischer at Munich, they were published by Hauer under the name of Cochloceras.6 They are very rare, and I doubt if the British Museum have specimens of them. By and by the fauna of the Trias, so poor and realy abominable everywhere, is growing every year richer in the Alps, and this striking difference at a distance of not more than 150 miles (f.i. between Würtemberg and the Bavarian Alps) is really astonishing if we consider that the Alps were not raised at the time. Till yet I could not find even attempts to explain this difference, most of the palaeontologist content themselves with the phrase “of the special Alpine facies” but such opinion is little more than á dowright nonsense, seeing that the Alps did not exist at the time, and the whole fauna bears not only what is called a distinct facies, but is quite strikingly distinct.— I have heard that somebody, I think Semper, but am not sure of it, is going to attack your theory of the coral reefs, so is Wagner in his new Travels in America attacking the Selection theory, but as it seems to me on false grounds.7

As a laughable instance of the Fruitfulness of Your theory, that gives life to everything it touches, I shall relate to You the following anecdote. Some time ago I wrote to my brother8 (he is now Professor of Zoology at Kiev) something about the failure of the Suez canal9 and made a joke, that at all events the canal will be in 100 years one of the chief means to test Your theory; some fisches, the larvae of echinoderms, mollusca, the eggs of all sort of animals will certainly be transported by millions from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean adhering to the bottom of the ships, they will come into new conditions, intercross with Meditteranean species an so on,—in 100, nay in 50 years, both seas (having now not more than ten species common) will have hundreds of species in common, new species, perhaps new genera will rise,— this for my joke;— my brother took the matter so earnestly that he insisted on the Counsil of the University for sending immediately a man to explore with the utmost accuracy the fauna of both seas, and especially to determine what species are now common to both,— the man, a certain Mr. Boretzky is already gone.—10 But the exploration of deep sea fauna is such a difficult and expensive work that certainly one man cannot achieve it, it would be therefore very desirably that England should send a good dredging expedition with the same purpose. There was a Frenchman sent from Paris with the same objects but did nothing good; if they dont make haste one of precious occasion for settling important questions on distribution of faunas will be lost for ever.—11

How is progressing the work on Man,12 I hope to receive some scheets in April by Your Kindness, my wife13 send her salute to Mrs. Darwin and the ladies,—we were separated the whole winter, she working at her mathematics at Heidelberg, and I sticking in the Museum of Munich, in three weeks the vacation begins and we go to Nizza, in the autumn We hope once more to see You in England14

Yours truly | W. Kowalevsky


The year is established by the reference to Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya’s being in Heidelburg; she was there between May 1869 and mid-1870 (Koblitz 1983, pp. 88, 97).
The Titonic or Tithonian age is the latest stage of the Jurassic period. The Portlandian is a stage of the Upper Jurassic in Britain. The Neocomian epoch is early Cretaceous. The Purbeckian is a stage spanning the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous in Britain. (Collins dictionary of geology.)
The former family Ammonitidae is almost coincident with the modern subclass Ammonoidea (Arkell 1950, p. 361 n. 8).
Untere Kreide: Lower Cretacaeous. Caprina is a genus of fossil bivalves.
Kovalevsky refers to Eduard Suess and to Suess 1854 and 1855.
Ammonoids (extinct cephalopods) are classified in three groups according to the form of their sutures; the ceratites have sutures with frilled lobes. Turillites are Cretaceous ammonoids with sharp-spired shells on which the whorls barely touch. (Challinor 1978; Collins dictionary of geology.) Kovalevsky refers to Franz von Hauer and Hauer 1860; Dr Fischer has not been identified. Cochloceras is a genus in the order Ceratitida, subclass Ammonoidea.
Kovalevsky refers to Karl Gottfried Semper, Moritz Wagner, and M. Wagner 1870. In M. Wagner 1870, p. 434, Wagner claimed, in opposition to CD, that isolation was the only cause of speciation.
Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky.
The Suez canal opened successfully in November 1869 (The Times, 19 November 1869, p. 10).
Mr Boretzky has not been identified.
The Frenchman has not been identified. The movement of species between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal is now known as Lessepsian migration, after the developer of the canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps.
Sofia Kovalevskaya.
Nizza: Nice. Kovalevsky had visited CD from 30 September to 1 October 1869 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).


Arkell, W. J. 1950. A classification of the Jurassic ammonites. Journal of Paleontology 24: 354–64.

Challinor, John. 1978. A dictionary of geology. 5th edition. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Collins dictionary of geology. By Dorothy Farris Lapidus. London and Glasgow: HarperCollins. 1990.

Hauer, Franz von. 1860. Nachträge zur Kenntnis der Cephalopoden-Fauna der Hallstätter Schichten. Sitzungberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 41 (1860): 113–50.

Koblitz, Ann Hibner. 1983. A convergence of lives: Sofia Kovalevskaia, scientist, writer, revolutionary. Boston: Birkhäuser.

Suess, Eduard. 1854. Ueber die Brachiopoden der Kössener Schichten. Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften 7: 29–65.


Moritz Wagner is going to attack selection theory in his new book on his travels in America [Naturwissenschaftliche Reisen im tropischen Amerika (1870)].

K. G. Semper may attack CD’s theory of coral islands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky (Владимир Онуфриевич Ковалевский)
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 169: 60
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7114,” accessed on 13 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18