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Darwin Correspondence Project

From V. O. Kovalevsky   15 January [1871]1

Berlin Anatom. Museum.

15 Jan. 1870.—


I received yesterday the sheets of the second vol. but, notwithstanding this mark of kindness I cannot help thinking that something is going wrong, and I should be most thankful if You will not leave me in the dark and write a line saying what the matter is.2 It is very likely that in my connextions in London I have offended somebody or in any way infringed against the rules of English propriety, but believe me I have not the slightest idea of any offence and should be very glad if a word from You explain it. As the fall of Paris is coming near I am quite ready to hurry there at the first sign of capitulation to help my sister in law, as her position there, especially if her husband be killed, wounded or taken prisoner, shall be very difficult.3 Beeing so near England I think I’ll go for a week to London and perhaps settle the matter personally if You will be only kind enough to inform me where my wrong lies. Not wishing to bother You about me personally, I have only to add some facts which my brother wished I should state to You. He is still at the Red Sea and intends to settle there for six monts.—4

One of the chief objections to the generalisation of Ascidian larvae with vertebrates was the uncertainty about the nervous system; he dissected now a quantity of larval forms and found out (as it seems to him) quite a scheme or prototype of the nervous system of vertebrates; namely in the tail of the larvae there is a chain of nervous ganglia consisting each of two pairs of nervous cells, one pair of cells is unipolar, the other multipolar; the multipolar nervous cells give nervous threads only to the skin (sensitive) the unipolar cells give threads only to the muscles (locomotive)—quite a parallel of the two radices of man issuing separately from the spine and mixing together in the large ganglion, as illustrated by the known experiment of lousing in one foot of the frog the sensibility, in the other the locomotion, by cutting on both sides different radices.—5

To add a word more, I really could not profit by Your kindness any more in case You have any objection against me personally, so that I must really pray You not to send me any proof-sheets more in case my fears about an unexplicable change in Your relations to me is realised; Still I hope that there is a misunderstanding or perhaps something laid to my charge of which I have not the least suspicion; every man has a right not to be judged without accusation and without appeal, and I esteem to high the advantage of Your personal aquaintance to let it drop without doing all effort to maintain it.

Believe me | most truly Yours | W. Kowalevsky

Should You favour me with a line pray adress it Berlin, Anatomisches Museum der Universität


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 29 January 1871. Kovalevsky wrote ‘1870’ in error.
Kovalevsky was translating Descent into Russian; he was presumably alarmed at not receiving a personal letter from CD (see Correspondence vol. 18, letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 12 December [1870], and this volume, letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 29 January 1871).
Paris was under siege by the Prussians. Kovalevsky’s sister-in-law, Anna Korvin-Krukovskaya, was living with the French communist Victor Jaclard, but did not marry him until later in 1871.
See Correspondence vol. 18, letter from V. O. Kovalevsky, 12 December [1870]. For CD’s interest in Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky’s work, see Correspondence vol. 18, letter from A. O. Kovalevsky, 25 September 1870.
Kovalevsky refers to his brother’s latest research on ascidian embryology, published in A. O. Kovalevsky 1871 (see especially pp. 113–19). A. O. Kovalevsky had already written a paper on the embryonic development of ascidians, suggesting a link between them and vertebrates (A. O. Kovalevsky 1866). CD’s copy of that paper, in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection, is heavily annotated. In Descent 1: 205, CD cited A. O. Kovalevsky for this discovery, referring to A. O. Kovalevsky 1866.


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.


Has received (from CD) the sheets of the second volume [of Descent].

He fears he has offended CD or someone in England and he begs to know his offence.

His brother is working at the Red Sea and wishes CD to know that he has evidence for the affinity of ascidians and vertebrates in their nervous systems.

Plans to go to Paris upon its imminent capitulation to help his sister-in-law.

Letter details

Letter no.
Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky (Владимир Онуфриевич Ковалевский)
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 169: 79
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7442,” accessed on 14 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19