skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky   15 March 1867

S Petersbourg

3/15 March 18671


Mr. Truebner transmitted me the answer you had the kindness to make on my offer to be the Editor of a Russian translation of your new work, authorised by you.2 Even if it is not a work for general reading, still, even in our country your name enjoys such a general and well deserved fame, that everything written by you is sure to awaken the liveliest interest, at least in the best part of our reading public. At all events I shall be very proud to be the editor of a Russian translation authorised by you, and you should make me quite happy if you thought fit to write two lines as an Introduction or Preface to my edition.3 I must aknowledge you that I am, besides being an editor, also a little naturalist now and still more so in spe,4 so that you will make me doubly happy by authorising me to be the Russian editor of your new work and adressing a few lines to this translation.— You can be quite sure that the translation of the work will be made most carefully, as I shall make it myself under the guidance of my brother who is lecturer of Zoology in the University of S Petersburg, but now temporarily absent on an excursion to Triest.5 I take the boldness to send you some of his Memoirs, perhaps some of his studies and it may be a little wild conceptions about the affinity of the Ascidian and vertebrate types by their history of developement shall, however lightly, interst you, whose most true and steady follower he professes to be.6

In finishing my letter, I shall beg your pardon for my bad English, and pray you, if you shall have a moment time, to inform me directly, or trough M. Truebner is there any hope that the first part of the work will be finisched this year, will it be illustrated and what approximative dimensions (in pr. sheets)7 it will have.—

Leaving the pecuniary arrangement entyrely to you, and if you will have the kindness to adress your resolution to Mr. Truebner, I shall wait with the utmost impatience of a naturalist and of your admirer, for the first printed sheets of your work which you had the kindness to promise to send me as soon as you receive them from the printer

I am | Sir | Your most true and impatient admirer | W. Kowalewsky

My adress. | S Petersbourg. | coin de la Petite Morskaja | A Gowchovaja m Mitkoff. N 19.


Kovalevsky gives both the Julian (3 March) and Gregorian (15 March) calendar dates.
Nicholas Trübner’s publishing firm had approached CD with an offer from Kovalevsky to translate Variation (see letter from Trübner & Co, 26 February 1867). CD’s reply to Trübner has not been found.
No preface was added to the Russian edition of Variation (V. O. Kovalevsky trans. 1868–9).
‘In spe’: hopefully, in the future (Latin).
Alexander Onufrievich Kovalevsky was curator of the zoological cabinet and privat-dozent at St Petersburg University (DSB). Trieste, now an Italian city, situated on the gulf of Trieste at the head of the Adriatic sea, was capital of Küstenland province, Austria, in 1867 (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
Kovalevsky sent seven papers by his brother on the anatomy and embryology of marine invertebrates, all written in German (A. O. Kovalevsky 1865a and 1865b, 1866a–d, and Ovsjannikov and Kovalevsky 1866; CD’s copies of these papers are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL). In one paper, on the embryology of simple ascidians (A. O. Kovalevsky 1866b), Kovalevsky noted similarities between the larval stages of ascidians and amphioxus, suggesting an ancestral link between invertebrates and vertebrates. CD’s copy of the paper is heavily annotated.
Pr. sheets: i.e. proof-sheets.


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

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

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


Thanks CD for permission to translate Variation into Russian. The translation will be guided by his brother Alexander, a follower of Darwin,

whose articles on the affinity of ascidians and vertebrates he forwards.

Letter details

Letter no.
Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky (Владимир Онуфриевич Ковалевский)
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
St Petersburg
Source of text
DAR 169: 71
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5443,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15