Re: Design – performance version – 25 March 2007 – 1
Re: Design – Adaptation of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Asa Gray and others… by Craig Baxter – as performed 25 March 2007
[This script is provided for non-commercial use only. Please respect Craig Baxter's right to be identified as the creator of this dramatisation, and that of the Darwin Correspondence Project to be identified as research collaborators.]
All words with the exception of certain grounding and linking phrases indicated by square brackets are direct quotes from the correspondence or published writings of Asa Gray, Charles Darwin, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Jane Loring Gray Louis Agassiz, Adam Sedgwick, etc… The punctuation has been altered to aid public reading. If you want to see the full texts of the letters that have been used here, follow the links from the footnotes to the Online Database.
There are three actors who predominantly read the words of the following:
Actor 1 – Asa Gray
Actor 2 – Charles Darwin
Actor 3 – In the dress of a modern day archivist, this actor uses the words of Jane Loring Gray, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Hugh Falconer, Louis Agassiz, Adam Sedgwick, A Friend of John Stuart Mill, Emma Darwin, Horace Darwin… and acts as a sort of stage manager; scene setting, supplying context, creating and maintaining the environment in which the play unfolds and acting as a go-between between Gray and Darwin, and between the audience and the play.
Actors please note: Ellipses indicate an edit in the original text not, necessarily, a pause in the delivery of the line. A forward slash (/) indicates the point in the current speech at which the next speech begins.
THE VERY CITADEL OF NATURAL THEOLOGY: 1887-1888
In which are described by his widow Jane the final days of Professor Asa Gray, Harvard Botanist. A series of strokes affect adversely his speech and movement but, despite this, he sends out copies of his Review of the Life of Darwin.
At this time in his life, Asa Gray is in his late 70s.
JANE GRAY:[Jane Loring Gray’s journal. Harvard. November 1887] 1 Dr Gray went in to Boston for the family Thanksgiving dinner, though there had seemed some threatening of a cold, but he pronounced himself…
JANE GRAY:Still, there was quick breathing and some listlessness, so that he was nursed a little on Friday…
That evening he had two slight chills, so that the doctor was summoned the next day, and … advised him to keep in bed. On Sunday, his pulse and temperature had improved so much that he was allowed to get up and go down stairs at noon, the doctor congratulating him on the success of the treatment. There seemed a weakness of the right hand, which, however, passed away, and he wrote that evening.
GRAY: 2 [Since atheistic doctrines of evolution] are prevailing and likely to prevail, more or less, among scientific men, I have thought it important – and have taken considerable pains to show – that they may be held theistically… Indeed, I expect that a coming generation will give me the credit (which I am content to wait for) of being one of the few who fought manfully for the very citadel of natural theology.
JANE GRAY:The next morning he seemed bright and well, but on going down to breakfast there came a slight shock in the right arm,
Gray’s arm twitches.
which seemed, however, to pass off after he had rested.
Gray studies his arm and tests it by flexing his fingers.
He managed to put up, for two friends in England, copies of his ‘Review of the Life of Darwin’… pencilling the address so that it could be read.
Gray takes up a copy of his paper on Darwin.
THE SAND WALK: 1844
In which Darwin, at home in Kent, tentatively expresses his original and dangerous theory of natural selection to his friend, the botanist, Joseph D Hooker
GRAY: 3 Charles Darwin… made his home on the border of the little hamlet of Down, in Kent.
Darwin appears, in hat and coat, with stick, on one of his daily perambulations along the ‘Sand Walk’ at Down. He is a man of enormous enthusiasm and good humour, though these attributes are kept in check by a constitutional weakness.
DARWIN:A plain but comfortable brick house in a few acres of pleasure-ground, a pleasantly old-fashioned air about it, with a sense of peace and silence.
GRAY: … and here, attended by every blessing except that of vigorous health…
DARWIN: 4 My confounded stomach.
GRAY:… he lived the secluded but busy life which best suited his chosen pursuits and the simplicity of his character.
DARWIN: 5 I am allowed to work now two-and-a-half hours daily. And I find it as much as I can do. For the cold-water cure, together with three short walks, is curiously exhausting. And I am actually forced always to go to bed at 8 o’clock completely tired.
GRAY:He was seldom seen even at scientific meetings, and never in general society; but he could welcome his friends and fellow-workers to his own house, where he was the most charming of hosts.
DARWIN: 6 My life goes on like Clockwork, and I am fixed on the spot where I shall end it.
GRAY:[His] doctrine of Natural Selection… was drawn up in the
year 1839, and copied and communicated to Messrs Lyell and Hooker in 1844,
being a part of [an unpublished] manuscript.
Darwin settles down to write. His tone is hushed, conspiratorial, as if confessing a murder.
DARWIN: 7 January 1844. My dear Hooker. I have been …engaged in a very presumptuous work and which Iknow no one individual who would not say: a veryfoolish one. I was so struck with distributionof Galapagos organisms etc etc. And with thecharacter of the American fossil mammifers etcetc. That I determined to collect blindly everysort of fact, which could bear any way on whatare species. I have read heaps of agriculturaland horticultural books, and have never ceasedcollecting facts. At last, gleams of light havecome, and I am almost convinced – quite contraryto [the] opinion I started with – that speciesare not – it is like confessing a murder -immutable…I think I have found out – here’s presumption! -the simple way by which species becomeexquisitely adapted to various ends.
THE CONCURRENCE OF BOTANISTS: 1855
In which Darwin initiates a long-running correspondence with Gray at the start concerning matters of the global geographical distributions of plants. The men exchange information, criticism, photographs and gossip about difficult colleagues (Agassiz). Gray realizes Darwin is not revealing all of his thinking and, after some gentle coaxing, is let in on the Englishman’s secret and potentially incendiary ideas.
