Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Ernst Haeckel’s Letter to E.D. Cope

Posted by Darin Hayton on 08/04 at 10:51 PM

E.D. Cope received letters from all sorts of people, including one from Charles Darwin’s son Francis, who sought copies of any letters Cope and Darwin might have exchanged. Another of Cope’s correspondents was the German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel is best known for his particular theory of evolution, which combined aspects of Darwinism with German Naturphilosophie and Lamarckian ideas, best known for its central tenet: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” The development of any individual organism from embryo to maturity recapitulates the evolutionary steps that successive ancestors of the species had reached.

Haeckel wrote to Cope in December 1894 asking him to forward along some books to other addresses.

Ernst Haeckel’s letter to Cope asking him to forward the “enclosed books.” (Source: Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College)

Jena 4.12.94
Dear Professor Cope!
Will you be so kind, to send the enclosed books to their adresses [sic]?
I hope you have received my „System. Phylogenie”.
With best thanks for your valuable works presented
Yours very truly
Ernst Haeckel

Regrettably, there is no evidence either of the “enclosed books” nor the “adresses [sic]” to which they were to be sent. Haeckel also mentions his Systematische Phylogonie, one of his more famous works.

Haeckel’s Systematische Phylogonie

If Cope had received a copy of Haeckel’s text, there is no evidence of it. It is interesting to note that Haeckel indicated that he had already forwarded a copy of his own book to Cope (or had requested that a copy be forwarded to him) and that Haeckel had received copies of Cope’s “valuable works.” It would be fascinating to see copies of these texts to look for how the two might have read each other’s work. It is also interesting that Haeckel felt comfortable enough with Cope to ask him to send along books to other recipients. Perhaps the two had met during Cope’s years in Europe—he had spent considerable time in Germany during his trip. Maybe somebody who knows more about 19th-century biology can fill in the details. Until then, this letter is just a glimpse into the world of 19th-century biology.

Tags: correspondence, edward drinker cope, ernst haeckel, evolution, systematische phylogonie