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Darwin Correspondence Project

From V. O. Kovalevsky   14 March 1871

Berlin Georgenstrasse 7.

14 March. 71.

Dear Sir

Returning to Berlin some days ago I found two of Your letters and a whole heap of sheets of the “Descent” and really am much thankfull for all the trouble You have taken on my account.1 We remained in Paris a little longer than we expected as the peace seemed not quite sure and secondly because my brother in law was elected maire of Montmartre and his amiable constituents made all sort of nonsence, not only fortifying themselves on the hill but bringing him six guns to protect their elect against the government.2 Having no more time to loose we resolved to return to Berlin and leave the humbugs to themselves, apparently all will be settled peacefully. I send immediately Your queries about the man & camels to Suez from whence the letters go with a camel overland or by boat to Tôr.—3

The translation and the press of the Russian edition is progressing but provisionally I cannot print more than the first volume, as our civilised Government has prohibited Your new work. After the first volume of the translation will be printed it will be seized by the Ministry of the Interior and I shall to appeal to a Court of Law against the seizure, I have a strong hope in the success as the Courts of Law give very often decisions against the shamefull arbitrary measure of the Minister. But at all events the result is doubtful and I dare not print the whole work as my losses, in case the Court confirms the prohibition of the Minister, will be to heavy. I case of final prohibition I will have another fight to obtain a respite in such sense thant the whole edition should not be burned (as they always make such auto da fe’s) but stored under my responsability awaiting better times.— I hope at the meeting of our Association of Naturalist in August of this year to start up a protest against this realy shamefull act of the Ministry, still there is hope left that the Court will overrule it.4

My prospect for the spring are not settled yet, I intended going to the South of France to try to solve the question about the freshwater deposits of Fuveau and some of the valleys of the Pyrenees, are they realy freshwater chalk but it seems the returning franc-tireurs are willing to continue a small war on their own account, so I shall have to wait till autumn5

Believe me | Your very truly | W. Kowalevsky


The letters from CD have not been found. Kovalevsky was translating Descent into Russian.
Maire: mayor (French). Kovalevsky refers to Victor Jaclard, who was not the mayor, but an adjoint of Montmartre (Leighton 1871, p. 49). Around 13 March 1871 the National Guard seized cannons from around Paris and took them to the Buttes Montmartre. The government sent soldiers to retake the cannon on 18 March, but the soldiers joined forces with the National Guard. This event signalled the beginning of the Paris Commune (ibid., pp. 22 and 43).
CD may have asked Kovalevsky for information on camels screaming (see letter to F. du C. Godman, 4 March [1871] and n. 4). Kovalevsky’s brother, Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky, was doing research at Tor (now At Tūr) in Sinai (see Correspondence vol. 18, letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 12 December [1870] and n. 4).
The tsarist board of censors of foreign publications was instructed to prohibit the import of works contrary to the tenets of the Orthodox Church, or works that led to atheism, materialism, or disrespect for scripture (see Reiss 1970, p. 220). Descent was initially banned by the Russian censor, but the decision was overturned by the foreign censorship committee (Pigarev 1962, pp. 163–4). The translation appeared without Kovalevsky’s name on the title page, which indicated only that it was translated under the editorial direction of Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov (see [V. O. Kovalevsky] trans. 1871–2). Kovalevsky also refers to the third congress of Russian naturalists and physicians held at Kiev in August 1871. For more on the role of the national congress, see Vucinich 1965–70, 2: 79–81.
Kovalevsky may have planned to investigate whether the freshwater sedimentary deposits at Fuveau were in fact from the Cretaceous (chalk) period, and not, as had been thought, from the later, Tertiary, period (see Murchison and Lyell 1829 and Coquand 1869). Franc-tireur: a member of a corps of light infantry, originating in the wars of the French Revolution, and having an organisation distinct from that of the regular army (OED).


Coquand, Henri. 1869. The Cretaceous strata of England and the north of France compared with those of the west, south-west, and south of France, and the north of Africa. [Read 24 March 1869.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society. 25: 237–47.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Leighton, John. 1871. Paris under the commune: or the seventy-three days of the second siege. London: Bradbury, Evans, & Co.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Pigarev, Kirill Vasilevich. 1962. Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo Tiutcheva. Moscow: Academy of Science of the USSR.

Vucinich, Alexander. 1965–70. Science in Russian culture: 1861–1917. 2 vols. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.


Russian translation of Descent in progress, but the Minister of Interior has banned CD’s work and the book will be seized.

His foolish brother-in-law, Mayor of Montmartre, attempted to defend their section against the government.

CD’s queries on man and camels have gone to Alexander [Kovalevsky] in Sinai.

Letter details

Letter no.
Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky (Владимир Онуфриевич Ковалевский)
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 169: 88
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7583,” accessed on 12 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19