A younger Asa Gray (now in his mid 40s) arrives in his Harvard study and removes his coat. He is professional man, more formally attired and lighter on his feet than Darwin. He has many more demands on his time than his English contemporary (for example, administrative and teaching duties at his University) and is much less his own man.
A letter from England catches his attention. He opens the letter.
DARWIN: 8 April 25th1855. My dear [Dr Gray]. I hope you will remember that I had the pleasure of being introduced to you at Kew.
Of course Gray remembers.
I want to beg a great favour of you, for which I well know I can offer no apology. But the favour will not, I think, cause you much trouble and will greatly oblige me… I have for several years been collecting facts on ‘Variation’, and when I find that any general remark seems to hold good amongst animals, I try to test it in Plants. I have the greatest curiosity about the alpine Flora of the United States and I have copied out of your Manual the enclosed list. Now, I want to know whether you will be so very kind as to append from memory the other habitats or ranges of these plants… appending ‘Indig.’ for such as are confined to the mountains of the US; /‘Arctic Am.’ to such as are also found in Arctic America; ‘Arctic Eu.’ to those also found in Arctic Europe: and ‘Alps’ to those found on any mountains of Europe; and ‘Arct. Asia’…
GRAY: 9 May 22nd1855. Harvard University. My Dear Sir, I remember with much pleasure the opportunity I enjoyed of making your acquaintance at Hooker’s three years ago; and besides that should always be most glad if I could in any small degree furnish materials for your interesting investigations. I have filled up the paper you sent me as well as I could.
DARWIN: 10 My dear Dr Gray. I really hardly know how to thank you enough for the very great trouble which the list of close species must have caused you. What knowledge and labour and judgment is condensed in that little sheet of note-paper!
DARWIN: 11 My dear Hooker… What a remarkably nice and kind letter Dr A. Gray has sent me in answer to my troublesome queries… Would his list of Habitats be of any the least use to you? If so I would copy it… His letter does strike me as most uncommonly kind… I have just made out my first Grass, hurrah! hurrah! …How dreadfully difficult it is to name plants… I must confess that Fortune favours the bold, for as good luck would have it, it was the easy Anthoxanthum odoratum. Nevertheless it is a great discovery. I never expected to make out a grass in all my life. So Hurrah! It has done my stomach surprising good.
GRAY: 12 My dear Mr Darwin, I rejoice in furnishing facts to others to work up in their bearing on general questions. And feel it the more my duty to do so in as much as, from preoccupation of mind and time and want of experience, I am unable to contribute direct original investigations of the sort to the advancement of science…
DARWIN: 13 I hope… before [the] end of year to hear that you have found time to write on the geographical distribution of the US plants; and if my letter caused you to do this some year or two before you otherwise would have done it, I shall congratulate myself in private, at having done good Botanical work. 14 You have been so very kind in giving me information of the greatest use to me; that I venture to trouble you /with a question…
GRAY: 15 Do not, I pray you, speak of your letters troubling me. I should be sorry indeed to have you stop, or write more rarely, even though mortified to find that I can so seldom give you the information you might reasonably expect… Yours most sincerely Asa Gray.
DARWIN: 16 My dear Gray… Your indefinite answers are perhaps not the least valuable part. For Botany has been followed in so much more a philosophical spirit than Zoology, that I scarcely ever like to trust any general remark in Zoology, without I find that Botanists concur.
17 By the way I ventured to send a few days ago a copy of the Gardeners’ Chronicle, with a short report by me of some trifling experiments which I have been trying on the power of seeds to withstand sea-water. 18 Some of my immersed seeds have come up after 82 and 85 days immersion, viz Radishes, Beet, Atriplex, Capsicum, Oats, Cucurbita, Rhubarb, Lettuce, Carrotts, Celery, and Onions.
GRAY: 19 Why has nobody thought of trying the experiment before! Instead of taking it for granted that salt water kills seeds. I shall have it nearly all reprinted in Silliman’s Journal, as a nut for [Professor] Agassiz to crack.
Darwin and Gray share a joke at the expense of Agassiz.
DARWIN: 20 Lyell told me, that Agassiz, having a theory about when Saurians were first created, on hearing some careful observations opposed to this, said he did not believe it, for ‘Nature never lied’. I am just in this predicament and repeat to you that Nature never lies. Ergo, theorisers are always right.
GRAY: 21 Your anecdote … is most characteristic. Instead of learning caution from experience, Agassiz goes on faster than ever, in drawing positive conclusions from imperfect or conjectural data, confident that he reads Nature through and through, and without the least apparent misgiving that anything will turn up that he cannot explain away…
DARWIN: 22 Hurrah I got yesterday my 41st Grass!
Hooker is younger than Darwin and Gray by about 10 years. Like Gray, he is a professional botanist
HOOKER: 23 Dear Darwin, I have finished the reading of your manuscript [on geographical distribution] and have been very much delighted and instructed. Your case is a most strong one and gives me a much higher idea of change than I had previously entertained… I never felt so shaky about species before…
DARWIN: 24 My dear Hooker… you cannot imagine how pleased I am that the notion of Natural Selection has acted as a purgative on your bowels of immutability.
Darwin passes to Hooker a brace of letters
25 I send enclosed [a letter for you from Asa Gray], received this morning. I send my own, also, as you might like to see it; please be sure [to] return it. If your letter is Botanical and has nothing private, I should like to see it. I do not know whether I ought to send to you his to me; as you will see there is a little rap for you.
GRAY: 26 Hooker [is] dreadfully paradoxical to contend that Coniferæ are the highest style of plants.
DARWIN: 27 But, as I know full well, you are not thin-skinned and can stand a blow (and by Jove return it) as well as any man. I send it…
Darwin passes to Hooker an envelope of seeds.
Hurrah! [One of the enclosed] seed[s] has just germinated after 21-and-a-half hours in [an] owl’s stomach. This according to ornithologists’ calculation would carry it, God knows how many miles; but I think an owl really might go in storm in this time 400 or 500 miles. Owls and Hawks have often been seen in mid Atlantic.
