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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Michael Foster   17 June [1874]1


June 17th

Dear Mr. Darwin,

This list, & the enclosed letter from Dohrn will shew you how we stand.2 Balfour writes that things are most encouraging—people coming in much larger numbers to visit the aquarium & that apparently the “hard place” has been got over—so that we have not laboured in vain.3

Balfour who has been working at the shark’⁠⟨⁠s⁠⟩⁠ embryology—says he ⁠⟨⁠has⁠⟩⁠ made out that the notochord in them is formed from the hypoblast ie the lower of the three layers!!. Put thus in this naked form it simply throws us all on our beam ends— I am anxious to hear learn more from Balfour— It looks very much as if we should have to start some quite new ideas to reconcile such ⁠⟨⁠a⁠⟩⁠ startling fact.4 I was ⁠⟨⁠gl⁠⟩⁠ad yesterday to see your ⁠⟨⁠so⁠⟩⁠n Frank5 looking so ⁠⟨⁠m⁠⟩⁠uch better.

Ever yours truly | M. Foster



The great abundance of remarkable marine animals in the Mediterranean has for many years past induced Naturalists desirous of investigating Invertebrate Anatomy and Embryology to visit its shores, each generally carrying with him his own apparatus and library, and pursuing his studies under many disadvantages.

A well-known Naturalist, Dr Anton Dohrn, has conceived, and in great measure carried into effect, a plan for uniting these isolated efforts by establishing a sort of Zoological Observatory, to be of the same service to the Biologist as an Astronomical Observatory, or a Physical or Chemical Laboratory, to the students of other branches of Science. To this end Dr Dohrn has obtained from the Municipality of Naples the grant of a space of ground on the Villa Reale, on which he has erected a large and handsome building, comprising working Laboratories capable of accommodating thirty investigators, and a large Aquarium. He has also collected a large and valuable Scientific Library for the use of the Institution, which is called Stazione Zoologica.

The building with its fittings has cost in one way or another about £9700. Of this sum more than half is represented by Dr Dohrn’s private fortune, and a large sum presented by his father, both sunk in the undertaking. £1500 have been given by the German Imperial Government. The remainder either stands as a debt to the contractor (as part security for the goodness of the work), or has been raised by loan, and must be repaid within the next four years.

Dr Dohrn undertook this work without the least expectation of any commercial return for the labour and money which he has invested in it.

To pay working expences he looked to two sources of revenue. First: Rent for places in the Laboratories. Second: Payments by the Public, to whom the large Aquarium was to be open at a moderate admission fee.

As regards the former source of income his expectations have been fulfilled, places for investigators having been taken, for various periods, by sundry Continental States and Universities, and by the University of Cambridge in this country. At the present moment eight or nine Biologists (three of them from England) are pursuing their investigations in the Laboratories of the Station.7

The bankruptcy of the contractor has however created difficulties and delays in the finishing of the Station, and especially of the large Aquarium, and has thus largely interfered with the second source of revenue on which Dr Dohrn counted and has brought him into a position of much difficulty.

Dr Dohrn, in whose honourable character we have the fullest confidence, has appealed to some of us to assist him in borrowing about £1000 in England. This sum, together with about another £500 which he expects to be able to obtain in Germany, will, he considers, meet his difficulties, and place the Station in a satisfactory position.

We are, however, of opinion that the best course to pursue would be, if possible, to present Dr Dohrn at once with the £1000 which he requires. Some of us are unable from various circumstances to subscribe and others have not yet determined on the amount of our subscriptions, but we all earnestly desire to see the Station started on an adequate scale. Should you be willing to give assistance in any way, will you please communicate with Dr Michael Foster, Trinity College, Cambridge, who will be responsible for the transmission to Dr Dohrn of the sums subscribed.

Subscriptions may be made payable either directly to Dr Foster, or to Messrs Foster, Bankers, Cambridge, or their London agents (Messrs Prescott, Grote and Co.), to the account of The Naples Zoological Station Fund.

GEO. J. ALLMAN, F.R.S., F.Z.S., &c., Emerit. Prof. Nat. Hist. University Edinburgh.

GEO. BUSK, F.R.S., Pres. Anthropological Institute.

WILLIAM B. CARPENTER, F.R.S., F.Z.S., Corresp. Memb. of the Institute of France.


