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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Anton Dohrn   30 December 1869

My dear Sir!

It is long, since I did not send you anything of my zoological working, to show you, that I made good progress in applying your theory for elucidating the Morphology of the Arthropoda.1

But I daresay, I have not been idle; though you know best, how difficult these questions are, how one may drop easily into errors and mistakes.

Thus I must beforehand openly confess, that my former views on these questions cannot be holden any longer: they are wrong without the least doubt.2 But I did not arrive at that conclusion, without bringing out something better.

So I have gone through almost the whole Embryology of Crustacea, looking everywhere for rudimentary organs, which should lead towards a true genealogical System, and I may say, I have surpassed all my hopes. I have not only arrived at a pretty well established Genealogy of the whole Class, but I have even tried to write the History of the whole tribe, as far as by observing their way of life and their functions one could form an abstraction, how these functions were developed, and how they developed their organs.

The end is, that I am now scarcely able to adopt any of the old Separations of Orders in the Class, finding, that you cannot trace the limits between them with the least distinctness. The truth seems to me that the Crustacea have begun with Nauplius, as stated by that genial little work of Fritz Müller, but that all have moved to Zoëa, as well Malacostraca as Entomostraca, which I hope to prove by rudimentary organs.3 Then follows a long pause, of which we have scarcely any knowledge, and after that the Phyllopoda. And it is from these, that all the other Orders are taking their origin, Malacostraka, Copepoda, Cirripeds, Daphnidae, and Ostracoda.4 This result I think I may prove with the fullest certainty.

You observe, how it differs from Fritz Müllers and Haeckels opinions who both think to adopt different lines from Nauplius for the different Orders.5 There is a good quantity of general conclusions, which I hope to put forth regarding the method and the task of genealogical investigation, and I shall be in the utmost glad and proud, if I should find your consent. I hope I may be able to send you the whole next summer, in Manuscript it is ready and worked over again and again.6

I have too tried to find the union between Crustacea and Insects. But though I formerly thought, I could show such link,7 I think now quite the reverse. The better and deeper I have studied the Embryology of both the Classes, the less I think of any direct union for them, and I am inclined to adopt a different origin for them within the Worms. But this may be decided after a longer course of investigations in the Embryology of Insects, Myriapoda and Spiders on the one side and Annelids on the other.

There are now two other points, for which I should dare to apply to you. The first is, that I have not studied the Embryology of Limulus, and should be extremely glad to do so, as just Limulus would tell us perhaps by its Embryology, how to understand its own Morphology and that of the Trilobites.8 I could perhaps go to North-America for money-sake, my father would willingly pay the expense;9 but I have not so much time, the Embryology of Insects and some important questions about the true nature of the so-called nutritory-Vitellus (“Nahrungsdotter”) keeping me tight to my working-table in Jena. Would it be possible by any means to get Limulus ♀ with eggs, living in the Aquarium of the London or the Liverpool Garden? Could I perhaps make an application to the Directory of one of these Institutions and rely in the mean time upon your name? All the expenses, I am sure, would be paid by my father, since I myself I have no money of my own. Perhaps Limulus does not carry the eggs? This I never could bring out, since I don’t possess but two male specimens.

The second point is still more important to me.

Having stayed now several times on the seashore for zoological studies, I have found how difficult it is to study Embryology without an Aquarium. This want has suggested me the idea of founding not only Aquariums, but Zoological Stations or Laboratories on different points of our European coast. Such a Station should consist of a little house of perhaps four rooms, an Aquarium connected with the sea and the house,—the Aquarium of perhaps 60 feet in Cubus, + where one might have streaming water,— a boat for dredging work, dredges, nets, ropes,—in short, all that is necessary for a marine Zoologist. Besides glasses larger tumlers, bottles; Acids and other chemical objects, and lastly a library. All this might be had at a not to high prize at such a place as Messina, where I thought of founding the first Station.10 For the library, I intend to apply to all living Zoologists, to send each one copy of their works and articles to the Station. For the House, boat, Aquarium and other apparatus I will apply to some of my richer friends and to my father, and I hoped to get so much money during this winter and the next summer, that I might build next winter in Messina the little house and arrange it so as to have it ready in winter 1871.

I have spoken about this already to several Zoologists, such as Professor v. Siebold,11 Carl Vogt, Haeckel etc. All are quite satisfied with my plan and have offered their help. But we think altogether, if you would give me your consent and approval in some lines, which I might show, whereever I thought it necessary to prove, that my intention is worth to be followed up, I might risk no difficulty in raising as much money as might be necessary to construct and furnish the first Station. Already has the Meeting of the Russian Association for Science voted 1500 Rubels for three Stations to be built in the Black Sea, and Carl Ernst v. Baer has applauded greatly to my plan,12—but I think it best, before applying to the general public, I might have constructed one of the Stations completely, to prove that there is no humbug whatever in it.