HOOKER: 28 Thanks for your letter and its enclosure from A. Gray which contains nil Botanices. I do expect a Botanical letter ere long and will send it you if it contains any interest. Thanks for A Gray’s letter [to you]. I do rub my hands and chuckle …at the happy idea of my being caught in a Paradox. I know the human soul loves paradox, even to miracle, and that this love of it is one of the curses of science. The Seeds you sent were Raspberry.
The three friends exchange photographs and invitations.
DARWIN: 29 My dear Gray I was very glad to get your photograph. I am expecting mine, which I will send off as soon as it comes. It is an ugly affair, and I fear the fault does not lie with the Photographer.
GRAY: 30 Could not you come over [to the United States], on the urgent invitation given to European savans and free passage provided back and forth in the steamers! …Will you not come next year, if a special invitation is sent you on the same terms?
DARWIN: 31 Very sincere thanks for your kind invitation … In truth there is nothing which I should enjoy more; but my health is not, and will, I suppose, never be, strong enough, except for the quietest routine life in the country.
GRAY: 32 My dear Mr Darwin… [I received] your photograph, which (though not a very perfect one) I am well pleased to have.
DARWIN: 33 My dear Hooker. Thanks, also, for [your] Photograph, which about a fortnight ago we were wishing for. But it does not give your expression and so by no means does you justice.
HOOKER: 34 I believe I have very little expression. I have often remarked that I am not recognized except by those who know me tolerably well. That I have often to introduce myself. Added to which, all my photographs and portraits make me look either silly or stupid or affected.
DARWIN: 35 My dear Dr. Gray… I must send you my thanks and hearty admiration. [Your paper on the Statistics of the flora of the northern United States] strikes me as quite exhausting the subject, and I quite fancy and flatter myself I now appreciate the character of your Flora… One of your conclusions makes me groan… for it riles me … dreadfully… Viz that the line of connection of the strictly Alpine plants is through Greenland.
Gray is momentarily embarrassed.
GRAY: 36 Well, I never meant to draw any conclusions at all, and am very sorry, that the only one I was beguiled into should ‘rile’ you, as you say it does… Hooker rightly tells me, I have no business to be running after side game of any sort, while there is so much I have to do … to finish undertakings I have long ago begun.
DARWIN: 37 When I said that your remarks on your alpine plants ‘riled’ me; I did not mean to doubt them, except in the Agassian sense that they went against some theoretic notions of mine…
Gray gets the whiff of something significant here, that he’s not quite being told.
Now this leads me to make a very audacious remark in opposition to what I imagine Hooker has been writing and to your own scientific conscience. I presume he has been urging you to finish your great Flora, before you do anything else. Now, I would say it is your duty to generalise as far as you safely can from your as yet completed work… There, am I not an audacious dog!
Intrigued, Gray goes fishing for more information… Darwin is wary, concerned he has perhaps already said too much.
GRAY: 38 My dear Mr Darwin… I did not know at all that you suspected disjoined species to belong to small genera and small orders, as a general thing.
Darwin retreats from his previous remarks, concerned he has given too much away.
DARWIN: 39 I daresay I may be quite in error:
GRAY: 40 … what you say about extinction…
DARWIN:… it is not worth enlarging on…
GRAY:… I am a very good subject for you to operate on, as I have no prejudice, nor preposessions in favor of any theory at all.
A beat. Darwin reveals a morsal of his thinking.
DARWIN: I look at Extinction as common cause of small genera and disjoined ranges and therefore they ought, if they behaved properly – and as ‘nature does not lie’ – to go together.
Gray finds this idea challenging, but he does not reject it.
GRAY:My dear Mr Darwin… I never yet saw any good reason for concluding that the several species of a genus must ever have had a common or continuous area. Convince me of that, or show me any good grounds for it… and I think you would carry me a good way with you.
Beat, as Darwin hesitates to unfold more. Gray pushes for elaboration.
Darwin, after a short consideration, decides to let Gray into the inner circle. He preambles…
DARWIN: 43 My dear Gray. Permit me to tell you, that before I had ever corresponded with you, Hooker had shown me several of your letters (not of a private nature) and these gave me the warmest feeling of respect to you; and I should indeed be ungrateful if your letters to me and all I have heard of you, had not strongly enhanced this feeling. But I did not feel in the least sure that, when you knew whither I was tending… you might not think me so wild and foolish in my views (God knows arrived at slowly enough, and I hope conscientiously) that you would think me worth no more notice or assistance. To give one example, the last time I saw my dear old friend Falconer, he attacked me most vigorously, but quite kindly, and told me…
Hugh Falconer (Actor 3) – a Scottish paleobotanist and contemporary of Darwin and Hooker – splutters…
FALCONER:You will do more harm than any ten naturalists will do good. I can see that you have already corrupted and half-spoiled Hooker!!
DARWIN:Now when I see such strong feeling in my oldest friend, you need not wonder that I always expect my views to be received with contempt. But enough and too much of this…
Darwin draws a deep breath. To business:
44 Nineteen years ago it occurred to me that – whilst otherwise employed on Natural History – I might perhaps do good if I noted any sort of facts bearing on the question of the origin of species. And this I have since been doing. Either species have been independently created, or they have descended from other species, like varieties from one species.
I think it can be shown to be probable that man gets his most distinct varieties by preserving such as arise best worth keeping and destroying the others… To be brief: I assume that species arise like our domestic varieties with much extinction; and then test this hypothesis by comparison with as many general and pretty well established propositions as I can find made out, in geographical distribution, geological history, affinities etc. etc. etc… [And] as an honest man I must tell you that I have come to the heterodox conclusion that there are no such things as independently created species. That species are only strongly defined varieties.
