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Darwin Correspondence Project

From V. O. Kovalevsky   20 January 1874

Berlin 27A. Potsdamerstrasse III. tr.

20 January 1874.

Dear Sir

It is such a very long time since I had no news from You, that I improve the occasion of sending You my memoir which You have kindly allowed to be inscribed to You, by asking some news about Your health.— The first part of my paper is merely an osteological analysis with a view to descent of all fossil Ungulata, the special description of Anthracotheriae will follow shortly.—1

The past summer and this winter I had some geological work to do, and I hope to be in the spring in England to see some of the greater chalk collections, as the chalk is the formation I am especially interested. I found in the South of France, near Mondragon a large (300 feet thick) freshwater deposit of the age of your upper greensand, as it is laying on the Gault and covered by banks of Ostea columba;2 there are large Cyrenas, Melaniae and even Ampullariae in the lignites which accompany this freshwater formation.—3 There was a subsidence afterwards which continued till the time of Your “lower chalk without flints” and then a new reelevation of land and freshwater deposits going on through all the time of the upper chalk,— this upper chalk freshwater formation is covered near Barcelona by a marine band with Hippurites Leymeryii4 corresponding to the Mastricht uppermost chalk.—5 In this way You see that we have a good bit of the freshwater conditions of the cretaceous period, and the comparison of the Mollusca with those of the Wealden6 is attended with much interest. The lower beds (parall. greensand) are not known at all, but the upper freshwater chalk consist of the Strata which Lyell and Murchison have mentioned near Aix, deeming them tertiary, while now they are found covered by a band of Hippurite Limestone on their cretaceous age is undoubtedly sure.7

I hope to once more to the locality and to publish something on the subject.—8 How are Your projected books going on, I think you were occupied during my stay in England with Fertilisation of Plants, may I ask is anything to be published shortly and in this case please to remember me as Your translator.—9 The book about Expression is already sold in nearly 2000 copies, so that the costs are nearly entirely paid and I hope to send You in six months Your share in the edition. (Our accounts with the bookseller are made every half year).—10

My wife is also very well and presents her compliments, she is hardly working at something very intricate about the stability of Saturn rings, but the matter seems to be so difficult that we dont clearly see when there will be an ⁠⟨⁠end⁠⟩⁠ of it.11 Clark Maxwell wrote an elaborate memoir on the same subject in 1859, but we could not, even at the Oservatory of Berlin get it here, and I am going to ask Murray to hunt me up a copy in England.12

I hope all Your family is going well, and beg You to present our compliments to Mrs and Miss Darwin13

Your very truly | W. Kowalevsky


Kovalevsky sent an offprint of the first two parts of his monograph on Anthracotherium, published in September 1873 and January 1874 (V. O. Kovalevsky 1873–4). The dedication reads ‘Herrn Charles Darwin in tiefster Verehrung gewidmet’ (Dedicated to Mr Charles Darwin in deepest respect). CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The final part appeared in March 1874, but no copy of it has been found in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Greensand and Gault are strata of the early Cretaceous period. Ostrea columba (a synonym of O. mermeti) is an oyster species of the Cretaceous period.
Cyrena (a synonym of Corbicula), Melania (a synonym of Thiara), and Ampullaria are genera of gastropod molluscs.
Hippurites is an extinct genus of bivalve molluscs of the Cretaceous period. The species Hippurites leymeryii has not been identified, but the epithet evidently refers to Alexandre Félix Gustave Achille Leymerie, who was known for his work on Cretaceous stratigraphy (Sarjeant 1980–96).
The Maastricht chalk formation is found in Limburg, in the Netherlands, and dates to the late Cretaceous period.
The Weald is an area of south-east England between the North and South Downs ranges of chalk hills (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
Charles Lyell and Roderick Impey Murchison discussed the strata in their article ‘On the tertiary fresh-water formations of Aix’ (Murchison and Lyell 1829). The Cretaceous period was between 146 and 65 million years ago, at which point a mass extinction happened; the Tertiary period lasted from 65 to 1.8 million years ago.
Kovalevsky made a research trip to the region near Toulouse, in France, in April and May 1874 (Davitashvili 1951, pp. 242–3). He later published a work on the freshwater deposits of the Cretaceous period (V. O. Kovalevsky 1875).
Kovalevsky had spent time in England between June and October 1872 and visited CD sometime before mid-July and on 22 September (Davitashvili 1951, p. 157; Gaisinovich ed. 1988, pp. 180, 210; Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). According to his journal, CD was working on Drosera (the section on sundew for Insectivorous plants) from August of 1872 and only began work on Cross and self fertilisation in February 1873; he returned to work on Drosera in mid-June 1873 (see Correspondence vols. 20 and 21, Appendix II). Kovalevsky did not translate any more of CD’s works.
Kovalevsky’s translation of Expression ([V. O. Kovalevsky] trans. 1872) was made under the supervision of his brother, Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky, who also provided financial support (see Gaisinovich ed. 1988, pp. 185ff.)
Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya submitted a paper on the form of Saturn’s rings to the University of Göttingen in July 1874; she was granted a doctoral degree on the basis of this and two other papers. A published form of the paper appeared in 1885 (Kovalevskaya 1885).
In his essay On the stability of the motion of Saturn’s rings (Maxwell 1859), James Clerk Maxwell argued that the rings of Saturn were composed of many small bodies. The essay was published by Macmillan and Co., not John Murray.


Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Davitashvili, Leo Shiovich. 1951. V. O. Kovalevsky. 2d edition. Moscow: Academy of Science of the USSR.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Gaisinovich, A. E., ed. 1988. A. O. i V. O. Kovalevskie. Perepiska 1867–1873gg. Moscow: Nauka (science).

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Kovalevskaya, Sofia Vasilyevna. 1885. Zusätze und Bemerkungen zu Laplace’s Untersuchung über die Gestalt der Saturnsringe. Astronomische Nachrichten 111: 38–48.

Kovalevsky, Vladimir Onufrievich. 1873–4. Monographie der Gattung Anthracotherium Cuv. und Versuch einer natürlichen Classification der fossilen Hufthiere. Palaeontographica. Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte der Vorwelt 22 (1873–6): 131–347.

Kovalevsky, Vladimir Onufrievich. 1875. O presnovodnyk otlozheniyak melovogo perioda. Zapiski Imperatorskago S. Peterburgskogo mineralogicheskogo obshchestva 10 (1876): 32–132.

[Kovalevsky, Vladimir Onufrievich], trans. 1872. O vyrazhenii oshchushchenii u cheloveka i zhivotnykh. By Charles Darwin. Translated from the author’s proofs under the editorial direction of Prof. A. Kovalevsky. (Russian translation of Expression.) St Petersburg: Tipografia F. S. Sushchinskogo.

Maxwell, James Clerk. 1859. On the stability of the motion of Saturn’s rings. Cambridge: Macmillan and Co.

Murchison, Roderick Impey and Lyell, Charles. 1829. On the tertiary fresh-water formations of Aix, in Provence, including the coal-field of Fuveau. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (April–October 1871): 287–98.

Sarjeant, William A. S. 1980–96. Geologists and the history of geology: an international bibliography. 10 vols. including supplements. London: Macmillan. Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger Publishing.


Russian Expression has sold nearly 2000 copies.

Plans to come to England to study collections of vertebrate fossils from the Chalk. This will complement his work in the south of France.

Letter details

Letter no.
Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky (Владимир Онуфриевич Ковалевский)
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 169: 95
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9251,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22