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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Anton Dohrn   4 January 1870

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Jan 4 1870

My dear Sir

On the receipt of your letter I wrote at once to the Director of our Zoolog. Gardens, about the Limulus.1 He informs me that they now have only one old adult male; but when they had both sexes eggs were never observed. Your best chance wd be to write to some Zoologist on the shores of the United States; I cannot help you in this, as my sole correspondent, Dana,2 is now much out of health.

I enclose a separate letter about your scheme, which has my good wishes; but I am sure that you estimate my influence & judgment much too highly. The opinion of naturalists who have visited the coast for some special investigation wd be worth far more than mine. I fear your plan will cost you much loss of time in writing letters & making arrangements. I wd suggest to you to delay attempting so great an addition as the formation of a scientific library.

Lastly let me thank you for your very kind & strong expressions towards myself, & for your information with respect to your present views on embryology.

Forgive me for suggesting one caution; as Demosthenes said, “action, action, action” was the soul of eloquence, so is caution almost the soul of science.3

Pray bear in mind that if a naturalist is once considered, though unjustly, as not quite trust worthy, it takes long years before he can recover his reputation for accuracy.

Pray forgive me for this caution. You ask about my health; I cannot say much in its praise, but as long as I live the life of a hermit I am able to work some hours daily.

With the most sincere good wishes | I remain my dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Jan 4 1870

My dear Sir

In your letter of Dec. 30 you ask me for my opinion with respect to founding an acquarium with the necessary apparatus, at some favorable station such as Messina, for scientific researches.

As far as my judgement goes, I can feel no doubt that at present embryological investigations on the lower marine animals are of the utmost importance; & for this purpose your scheme offers obvious facilities. If Johann Müller cd have left the larvæ of the Echinoderms in an acquarium well provided with a flow of sea-water, he cd have examined them after considerable intervals of time, or he might have arranged with some other naturalist to follow out & mature his great discovery.4 Therefore if sufficient funds can be obtained to construct & keep up an acquarium, & if it is found practicable to regulate its use amongst old & new subscribers or strangers, you will, no doubt have the good wishes of every naturalist in Europe. For the sake of shewing my own good will, I shall at any time be happy to subscribe the small sum of five pounds sterling towards the necessary expenses

Pray believe me my dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin

To Dr Anton Dohrn


See Correspondence vol. 17, letter from Anton Dohrn, 30 December 1869. The superintendent of the Zoological Society’s gardens in Regent’s Park, London, was Abraham Dee Bartlett. CD’s correspondence on this subject with Bartlett has not been found; however, see the letter to A. D. Bartlett, 5 January [1870]. Limulus is a horseshoe crab.
James Dwight Dana.
The anecdote about Demosthenes is related in Pseudo-Plutarch, Lives of the ten orators (Demosthenes). ‘Action’ is sometimes rendered ‘delivery’.
Johannes Peter Müller discovered the distinctive larvae of various different classes of echinoderms (see Winsor 1976, pp. 106–13).


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

Winsor, Mary Pickard. 1976. Starfish, jellyfish and the order of life: issues in nineteenth-century science. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


The Zoological Garden has only one old adult male of Limulus. When there were females, eggs were never observed.

Encloses a separate letter [7071] about AD’s scheme [for a zoological station].

Suggests AD be cautious [in his work]. "Caution is almost the soul of science."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Felix Anton (Anton) Dohrn
Sent from
Source of text
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München (Ana 525. Ba 697); Bibliothèque de Genève (Ms. fr. 2188, ff. 296-7)
Physical description
4pp & Adraft 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7070,” accessed on 22 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18