There it is: cat out of the bag. Beat.
I know that this will make you despise me. I do not much underrate the many huge difficulties on this view, but yet it seems to me to explain too much – otherwise inexplicable – to be false… Yours most sincerely and gratefully Charles Darwin.
CREED AND FEVER: 1858
In which Gray expresses his Christian belief and Darwin discovers that Alfred Wallace has developed his own strikingly similar theory of natural selection. Also, Darwin’s infant son develops scarlet fever, which fever ultimately proves fatal.
GRAY: 45 Philosophically, [I am] a convinced theist and, religiously, an acceptor of the creed commonly called the Nicene, as the exponent of the Christian faith.
46 I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;
A package is delivered to Darwin and he opens it.
… And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
The contents of the package (an essay from New Guinea from Alfred Russel Wallace) throws Darwin into a fluster.
by whom all things were made; / who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; …
DARWIN: 47 My dear Gray… It is very unlikely, but if by any chance you have my little sketch of my notions of natural Selection and would see whether it or my letter bears any date, I should be very much obliged. ….I am sure it was written in September, October or November of last year…/ Why I ask this is as follows: Mr Wallace who is now exploring New Guinea, has sent me an abstract of the same theory, most curiously coincident even in expressions. And he could never have heard a word of my views.
GRAY …he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
DARWIN: 48 So, all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed. … 49 [Yet] there is nothing in Wallace’s sketch which is not written out much fuller in my sketch copied in 1844, and read by Hooker some dozen years ago…. I should be extremely glad now to publish… my general views. But I cannot persuade myself that I can do so honourably, 50 knowing that Wallace is in the field…. /It seems hard on me that I should be thus compelled to lose my priority of many years standing.
GRAY: And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.
Darwin is increasingly anxious, flitting from one worry to the next.
53 It is miserable in me to care at all about priority… 54 I always thoughtit /very possible that I might be forestalled, but I fancied that I had grand enough soul not to care; but I found myself mistaken and punished; 55 My good dear friend, forgive me. This is a trumpery letter influenced by trumpery feelings.
GRAY And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
DARWIN: 56 My dearest Hooker, You will, and so will Mrs Hooker, be most sorry for us when you hear that poor Baby died yesterday evening. I hope to God he did not suffer so much as he appeared. …
DARWIN: He became quite suddenly worse. It was scarlet fever. It was the most blessed relief to see his poor little innocent face resume its sweet expression in the sleep of death. Thank God he will never suffer more in this world. Poor Emma behaved nobly and how she stood it all I cannot conceive.
In silence for a moment, the men contemplate the distances between them.
Darwin retires to write ‘On the Origin of Species…’
FOUNDATIONS OF FAITH: 1857-1858
In which Gray and Hooker begin to consider the theological ramifications of Darwin’s ideas.
Hooker clears his throat. The temporary absence of Darwin has caused a vacuum into which he and Gray can pour their thoughts and anxieties. Hooker is the more agitated and anxious; Gray the more thoughtful.
HOOKER: 57 My dear Dr Gray… I shall be glad of your opinion of Darwin and Wallace’s paper.
GRAY: 58 I purposely keep from forming any opinionuntil I get the main facts and arguments well before me… But I see a very strong case can be made.
HOOKER:I must own that my faith is shaken to the foundation…
GRAY:I can go some way with Darwin. But whether the whole way is doubtful. 59 I am much interested in [his] endevors and write him so. That vein has got to be worked: and we are much interested to have it done by a true naturalist, and an honest and unprejudiced one. A better man than Darwin cannot be found…
HOOKER: The sum of all the evidence I have encountered since I studied the subject is in favour of the origin of species by variation.
GRAY: 60 I fear the variation hypothesis is worrying your soul. Take it easy. 61 We go side by side a good long way. And then you go further. Perhaps to fare worse. 62 I am quite readyto believe that any particular cognate species (so called) originated by variation, wherever you say so… but still stick at the progression, and the development of the vegetable kingdom by variation, from a primordial something… If you carry out this view to its ultimate and legitimate results, how [do] you connect the philosophy of religion with the philosophy of your science… I should feel uneasy if I could not connect them into a consistent whole… Fundamental principles of science should not be in conflict.
A TREMENDOUS FURORE: 1859-1860
In which Darwin distributes copies of his book ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ and provokes strong reactions in favour and in opposition. Gray and Hooker establish themselves as important supporters of Darwin in private and defenders of his theory in public.
Darwin reappears with freshly printed copies of his book, which he distributes liberally…
DARWIN: 63 My dear Gray. I have directed a copy of my Book … on the Origin of species to be sent you. I know how you are pressed for time; but if … ever you do read it, and can screw out time to send me … however short a note, telling me what you think its weakest and best parts, I should be extremely grateful.
HOOKER: 64 Darwin’s book is out and created a tremendous furore on all hands.
DARWIN: 65 My dear [Mr Wallace], I have told [my publisher] Murray to send you by post, a copy of my book.
66 Dear Owen. I have asked Mr Murray to send you a copy … on the Origin of species. I fear that it will be abominable in your eyes.
67 My dear [Professor Agassiz]…. I hope that you will at least give me credit, however erroneous you may think my conclusion, for having earnestly endeavoured to arrive at the truth.
68 My dear Professor Sedgwick…
Darwin’s old tutor, Adam Sedgwick interrupts, barely able to suppress his anger. He is in his 70s and in poor health.
SEDGWICK: 69 My dear Darwin… I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly; parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow; because I think them utterly false and grievously mischievous…
There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly. ‘Tis the crown and glory of organic science that it does, through finalcause, link material to moral… You have ignored this link; and, if I do not mistake your meaning, you have done your best in one or two pregnant cases to break it.
