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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Anton Dohrn   7 September 1871

My dear Sir!

Once more over to this country I should have made my personal appearance before You, had I not been afraid of being troublesome to You.1

But I cannot help writing and giving You a short abstract of the march of my affair, in which You have been so kind as to take interest. All the more I must do so, as I hope You will continue to lend Your great moral assistance to the enterprise, which I now have entered at full length.2

The Napolitan affairs get on very well, and I am prepared to begin building October next. I have secured the assistance of the Berlin Minister of Instruction and the personal sympathy of the German ambassador at Rome.3

I have got some eminent German Naturalists,—Helmholtz, Dubois-Reymond, Leuckart, Haeckel, Carl Vogt, Siebold etc. to write me letters, stating the great importance for Science of the complete carrying out of my plans. These letters I am about to print together with a short explanation of my undertaking.4

I have got the “Times”, “Nature”, “Athenaeum”, “Pall Mall Gazette” and some others to write in favour of the “Zoological Stations”.5 Mr. Norman Lockyer besides has promised me to secure the assistance of the most important American Papers.6 I myself am able of doing every thing in the great German Periodicals and Papers; Italy too is at my disposal,—so that, including the different travelling books, Murray, Baedeker etc,—all these Elements of the Press have been won.7

I am quite satisfied with the result of the Edinbourgh Meeting.8 The new Comittee formed by Prof. Huxley, Rolleston, Percival Wright, Dr. Sclater and Ray Lankester will, I hope, be sufficient to carry on the subject in this Country.9 I am about to visit the German Meeting and get its assistance too.10 In the first week of October the International Meeting of Anthropologists will be held at Bologna and I think I may bring them to testify their adherence to the Stations.11

Thus a general agreement may be reached at and the Stations may realize, what they are intended for.

But I find it necessary to add one more important element. I think it necessary, that the whole affair may lie as long as possible in one hand. But this hand,—just now happening to be mine—ought to enjoy a general confidence. Therefore I intend to give an annual Report of the Management of the Station to a select Committee of Naturalists of high standard and after they have examined it, to publish it in all the Papers that lend their assistance to the enterprise. I intend to prove by that, that I personally do’nt enjoy the least undue advantage of the Station except what is necessary for the Chief of it. Creating thus a public controll I keep for the Stations the benefit of Centralisation being not to much subdue to Parliamentarism of any kind. I am especially anxious to make known, that the money got by entrance-fee or by private grants is completely saved for science and may never be used for private purposes of whatever kind. I am to engage one of the German bankers at Naples to controll the financial part of the Station and signing the annual Report.12 By these measures every one who spends his two francs entrance fee may be sure, that, besides his pleasure of looking at the beautiful marine creatures, he enjoys the higher pleasure of contributing to the advancement of Science in the most efficient way,—thus securing his personal interest in the whole scheme.13

Would you, Mr. Darwin, lend me Your name to be placed among the series of Naturalists, who receive that annual Report, testifying thus their interest in the matter and giving it their moral assistance. Professor Huxley, who did so, told me You would most likely do the same,—and I therefore wait anxiously, You might do it, as this would be a very important help to the final result.— —

Professor Huxley will probably tell You, that he is almost completely convinced now of the righteousness of my view regarding the homologisation of the nervous chain of Arthropods, Annelids and Vertebrates14   Kowalewsky has gone quite the same line, as You would easily find in looking through his last book, or into a short review which I made of it for the Academy.15 In that review I stated too, what I believed to be the shortcoming of Kowalewsky in demonstrating the necessity of accepting this new doctrine.16 I did so because I am rather sure, that my own investigations especially in Insects and Fishes have brought the problem to a complete solution. I am about to enlarge my proofs by adding the embryologies of several other fishes, and by treating Ascidians and Amphioxus, whom both I consider to be aberrant forms not ancestors of Vertebrates. I hope I may bring that out altogether in one or two years.—17

I am to leave this country either on Sunday next or Monday. I should be very thankful, if You would let me know Your opinion about the above made demand by way of a short letter adressed to Mr. Stainton. Mountsfield Lewisham.18

I hope You will remember me most kindly to Mrs. Darwin and to Mr.  Darwin jr.19

Trusting that You will excuse this trouble and the great length of this lettre, I once more thank You for all the former kindness You have shewn to me.

Yours ever truly devoted | Anton Dohrn

Mountsfield. 7.9.1871.


