skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From V. O. Kovalevsky   22 December 1868

St Petersburg

22 December 1868

Dear Sir

I am indeed ashamed of not having written to You so very long. I have been for the most part absent from Petersburg, beeing in a distant part of Russia and that was one of the reasons which prevented me to finish the edition of Your work.

Notwithstanding all this the half of the Second Vol. is already printed and in some three or four weeks I hope to finish the whole and then I will consider it my duty to send You a copy of it.—1

As You have justly supposed I have not been able to gather satisfactory answers to the queries You send me, but I have been promised one from Siberia.2 I send You with this letter the portraits of three of our naturalist, one of them Gen. Litke, told me that he had the honour of your acquaintance, having seen You in London long time ago,3 the other two are professors of phisiology, Owsiannikoff and Setchenoff, the last a really remarkable man by his studies on the nervous physiology.—4 I hope to be able to send You some more with my next letter; Bäer is for more than a year absent from Petersburg residing I think in Dorpat.—5

During this long time of silence I have changed my former state, and am now a married man; my young wife is a woman of quite an exeptional turn and, not beeing what You call strong minded at all, has a passion for natural science, especially mathematics & natural Philosophy (Physik)—6 this induced me also to leave for a time my editioneering and to become student myself; we go together in April in some small German university and will live there for two or three years to prepare ourselves for a long scientific travel in Siberia or in Central Asia,7 I hope you will help me in this with your large experience and knowledge.

Have you not left the intention to write between the two large sections of Your work, a small book on Man, or in case not, will You still trust to me the russian translation of it.—8

I hope Mrs. Darwin and your daughters are all well, and if they have not forgotten me I beg to give them my hearty compliments.—9

I, that is we, hope to see You this Summer, as we shall be in Germany and will make in the Zwischensemester an excursion to London10

Yours truly | V. Kovalevsky

My new adress. | Sergievskaja | house Buturlia | N 24.


Kovalevsky refers to the Russian translation of Variation, which appeared in parts from 1867 to 1869 and in two volumes in 1868 and 1869 (Kovalevsky trans. 1868–9; see Freeman 1977, p. 127). CD’s copy of Kovalevsky trans. 1868–9 is in the Darwin Library–Down.
CD’s last extant letter to Kovalevsky, dated 4 March [1868], concerns corrections or additions to Variation. CD may have sent Kovalevsky a copy of his queries on expression (see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix IV).
CD mentioned having met Fyodor Petrovich Litke (also transliterated ‘Lütke’) in London in a letter to C. H. Smith, 14 January [1845] (Correspondence vol. 3).
Kovalevsky refers to Philipp Vasilyevich Ovsiannikov and Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov. The photographs Kovalevsky sent have not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
Karl Ernst von Baer left St Petersburg in 1867 and spent the remainder of his life in the Baltic German city of Dorpat (now Tartu, Estonia; NDB).
Kovalevsky married Sofia Vasilyevna Korvin-Krukovskaya on 27 September 1868 (Koblitz 1983, p. 79).
In 1869, the Kovalevskys went to Heidelberg, where Sofia studied mathematics and Vladimir studied geology (BDWS s.v. Kovalevskaia, Sofia Vasilyevna). The trip to Siberia never took place.
In the introduction to Variation (Variation 1: 3–9), CD set forth his plan to produce two further books, variation in the wild, and the principle of natural selection. These were not completed. The ‘small book on Man’ became Descent, but it was not translated by Kovalevsky (Freeman 1977).
Kovalevsky had visited CD in the summer of 1867 (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to Charles Lyell, 22 August [1867]). Kovalevsky refers to Emma, Henrietta Emma, and Elizabeth Darwin.
Kovalevsky’s next visit was from 30 September to 1 October 1869 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR242)). Zwischensemester: ‘term break’.


BDWS: Biographical dictionary of women in science: pioneering lives from ancient times to the mid-20th century. Edited by Marilyn Ogilvie and Joy Harvey. 2 vols. New York and London: Routledge. 2000.

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.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Koblitz, Ann Hibner. 1983. A convergence of lives: Sofia Kovalevskaia, scientist, writer, revolutionary. Boston: Birkhäuser.

NDB: Neue deutsche Biographie. Under the auspices of the Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. 26 vols. (A–Vocke) to date. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 1953–.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


The first half of vol. 2 of Variation is printed.

News of his marriage.

Sends portraits of Russian scientists.

Hopes CD will write his book on man and asks permission to translate it.

Moving to Germany for two or three years.

Letter details

Letter no.
Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky (Владимир Онуфриевич Ковалевский)
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
St Petersburg
Source of text
DAR 169: 77
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6510,” accessed on 14 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16