Were it possible (which thank God it is not) to break it, humanity in my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalize it, and sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history…
GRAY: 70 Well, … the book has reached me, and … it is crammed full of most interesting matter. Thoroughly digested. Well expressed. Close, cogent and, taken as a system, it makes out a better case than I had supposed possible… [It] will excite much attention here, and some controversy…
Agassiz – when I saw him last, had read but a part of it. He says it is –
Louis Agassiz is a Swiss-American zoologist, close in age to Darwin and Gray.
GRAY:The fact [is] he growls over it, like a well cudgelled dog, is very much annoyed by it, to our great delight.
AGASSIZ: 71 [I] consider the transmutation theory a scientific mistake, untrue in facts, unscientific in its methods, and mischievous in its tendency.
GRAY: 72 [He] has been helping the circulation of your book by denouncing it as atheistical.
DARWIN: 73 It is hard to please everyone.
GRAY: 74 Under the circumstances I suppose I [will] do [the] theory more good here, by bespeaking for it a fair and favorable consideration, and by standing non-committal as to its full conclusions, than I should if I announced myself a convert. Nor could I say the latter, with truth…
To fulfil your request, I ought to tell you what I think the weakest, and what the best parts of your book… The best part, I think, is the whole. That is, its plan and treatment; the vast amount of facts and acute inferences handled as if you had a perfect mastery of them… I am free to say that I never learned so much from one book as I have from yours….
DARWIN: 75 I should rather think there was a good chance of my becoming the most egotistical man in all Europe! What a proud preeminence!
GRAY: What seems to me the weakest point in the book is the attempt to account for the formation of organs – the making of eyes, etc. – by natural selection. Some of this reads quite Lamarckian…
DARWIN: 76 About [the] weak points, I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder.
77 Owen, after much shuffling and secrecy, with bitter sneers to some and modified very slight praise to others, has just spoken out that he rejects my views on the ground of the imperfection of the geological record. Now this is just the subject on which he knows, for in his life he has never examined a single stratum.
Gray makes a public statement about Darwin’s book
GRAY: 78 The theory of Agassiz regards the origin of species and their present general distribution over the world as equally primordial, equally supernatural; that of Darwin, as equally derivative, equally natural. The ordinary view – rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s – looks to natural agencies for the actual distribution and perpetuation of species, to a supernatural for their origin.
79 [I] advise nobody to accept Darwin’s … theory as true. The time has not come for that, and perhaps never will. [But, I] also advise against a similar credulity on the other side, in a blind faith that species ‘have no secondary cause.’… Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common revolving fluid mass …. cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned…We cling to a long-accepted theory, just as we cling to an old suit of clothes. A new theory, like a new pair of breeches is sure to have hard fitting places.
Darwin chuckles at this imagery.
GRAY: 80 Surely, Mr. Darwin’s theory is none the worse, morally, for having some foundation in fact.
DARWIN: 81 My dear Gray…. Your article [on Origin] has greatly mollified opposition to my Book.
GRAY: A spirited conflict among opinions of every grade must ensue, which… may be likened to the conflict in Nature among races in the struggle for life, which Mr Darwin describes… The views most favored by facts will be developed and tested by ‘Natural Selection,’ the weaker ones [will] be destroyed in the process, and the strongest in the long-run alone survive.
DARWIN: 82 I can now very plainly see … that I should have been fairly annihilated had it not been for four or five men, including yourself. 83The effect on me is that I will buckle on my armour and fight my best… But it will be a long fight. By myself I should be powerless.
Hooker is flushed, exhilarated from the fight.
HOOKER: 84 My dear Gray. We have had an awful fight at the British Association about [natural selection] – into which I was driven wholly against my avowed intentions – but the Bishop of Oxford, crammed by Owen, thought to pooh-pooh all Naturalists with a stunning display of Oratory, and Huxley and I gave him the most tremendous thrashing he ever got in his life. In the presence of nearly 1000 people. I spoke only once, the last of all, [and] showed that he could never have read Darwin’s book and expressed ignorance of the elements of Science…
GRAY: 85 I should have liked to bandy words a little with the Bishop of Oxford.
HOOKER:… I shut him up completely, he had not a word to reply, and the discussion was hence closed amid rounds of applause for my side.
GRAY: 86 A minister out in Illinois has written me, taking me seriously to task for altering my opinion after the age of 45, and for abetting disorder, by supporting theories that disturb the harmony of opinion that ought to prevail among scientific men.
87 [Here, in the US,] I said that Darwin … should have a fairhearing … and have kept my word. … I feel the advantage, and see the weight which my remarks have… a weight which would be lost very much had I come in as a convert…[I can defend him] against illogical attacks and absurd propositions… [I can move forward to Darwin] while to take the back track is not so pleasant… [I] fortify every position as I proceed, so as to defy attack, and be ready for any future sally I may make in defense of Darwin.
Gray and Hooker laugh. They are enjoying the furore. Darwin is more earnest, his health – mental and physical – is suffering from the strain.
DARWIN: 88 I have read lately so many hostile views that I was beginning to think that perhaps I was wholly in the wrong. And that the Bishop was right when he said the whole subject would be forgotten in 10 years. But now that I hear you will fight publicly (which I am sure I could never do), I fully believe that our cause will in the long run prevail.
CERTAIN BENEFICIAL LINES: 1860
Asa Gray presents his argument of Creation from Design to which Darwin adds his questions, caveats and occasional disagreement.
Gray makes a public statement.
GRAY: 89 Organic Nature abounds with unmistakable and irresistible indications of design, and, being a connected and consistent system, this evidence carries the implication of design throughout the whole.
Darwin’s reaction is a private one directed at Gray alone.
DARWIN: 90 I am bewildered… I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars. Or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed.
On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force.
GRAY: 91 Natural selection is not the wind which propels the vessel, but the rudder which, by friction, now on this side and now on that, shapes the course… Variation answers to the wind. 92 In… breeding only from those individuals which vary most in a desirable direction, Man leads the course of variation as he leads a streamlet – apparently at will, but never against the force of gravitation.
