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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Anton Dohrn   28 August 1872

Mountsfield. Lewisham. | Naples Address: Palazzo Torlonia. Mergellina.


My dear Sir!

Many and sincere thanks for Your kind letter and the generous present You promise for the Library of the Station.1

Messrs. Williams & Norgate are ready to act as my Agents for this Country,2—so whenever You may be disposed to favour the Zoological Station with Your books, they will forward them to Naples. I have even got free transport for everything through the kindness of Admiral Tchichatchoff, the Director of the Russian Steamship-Line in Odessa.3 You see I use every opportunity, which offers itself.

Meanwhile I have been paying a short visit to Scarborough, as there is an opportunity for getting up a Second Zoological Station, Mr. Woodall, a banker, being inclined to lay out some 3 or 4000£. for it, and content himself with a moderate return of the money, leaving the surplus to the Scientific work to be done there.4 I hope the scheme may be carried, though I am sure the coals want still a little blowing for fear they might burn away. I don’t know whether Zephyrus or Boreas might be in his place there,—5 I shall try my powers at any rate.

I got a letter from Prof. Huxley6 the other day, so full of good spirits and of his usual vigour that I hope, if he only would not work to hard he might restore himself completely.

I thank You very heartily for Your kind invitation, which I will accept as soon, as I have to tell You anything settled about that Problem of homologies and genealogical relations between Annelids Arthropod and Vertebrates, which I, against the views of my Jena masters consider to be very close.7 I hope, when returning to Your country next year after having carefully worked out the Embryology of Amphioxus, I may be able to prove, that this animal by no means is a primitive but in the contrary a very degraded and degenerate form of fish, and that the true ancestors of Vertebrates are Annelids. It is a long story to tell, but I believe that after all it is the true story of the past and will upset all the Ascidians, and reduce them to still further degraded forms than Amphioxus.8 Their relations to Vertebrates I don’t question at all, but instead of placing them at the root, I put them on one end of the tree, whose branches tend as well upright to the sky, as down to the lowest ranks. And I believe, that is very much the tendency in all the other tribes, or so-called types.9 But I am talking to much.

Once more, my dear Sir, my hearty thanks. Your kindness stirs me always mightily up, and I hope I may succeed in my ends, if I meet similar assistance in other quarters.

Yours very sincerely | Anton Dohrn


CD had promised to send a complete set of his publications to the zoological station at Naples (see letter to Anton Dohrn, 24 August [1872]).
Williams & Norgate was a London publisher.
Admiral Tchichatchoff: Nikolai Matveevich Chikhachev, managing director of the Russian Steam Navigation and Trading Company.
John Woodall Woodall was a banker in Scarborough, a seaside town in North Yorkshire. He had been a member of the British Association since 1863 (Report of the 42d meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1872)). An aquarium was opened in Scarborough in 1877 as part of a popular entertainment complex that included a concert hall and reading room (Howard Norfolk, ‘Aquariums and public aquariums in mid-Victorian times’, (accessed 19 October 2011)). On Dohrn’s programme for establishing zoological stations around the world, see Dohrn 1872a and 1872b.
Zephyros is the Greek god of the west wind; Boreas of the north wind.
Thomas Henry Huxley.
Dohrn had worked at the University of Jena under Ernst Haeckel and Carl Gegenbaur from 1866 to 1868 (Heuss 1991, pp. 58–60, 67–8).
On Dohrn’s work on Amphioxus, his efforts to establish the Annelida (segmented worms) rather than the Ascidiacea (sea squirts) as the ancestral group of the vertebrates, and his disagreements with Haeckel and Gegenbaur, see Maienschein 1994. See also Correspondence vol. 19, letter from Anton Dohrn, 7 September 1871 and n. 17. The lancelet (formerly Amphioxus lanceolatus, now Branchiostoma lanceolatum) was initially classed as a primitive fish (subclass Acranii) but has now been moved to its own class, Cephalochordata. The terms amphioxus and lancelet are commonly used now to refer to all members of the class.
Dohrn’s work on the origin of vertebrates was later published as Der Ursprung der Wirbelthiere und das Princip des Functionswechsels (The origin of vertebrates and the principle of functional change; Dohrn 1875).


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.

Maienschein, Jane. 1994. ‘It’s a long way from Amphioxus’: Anton Dohrn and late nineteenth century debates about vertebrate origins. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 16: 465–78.


Will call on CD next year, when he will have worked out the embryology of Amphioxus; he believes it is not primitive but a degenerate form of fish. He believes the true ancestors of vertebrates are annelids.

Letter details

Letter no.
Felix Anton (Anton) Dohrn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 210
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8489,” accessed on 18 June 2021,

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