I would now beseech you, to send me a few lines, wherein you tell me, I might rely upon your consent,—with that I am sure I might prove to everybody, that my intentions are good and useful, and I might get the means necessary for the building.

If such a Station is ready, every Zoologist might go there, have all instruments at hand, even more, than he would ever have afforded by his own means. He would now be obliged to add all his experiences about the Fauna, the Habitat etc. etc. into a large Diary, the “Diary of the Zoological Station of Messina” that every one, who comes after him, might enjoy at once the experiences, the other had made, so as to spare to himself all the unnecessary trouble with looking for the best dredging ground, and discovering anew things, which all his predecessors have discovered also. So may by and by arise a thorough good knowledge of the Fauna, and if this Diary is published,—certainly after careful examination—every Zoologist may know at once, where to find certain animals, which he wants to study, with indications of their spawning time etc.

I know, that the same fisherman, who has attended Johannes Müller in his researches on the Larvae of the Echinoderms, has afterwards attended also Kölliker, Geganbaur, Haeckel, Claus, and all following Zoologists in Messina, and I know him myself as a good and honest man, so as to rely upon him for everything concerning the future Station.13 Besides some of my friends in Messina are taking a great interest in my idea, and one of them the Swedish Consul, a young german merchant,14 has promised to serve as Superintendent of the whole Station,—so that no dammage might be done neither to the house nor to the different apparatus and instruments. And if every Zoologist, before using the Instruments of the Station, does oblige himself to repair whatever he might spoil,—the Station and its property might be kept up pretty well.

I think this plan has nothing fantastical or utopian round it,—so I may not risk your displeasure in communicating it to you; in the contrary I hope to meet your consent, which is the chief thing I could now strive at.

Pardon this long letter,—but I found no possibility of being shorter, which was certainly my will. I hope for a short answer.

Should you add a few words, that the State of your health is well, you would afford the greatest joy

to yours ever sincerely | devoted | Anton Dohrn

Stettin. 30th Decemb. 1869.

My address after the 8th of January will be again | Dr. A. D. Jena.

In this very moment, I meet the great joy of your kind letter.15 My best thanks for it. It shall always be a day of festival for me whenever I shall be allowed to write to you or to read a letter from you. I am once for ever devoted to the course of thoughts, that bear your name, and I shall be proud, if you judge me capable of doing something good and useful.

My sincerest heart-wishes for your health are joined to this letter.

Yours— | Anton Dohrn

CD annotations

8.8 Would … name? 8.11] scored pencil
End of letter: ‘Dana — U. States.’ ink

CD note:16

I enclose separate letter, but I am sure you think much too much on my judgment [del ‘opin’] that of one, who [studied the sea], wd be worth far more— I fear your plan will cost you endless time in writing letters, & arrangements but then you would be the best judge.

Lastly let me thank you, for your too kind & too strong expressions towards myself & your interesting letter, [‘with it in’ del] & [‘Health’ blue crayon del] for your information about your present views.— [‘Let me’ del] Forgive me for suggesting one caution, as Demosth said— action action action, was the soul,17 so is caution almost the soul of science— Bear in mind, that if an author is once put down as not trusting it takes long years [‘to’ del] before others will trust his observations.— Gärtner made a great blunder when he began his experiments in Hyb, & even to this day his error is sometimes remembered & his admirable works forgotten.18

But forgive me, [‘& beli’ del]

You ask about my [interl] Health.— I cannot say much for it, if I live the life of a Hermit I can work [some] hours daily.

With the most sincere good wishes.

I would suggest delaying the prop of [starting] a Library till you have shown that you can carry out the new [Foundation] part of your plan.