DARWIN: I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. /Let each man hope and believe what he can…
GRAY: 93 The great achievement of Newton consisted in proving that certain forces – blind forces, so far as the theory is concerned – acting upon matter in certain directions, must necessarily produce planetary orbits of the exact measure and form in which observation shows them to exist. A view which is just as consistent with eternal necessity, either in the atheistic or the pantheistic form, as it is with theism.
Darwin scratches his head, utterly befuddled by Gray’s words. Back to basics…
DARWIN: 94 The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws…
Gray interrupts and throws Darwin’s thinking off.
GRAY:If there’s a Divinity that shapes these ends, the whole is intelligible and reasonable; otherwise, not. … We feel safe … in our profound conviction that there is order in the universe. That order presupposes mind. Design, will. And mind or will, personality.
DARWIN:The more I think, the more bewildered I become.
GRAY: Paley, in his celebrated analogy with the watch, insists that if the timepiece were so constructed as to produce other similar watches, after a manner of generation in animals, the argument from design would be all the stronger. What is to hinder… [us] from giving Paley’s argument a further a fortioriextension to the supposed case of a watch which sometimes produces better watches. And contrivances adapted to successive conditions. And so, at length, turns out a chronometer, a town clock, or a series of organisms of the same type?
DARWIN: 95 You are a hybrid. A complex cross of Lawyer, Poet, Naturalist, and Theologian! Was there ever such a monster seen before? .. Your metaphors and similies… make me envious…. I should like to steal a few… I like specially that of the woman and the cloth…
GRAY: 96 Recall a woman of a past generation and show her a web of cloth; ask her how it was made, and she will say that the wool or cotton was carded, spun, and woven by hand. When you tell her it was not made by manual labor, that probably no hand has touched the materials throughout the process, it is possible that she might at first regard your statement as tantamount to the assertion that the cloth was made without design… If you patiently explained to her the theory of carding-machines, spinning-jennies and power-looms, would her reception of your explanation weaken her conviction that the cloth was the result of design? It is certain that she would believe in design as firmly as before, and that this belief would be attended by a higher conception and reverent admiration of a wisdom, skill, and power greatly beyond anything she had previously conceived possible.
Darwin attempts once again to take his argument right back to basics.
DARWIN: 97 An innocent and good man stands under tree and is killed by flash of lightning. Do you believe … that God ‘designedly’ killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this. I can’t and don’t. If you believe so, do you believe that, when a swallow snaps up a gnat, that God designed that that particular swallow should snap up that particular gnat at that particular instant?
GRAY: 98 [you] reject… the idea of design, while all the while … bringing out the neatest illustrations of it!
Darwin blows his nose.
DARWIN: 99 Will you honestly tell me …that the shape of my nose (he wipes his nose with his handkerchief)was ‘ordained and guided by an intelligent cause’?
Gray smiles but is not deflected from making his case.
GRAY: 100 It is very easy to assume that, because events in Nature are in one sense accidental, and the operative forces which bring them to pass are themselves blind and unintelligent (physically considered, all forces are), therefore they are undirected… 101 Streams flowing over a sloping plain… may have worn their actual channels as they flowed. Yet their particular courses may have been assigned. 102 So long as gradatory, orderly, and adapted forms in Nature argue design – and at least while the physical cause of variation is utterly unknown and mysterious – we should … assume… that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines.
DARWIN: 103 The man and the gnat are in same predicament. If the death[s] of neither man or gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed.
GRAY: 104 If you import atheism into your conception of variation and natural selection, you can readily exhibit it in the result…
DARWIN: 105 I had no intention to write atheistically.
GRAY: … If you do not put it in, perhaps there need be none to come out.
DARWIN: 106 If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, and I was convinced, from others seeing him, that I was not mad, I should believe in design…. But this is childish writing. 107 I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle. I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance. And yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design. 108 Does not Kant say that there are several subjects on which directly opposite conclusions can be proved true?!
109 I must tell you what has pleased me much after the many attacks on me for ‘neglecting induction’, ‘Baconian philosophy’, etc. We, in England, think John Stuart Mill the highest authority on such subjects, and he said lately to a friend, who wrote to me, as follows.
MILL’S FRIEND: [Mill] considers that your reasoning throughout is in the most exact accordance with the strict principles of logic.
DARWIN: My wife’s remark on reading this, was
EMMA:Why, you know nothing about Logic.
DARWIN: Is it not (I mean Mill’s and not my wife’s saying) very satisfactory to me?
But Gray is not going to let Darwin off the hook.
GRAY: 110 [You have] not brought forward [any] real objections against [my] views.
DARWIN: 111 Withrespect to Design, I feel more inclined to show a white flag than to fire my usual long-range shot. I am in thick mud. The orthodox would say in fetid, abominable mud. I believe I am in much the same frame of mind as an old Gorilla would be in if set to learn the first book of Euclid. The old Gorilla would say it was of no manner of use… Yet I cannot keep out of the question. 112 As I say, I flounder hopelessly in the mud.
BEGINNING OF WAR IN AMERICA: 1861-1862
In which the start of the American Civil War is announced and Gray repeatedly declares his passionate allegiance to the Yankee cause, to which Hooker is hostile and Darwin gently critical, while hoping openly that the war may result in an end to slavery in the USA.
Canon fire. Military drums.
GRAY: 113 April 1861. We are now opening a war, upon the determination of which our very existence depends. 114 All reason and right and patience appears to be on one side: all madness, audacity, and folly on the other. [Our former] feeble administration was helpless in the hands of hoodwinking traitors and thieves. 115 [But] Lincoln is a trump, a second Washington. Steady, conservative, no fanatical abolitionist… I pray God I may live to see the end of it, and the [southern] States brought back, quietly if they will, forcibly if they must. 116 So, you may expect to hear of stirring times here.