In 1871, Dohrn visited England to seek advice and moral support from scientists for his proposed zoological station at Naples (Heuss 1991, pp. 111–12).
For more on the difficulties Dohrn faced in building the zoological station at Naples, see Heuss 1991, pp. 114–52.
Heinrich von Mühler and Harry Arnim-Suckow.
Dohrn refers to Hermann von Helmholtz, Emil Heinrich Du Bois-Reymond, Rudolf Leuckart, Ernst Haeckel, and Karl Theodor Ernst von Siebold. He published the letters as a pamphlet in 1871 (Dohrn [1871b]).
See Athenæum, 24 August 1871, p. 242; Daily News, 23 August 1872, p. 3; Glasgow Herald, 24 August 1872, p. 3; Leeds Mercury, 12 September 1872, p. 8; Nature, 29 February 1872, p. 337; The Times, 30 July 1872, p. 12.
Joseph Norman Lockyer. An article about the zoological station appeared in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 29 November 1871, p. 2.
After the station opened in 1873 (Heuss 1991 p. 153), John Murray published an account of it in his Handbook for travellers in southern Italy of 1874; see [Blewitt] 1874, p. 143, and letter from Anton Dohrn, 6 April 1874 (Calendar no. 9394). An account was also published in Baedeker 1874, the fourth edition of Fritz Baedeker’s guide to southern Italy.
The annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held in Edinburgh in 1871 (Report of the 41st meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1871)).
Thomas Henry Huxley, George Rolleston, Edward Perceval Wright, Philip Lutley Sclater, and Edwin Ray Lankester were members of a committee appointed to promote the foundation of zoological stations in different parts of the world (see Dohrn 1871c).
The Assembly of German Naturalists and Physicians was held at Rostock in September 1871 (The Times, 3 October 1871, p. 6).
Dohrn refers to the second International Congress of Prehistorians in Bologna (Heuss 1991, p. 112).
From 1876, Dohrn published annually the Jahresbericht der zoologischen Station in Neapel. Otto Beer approved the financial report (Erster Jahresbericht der zoologischen Station in Neapel, p. 19.)
The station included a public aquarium that was opened to visitors in January 1874 (Heuss 1991, p. 157).
Dohrn refers to Thomas Henry Huxley. For Dohrn’s views on homologies of the vertebrate notochord (chorda dorsalis) in arthropods and annelids, see Dohrn 1875, pp. 13–28.
Dohrn refers to Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky, to his ‘Embryologische Studien an Würmern und Arthropoden’ (A. O. Kovalevsky 1869), and to Dohrn 1871d. The Academy was a journal published in London.
For Dohrn’s criticisms of Kovalevsky, see Dohrn 1871d, p. 498.
Dohrn later published Der Ursprung der Wirbelthiere und das Princip des Functionswechsels (The origin of vertebrates and the principle of functional change; Dohrn 1875), in which he introduced the idea that morphological change could result from functional changes in organs. Ascidians are sea squirts (the class Ascidiaceae). Amphioxus was the genus name for lancelets (a primitive fish). The terms ‘amphioxus’ and ‘lancelet’ are now common names that refer to the class Cephalochordata. For more on Dohrn’s views on ascidians and amphioxus, see Maienshein 1994.
Henry Tibbats Stainton was a friend of Dohrn’s father, Carl Anton Dohrn (Heuss 1991, p. 77).
Dohrn visited CD at Down on 26 September 1870; William Erasmus Darwin, George Howard Darwin, and Leonard Darwin may have been at Down (see Correspondence vol. 18, letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 September [1870], and Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

[Blewitt, Octavian.] 1874. A handbook for travellers in southern Italy: comprising the provinces of the Abruzzi, Terra di Lavoro, Naples, the Principati, Beneveneto, Capitanata, Molise, Basilicata, Terra di Bari, Terra d’Otranto, Calabria, &c. 7th ed. London: John Murray.

Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

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

Dohrn, Anton. 1875. Der Ursprung der Wirbelthiere und das Princip des Functionswechsels. Genealogische Skizzen. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann. [Reprinted in Theory in Biosciences 125 (2007): 181–241.]

Heuss, Theodor. 1991. Anton Dohrn: a life for science. Translated from the German by Liselotte Dieckmann. Berlin and New York: Springer Verlag.

Kovalevsky, Alexander Onufrievich. 1869. Embryologische Studien an Würmern und Arthropoden. [Read 18 November 1869.] Mémoires de l’Académie Impériale des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg 7th ser. 16 (1871): 1–70.


Reports on the international support he has obtained for the zoological station [see 7038]. Asks CD whether he will serve on a board of naturalists who would receive an annual report on the station.

Huxley is now convinced by AD’s views on homologies of the nervous system of arthropods, annelids, and vertebrates. Kovalevsky takes the same line but does not go far enough.

Letter details

Letter no.
Felix Anton (Anton) Dohrn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 207
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7925,” accessed on 29 July 2021,

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