M. FOSTER, F.R.S., Prælector in Physiology, Trin. Coll. Cambridge.

T. H. HUXLEY, Sec. R. S., Prof. Nat. History, Schools of Science, South Kensington Museum.



ALFRED NEWTON, F.R.S., Prof. of Zoology, and Comp. Anat. in the University of Cambridge.

GEORGE ROLLESTON, F.R.S., Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Oxford.

PLSCLATER, F.R.S., Secretary to the Zoological Society of London.


£ s. d. £ s. d.
Sir Wm. Armstrong ..... 50 0 0 The Royal Society 100 0 0
F. M. Balfour, Esq ..... 50 0 0 Zoological Society 100 0 0
C. Darwin, Esq ..... 100 0 0
W. E. Darwin, Esq ..... 20 0 0
G. Darwin, Esq ..... 10 0 0
F. Darwin, Esq ..... 10 0 0
A. G. Dew Smith, Esq ..... 50 0 0
Marlborough R. Pryor, Esq ..... 50 0 0
Sir C. Lyell ..... 25 0 0
Dr Busk ..... 10 0 0
E. A. Darwin, Esq ..... 10 0 0
Sir J. Whitworth ..... 10 0 0
Francis Galton, Esq ..... 5 0 0
W. Spottiswoode, Esq ..... 5 0 0
Prof. Newton8 ..... 5 0 0
T. T. C. Jodrell, Esq9 ..... 10 0 0
Lord Rayleigh10 ..... 10 0 0
Lord A. Russell ..... 10 0 0
J. P. Gassiot, Esq. Jun ..... 20 0 0
John Evans, Esq ..... 10 0 0
P. L. Sclater, Esq ..... 5 0 0
Edward Backhouse, Esq ..... 5 0 0
Mrs Pryor11 ..... 10 0 0
A. Balfour, Esq ..... 100 0 0
G. W. Balfour, Esq ..... 10 0 0
R. S. Newall, Esq ..... 10 0 0
Miss Balfour12 ..... 50. 0 0

CD annotations

Bottom of enclosure:


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Anton Dohrn, 7 March 1874.
Thomas Henry Huxley had proposed raising a subscription to help the station in 1873 but the plan had been delayed because of objections made by Anton Dohrn’s father, Carl August Dohrn (see letter from T. H. Huxley, 6 March 1874, n. 3). Dohrn’s letter has not been found, but see the letter from T. H. Huxley, 6 March 1874, for more on the financial difficulties of the Zoological Station at Naples.
Francis Maitland Balfour was one of the first British researchers to work at the Naples Zoological Station; he had been there since earlier in the year (see letter from Anton Dohrn, 6 April 1874). In addition to the research facilities the station also housed an aquarium that was open to the public. Dohrn hoped income from the aquarium would help with the expenses of the station, but at first numbers of visitors had been low (see Heuss 1991, p. 157).
The hypoblast is the innermost of the three layers of an embryo in its earliest stages. It was generally thought that the notochord, the earliest stage in development of the spinal column, was produced from the mesoblast, the middle layer, not only in vertebrates but more generally (see, for example, A. O. Kovalevsky 1866). Although Balfour recognised that the notochord could be interpreted as ‘a third median sheet of mesoblast, split off from the hypoblast somewhat later than the other two’, he nevertheless concluded that it was ‘a true hypoblastic structure’ which had ‘only by adaptation become an apparently mesoblastic one in the higher vertebrates’ (Balfour 1874, pp. 341–2).
Foster wrote his letter to CD on the blank page of the three-page printed leaflet about the Zoological Station that is reproduced here as an enclosure.
Balfour and Albert George Dew-Smith had gone to Naples in the autumn of 1873, and Edwin Ray Lankester had worked there in 1872 before the official opening of the station (see Heuss 1991, pp. 115, 153).
Probably a copyist’s error for Thomas Jodrell Phillips-Jodrell.
John William Strutt, third Baron Rayleigh.
Eleanor Mildred Balfour was F. M. Balfour’s sister; her name and the amount of her subscription were added by hand in ink.


Balfour, Francis Maitland. 1874. A preliminary account of the development of the elasmobranch fishes. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science n.s. 14: 323–64.

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


Encloses a report on current status of the appeal for Naples Zoological Station.

Shark embryology.

Letter details

Letter no.
Michael Foster
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Gt Shelford
Source of text
DAR 164: 166
Physical description
ALS 2pp damaged, encl 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9498,” accessed on 18 May 2024,

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