DARWIN: 117 My dear Gray. In the whirl of your public affairs, science may be forgotten, or if not forgotten you may have no inclination to write. But if so inclined, I should be very glad to have a little information on any cases of dimorphism, like that of Primula…
GRAY: 118 I have no time nor heart to write of botany just now.
DARWIN: 119 The whole affair is a great misfortune in the progress of the World. But I should not regret it so much if I could persuade myself that slavery would be annihilated. …But Heaven knows why I trouble you with my speculations. I ought to stick to Orchids.
GRAY: 120 I am no abolitionist, but if the rebels and scoundrels persevere, I go for carrying the war so far as to liberate every negro. Though what we are to do with this population, I see not. 121 Your cordial friend and true Yankee, Asa Gray.
Hooker’s body language has by now indicated that he disagrees strongly with Gray’s political position. He seeks an ally in Darwin.
HOOKER: 122 My dear Darwin. ..I do not know your views on this crisis. I am with the popular view in this country and do confess I long to see the Yankees well drubbed by us. Do you hear from Asa Gray now?
Gray senses a betrayal.
GRAY: 123 The unfriendly attitude of England gives us much concern. 124 …playing off one portion against the other, and bullying both. 125 It is generally believed that the governing influence in England desires to have us a weak and divided people, and would do a good deal to secure it.
Darwin passes Gray’s letter to Hooker with a cringe.
DARWIN: 126 Asa Gray is evidently sore about England.
HOOKER: 127 [It is] very interesting and very sad. I was amazed with his insouciant national egotism at the outset. The only allusion I had then made to the war was to the effect that it would clear off the mass of scum under which I considered his nation groaned. This I intended as the only conceivable good that could come out of such a fratricidal contest. And, by George, he took me for a sympathizer!
GRAY: 128 It is the old question of struggle for life… The weak must go to the wall… ‘Blessed are the ‘strong’, for they shall inherit the earth’.
HOOKER: 129 Gray knows no more of the philosophy of the ‘struggle for life’ than the Bishop of Oxford does.
DARWIN: 130 I heartily wish I could sympathise more with so excellent a man.
GRAY: 131 Dear Mr Darwin… Of all my English correspondents you are the only one touching upon our relations with the South and with England whose views and sentiments are perfectly satisfactory to me. And my wife – as is natural to her sex – takes a stronger line, and bids me send her ‘love’ to Mr. Darwin, and say that [he] is the only Englishman whose letters do not give her a shock to read.
DARWIN: 132 Here is an insult! I shall always think of youas an Englishman.
GRAY: 133 Your thinking of me ‘as an Englishman’, would once have been a compliment, and is what, from my well known feelings and expressions, I have passed for among my friends here. Had the North gone on giving in to the South as for years past, I should have been [an Englishman], at least in residence just as soon as I could have got out of the country. I thank God, it has been otherwise…. That I have a country to be proud of, and which I will gladly suffer for, if need be.
Hooker blurts out his true feelings to Gray.
HOOKER: 134 My dear Gray, I think the less said, the sooner mended about the war and your slightly animated!description of John Bull’s opinions and notions. A nation at war is no longer in its senses; however just the cause.
THE DARWIN BOYS: 1862
In which Darwin reports one son’s appreciation of natural selection and another’s desire to collect US postage stamps.
DARWIN: 135 My dear Gray. I must tell you that the other day [my boy Horace] overheard me talking about species; and afterwards he came to me, with his eyes open with astonishment and asked
HORACE:Did people formerly really believe that animals and plants never changed?
DARWIN: I answered ‘Oh yes.’
HORACE: Well then, what did they say about the kinds of cabbages and peas in the Garden?
DARWIN: I answered that these were all due to man’s agency.
HORACE: But do not wild plants vary?
DARWIN: I answered that they varied within certain fixed but unknown limits. To this he shrugged his shoulders with pity for the poor people who ‘formerly’ believed in such conclusions. I believe Horace is a prophetic type, as Agassiz would say, of future naturalists.
136 I have [another] Boy with the collecting mania and it has taken the poor form of collecting Postage stamps. He is terribly eager for ‘Wells, Fargo and Co. Pony Express 2d and 4d stamp’, and in a lesser degree ‘Blood’s One Penny Envelope, 1, 3, and 10 cents’. If you will make him this present, you will give my dear little man as much pleasure, as a new and curious genus gives us old souls.
GRAY: 137 Some young people here, of Mrs. Gray’s family take to stamp-collecting, and will help. They say Wells, Fargo and Co. Express are most rare. I never saw them … ‘Blood’, a Philadelphia penny-post carrier, is more common… I enclose a three cent, and will lay hold of the first one and two cent ones that I see.
In which Gray, while continuing to provide stamps for Leonard Darwin’s collection, fails to be amused by the wry support of Hooker and Darwin for aristocracy over democracy. While Hooker loses a daughter, Gray wishes he had a son to send off to war and Darwin reflects that a scientist would get more work done without the anxieties of family life.
DARWIN: 138 This war of yours… has produced wide spread feeling in favour of aristocracy and Monarchism: no one in England will speak for years in favour of the people governing themselves. [Hooker says]
HOOKER: 139 Your ‘Origin’ has done more to enhance the value of the aristocracy in my eyes than any social, political or other argument.
DARWIN: 140 He thinks … the high breeding of the aristocracy of the highest importance. 141 The present American row has a very toryfying influence on us all… [But] primogeniture is dreadfully opposed to selection. Suppose the first-born bull was necessarily made by each farmer the begetter of his stock! On [the] other hand… [the] ablest men are continually raised to peerage and get crossed with the older Lord-breeds. And the Lords continually select the most beautiful and charming women out of the lower ranks. So that a good deal of indirect selection improves the Lords…
GRAY: 142 I never thought anything of American institutions for England. Aristocracy is a natural and needful appendage to Monarchy. You work out your own type – and you will liberalize fast enough, – and leave us to do ours. 143 The enclosed, I trust, will please your boy.