Dohrn had sent CD a paper on the morphology of the Arthropoda in 1867 (Dohrn 1867; see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to Anton Dohrn, 26 November [1867]). See also letter to Anton Dohrn, 25 December 1869.
Dohrn refers to his earlier work on insect–crustacean homologies; see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to Anton Dohrn, 26 November [1867], and letter from Anton Dohrn, 30 November 1867 and n. 5. See also Heuss 1991, pp. 67–8, 70–3. CD had been sceptical of conclusions on this subject published in Dohrn 1867 (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter to Ernst Haeckel, 6 February [1868]).
Fritz Müller argued that if all Crustacea shared a common progenitor they ought to pass through similar nauplius-like conditions during their development (Dallas trans. 1869, p. 13; Müller 1864a, p. 8); a nauplius is a free-swimming early larval stage. He further argued that since the segmentation in crabs was similar to that in the Amphipoda and Isopoda, these should pass through a similar zoea stage, and a later larval stage (ibid., pp. 14–15; Müller 1864a, pp. 9–11). Entomostraca is a former division that included most lower forms of Crustacea not in Malacostraca (Leftwich 1973). A zoea stage is not characteristic in the Entomostraca.
Phyllopoda was an order (or suborder) of lower Crustacea (Entomostraca). In modern classification, Phyllopoda is a subclass of the class Branchiopoda in the subphylum Crustacea. Malacostraca and Ostracoda are classes; Cirripedia and Copepoda are subclasses of the class Maxillopoda; Daphnioidea is a superfamily in the order Cladocera (class Branchiopoda). For more on classification within the Crustacea, see Bowman and Abele 1982.
For Müller’s views on evolution in Crustacea, see F. Müller 1864a, pp. 81–91 (Dallas trans. 1869, pp. 122–41). For Ernst Haeckel’s phylogenetic classification of Crustacea, see Haeckel 1866, 2: LXXXVII–XCIII, and plate (‘Taf.’) V.
Dohrn published his investigations in papers that were reprinted in volume 2 of Dohrn 1870.
Dohrn had attempted to homologise larval insects and crustaceans (Dohrn 1867, p. 86); see n. 2, above.
Limulus (the horseshoe crab of North and Central America) and the extinct trilobite are both marine arthropods. Dohrn later published on the embryology and morphology of Limulus (Dohrn 1871).
Carl August Dohrn was a wealthy businessman and entomologist (Heuss 1991).
Dohrn had worked in Messina from October 1868 until the spring of 1869 (Heuss 1991, pp. 74–9). Messina is on the north-east coast of the island of Sicily. Soon after writing this letter, Dohrn decided instead on Naples as the site for his zoological station (see Groeben 1982, p. 91 n. 17).
Karl Theodor Ernst von Siebold.
Dohrn refers to the second congress of Russian naturalists and physicians held in Moscow in August 1869 and its decision to establish a network of Russian marine biological stations (see Pavlov and Shishkin 2003, p. 422). See also Groeben 1982, pp. 91–2 n. 20. Karl Ernst von Baer had been a professor of zoology in St Petersburg until his retirement in 1867, and was a friend of Carl August Dohrn.
The references are to Johannes Peter Müller, Rudolf Albert von Kölliker, Carl Gegenbaur, and Carl Friedrich Claus. The assisting fisherman has not been identified.
Dohrn refers to Julius Alfred Klostermann
CD’s note is a draft of his letter to Anton Dohrn, 4 January 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18).
CD refers to the Greek orator Demosthenes and the saying attributed to him that action was the soul of eloquence. The anecdote about Demosthenes is related in Pseudo-Plutarch, Lives of the ten orators (Demosthenes). ‘Action’ is sometimes rendered ‘delivery’.
CD refers to Karl Friedrich von Gärtner and his experiments on hybridity. On Gärtner’s error, see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, [before 3 February 1863] and nn. 6 and 7.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dohrn, Anton. 1867. On the morphology of the Arthropoda. [Read before the British Association, 5 September 1867.] Journal of Anatomy and Physiology 2 (1868): 80–6.

Dohrn, Anton. 1870. Untersuchungen über Bau und Entwicklung der Arthropoden. 2 parts. Leipzig: W. Engelmann.

Groeben, Christiane, ed. 1982. Charles Darwin 1809–1882, Anton Dohrn 1840–1909: correspondence. Naples: Macchiaroli.

Haeckel, Ernst. 1866. Generelle Morphologie der Organismen. Allgemeine Grundzüge der organischen Formen-Wissenschaft, mechanisch begründet durch die von Charles Darwin reformirte Descendenz-Theorie. 2 vols. Berlin: Georg Reimer.

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

Leftwich, A. W. 1973. A dictionary of zoology. 3d edition. London: Constable.


He has gone through the whole embryology of the Crustacea and has arrived at a pretty well-established genealogy of the whole class; has even tried to write a history of the whole tribe. Finds he cannot adopt the old separation of Orders in the Class; the limits between them are indistinct.

Would like to study embryology of Limulus. Asks CD’s help in obtaining a female specimen.

Outlines his proposal to establish a marine zoological station.

Letter details

Letter no.
Felix Anton (Anton) Dohrn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 204
Physical description
7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7038,” accessed on 16 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17