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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Anton Dohrn   21 August 1872

Mountsfield. Lewisham. S.E.


My dear Sir!

As habitually I have assisted the Meeting of the British Association at Brighton, to deliver my Report as Secretary of the Committee for the Foundation of Zoological Stations.1 I came right on from Naples, taking just three days and three nights till London.

I am very glad, that I could tell in my Report, that everything was going well with the Station at Naples, and that I hope, I may open it, to admit the Public in January next. There was a good deal of battles to be fought, but success was obtained everywhere, and my hope to get the Station into an effective working Institution is greater than ever.2

You will perhaps have noticed in one of the last numbers of Nature, that I told about large presents I had got from German Publishers for the library of the Station.3

I alluded to that in my Report and asked the British Association to present the Library of the Station with a complete set of its publications and to recommend, that other British Societies might do the same. This has been agreed to, to my great satisfaction.4

But then You see, I am not yet at an end with all my beggary. I want single Naturalists to do something of the same kind. I have got already a good deal of such promises, and Agassiz has already sent most generously all he has published under his name.5 Will You think it immodest, if I beg leave to insert Your name equally in the list of those, who will send their publications on biological matters, either Zoological or botanical, to the Station? Williams & Norgate6 are ready to act as Agent of the Station in this country and forward everything that is sent to them, down to Naples.

I hope thus to get by and by a great and complete library which will assist mightily all those, that come to Naples to work with Marine Zoology or Botany.

I have seen, that your new book is ready.7 I dare say, that I am very curious to see, what it contains. Poor Wallace completely drifts away, and now most unfortunately associates himself with such men as Bastian! His two articles in Nature are the worst thing, he ever did in his life,—and it becomes really difficult for his friends to speak with respect of him.8

I cannot say much of my own Scientific work; I had to put it aside for a six month. But then I have thought a good deal about it, and I hope, I may be capable next year, when I may return to England, to ask You an audience, to communicate strange but very consistent things. You know, I disbelieve in Ascidians as our ancestors.9 I am sure, what I have to substitute will please You, as it is less open to principal objections, such as Mivart suggested about the incipient structures though they are quite wrong.10 But I better wait, till I may tell all about it.

May I nourish the hope of getting a short answer while I am still in this country? Lady Lubbock11 told me in Brighton Your health was at present not unsatisfactory,— I sincerely hope, You might state that to me and to all Your German followers and friends.

Perhaps Mrs. Darwin and Your son recollect the time when I came as a Prussian invasion into Your frontier, and accept my kindest regards this time.12 | Yours very sincerely | Anton Dohrn

CD annotations

7.1 I have … contains. 7.2] double scored ink


Dohrn attended the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Brighton in August. He presented a scheme to help finance the running costs of the zoological station at Naples by charging scientific or government institutions annual fees for work space (see Report of the 42d meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1872), p. 48, and Heuss 1991, pp. 129–30). The Committee for the foundation of zoological stations in different parts of the globe had been appointed by Section D (biology) at the 1870 meeting of the British Association (Dohrn 1872a, p. 278).
On the difficulties experienced by Dohrn in building the zoological station at Naples, see Heuss 1991, pp. 115–20, 124–8. See also letter from Anton Dohrn, 15 February 1872. The station opened in October 1873.
Works on biology were donated by the German publishing firms of Engelmann (Leipzig), Vieweg (Brunswick), and Fischer (Cassel) (Nature, 11 July 1872, p. 203).
See Report of the 42d meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1872), p. 48.
Alexander Agassiz promised to donate publications by himself and his father, Louis Agassiz (Report of the 42d meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1872), p. 48).
Williams & Norgate was a London publishing firm.
Alfred Russel Wallace had written a favourable review in Nature of Henry Charlton Bastian’s recent book on the origin of life (H. C. Bastian 1872; Wallace 1872d). See also letter from A. R. Wallace, 4 August 1872 and n. 3. Dohrn had previously criticised Wallace for his support of spiritualism (see letter to Anton Dohrn, 3 February 1872 and n. 4).
CD had suggested that the most ancient progenitors of the vertebrates were marine animals that resembled the larvae of existing ascidians (sea squirts; see Descent 1: 205–6, 212, 2: 390). Dohrn had expressed his disagreement with CD’s view in his letter of 7 September 1871 (Correspondence vol. 19).
CD had mentioned the criticisms of natural selection theory by St George Jackson Mivart in his letter to Dohrn of 3 February 1872.
Ellen Frances Lubbock.
It is not known which of CD’s sons Dohrn met on his previous visit to Down on 26 September 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18, letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 September [1870]). Dohrn had visited while on leave from service in the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian war (see Heuss 1991, pp. 107–8).


Bastian, Henry Charlton. 1872. The beginnings of life: being some account of the nature, modes of origin and transformations of lower organisms. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

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.

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


Has reported on the Naples Zoological Station to BAAS meeting at Brighton. Hopes to open it in January. Is at work building up the library by contributions from publishers and naturalists.

Deplores Wallace’s "drifting away" and his association with such men as H. C. Bastian.

Disbelieves in ascidians as our ancestors. Has a substitute he is sure will please CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
Felix Anton (Anton) Dohrn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 209
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8481,” accessed on 5 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20