DARWIN: 144 Our Boy the Postage Stamp collector … had a return of Scarlet fever, with all sorts of mischief, kidneys, glands of neck. 145 I despaired of his life. But this evening he has eaten one mouthful and I think has passed the crisis. He has lived on Port-wine every three-quarters of an hour day and night. This evening to our astonishment he asked whether his stamps were safe and I told him of the one sent by you, and that he should see it tomorrow. He answered ‘I should awfully like to see it now’. So with difficulty he opened his eyelids and glanced at it and with a sigh of satisfaction, said ‘all right’.
GRAY: 146 Really, if one can give so much satisfaction at so cheap a rate, one would become a stamp collector for the purpose of supplying the good fellow.
DARWIN: 147 Children are one’s greatest happiness, but often … a still greater misery. A man of science ought to have none. Perhaps not a wife. For then there would be nothing in this wide world worth caring for and a man might – whether he would is another question – work away like a Trojan.
GRAY: 148 Thank God your dear boy is convalescent, by this time, we trust, so decidedly so as to give you full relief from all anxiety.
Darwin shows Gray’s letter to Hooker.
GRAY: 151 We have no children. Which I regret only [in] that I have no son to send to the war.
DARWIN: Did you ever hear the like? 152 [He] sends me American newspapers, which I never read, and tells me to forward them to Dr Boott [the botanist], who writes to me not to send them, as he won’t read them, but that I must not say so to Gray. And what the deuce I am to do to stop the poor fellow having trouble of posting them, I know not?
An ominous pause. Hooker is pale.
HOOKER: 153 Dear dear friend. My darling little second girl died here an hour ago…. Some obstruction of the bowels carried her off after a few hours alarming illness, with all the symptoms of strangulated hernia.
DARWIN: 154 My dear old friend…
HOOKER: 155 I tried hard to make no difference between her and the other children, but she was my very own. The flower of my flock in everyone’s eyes.
DARWIN: 156 I am so deeply glad that she did not suffer so much, as I feared was inevitable. This was to us with poor Annie the one great comfort… Trust to me that time will do wonders, and without causing forgetfuless of your darling.
BOOKS BY THE LATE CHARLES DARWIN: 1863-1865
In which Drwin struggles more than usual with his health, grows a beard, and cancels The Times; and the Yankees win the American Civil War.
DARWIN: 157 February 1864… My dear Gray. It is now six months since I have done a stroke of work. I have of course seen no one and, except good dear Hooker, I hear from no one… The vomiting is not now daily and on my good days, I am much stronger. My head hardly now troubles me, except singing in [the] ears… 158 I send a Photograph of myself with my Beard. Do I not look reverent?
Gray looks over Darwin’s photograph.
GRAY: 159 Your photograph, with the venerable beard gives the look of your having suffered, and, perhaps from the beard, of having grown older. I hope there is still much work in you.
DARWIN: 160 What I shall soon have to do, will be to erect a tablet in Down church ‘sacred to the memory. etc’ and officially die. And then publish books ‘by the late Charles Darwin’.
Darwin takes up The Times.
161 [I] do not in the least know whether the …Timesis to be trusted that there will be peace, and that the middle States will join with the South on Slavery and eject the northern states.
GRAY: 162 Some of the representations of us in English papers would be amusing if they did not now do so great harm.
DARWIN: 163 How detestably the special correspondent of The Timeswrites on the subject. The man has not a shade of feeling against slavery. 164 My good wife wishes to give it up; but I tell her … To give up the ‘‘Bloody Old Times’’ as Cobbett used to call it, would be to give up meat, drink and air.
GRAY: 165 From the English papers, … you must picture us as in the extreme of turmoil and confusion and chaos. But, if you were here, you would open your eyes to see everything going on quietly, hopefully, and comfortably as possible. 166 We are getting on quietly with our war… Now that we are used to it, we can keep it up two years longer as well as not, if our rebels choose not to yield. 167 Our Courage does not fail, and I think will not.
Darwin puts down The Times and takes up the Daily News.
DARWIN: 168 My wife, in indignation, has changed The Timesfor The Daily News
GRAY: 169 I congratulate Mrs. Darwin!
DARWIN …which I find rather dull.
GRAY: 170 1 May 1865… Well, ‘treason has done its worst’ and rebellion, as an organised power, is essentially brought to an end. Slavery is done away, and we have now the task of establishing a new and better order of things at the South, of replacing barbarous by civilised and free institutions. A heavy task, no doubt. But the good Providence that has so wonderfully shaped our ways and sustained us thus far, we humbly and confidently rely on to carry our dear country through all its trials.
DARWIN: 171 How egregiously wrong we English were in thinking that you could not hold the South after conquering it. 172 I declare I can hardly yet realise the grand, magnificent fact that Slavery is at end in your country. 173 Ever yours cordially (though an Englishman) Charles Darwin.
GRAY: 174 On Friday… we welcomed back our Harvard men who had been in the war. Over 500 of them. And remembered those who had died for their country. What a day we had!
The setting off of guns, music, which sounds eventually fade.
GRAY PAYS DARWIN A VISIT AT DOWN: 1868
In which Gray announces his intention to visit Europe with Mrs Gray, while his and Darwin’s attitude to intelligent design diverge further from one another. The two naturalists come together personally while moving apart theologically.
GRAY: 175 Summer. 1868. The gist of my present note is to say that I have got a year’s leave of absence, and Mrs Gray and I expect to cross over to England in two months… Mrs Gray’s health makes me anxious to avoid another winter here, at present. The change will be good for us both. We mean to pass the whole autumn in England, mostly at Kew, and most of the winter in Italy and perhaps Egypt.
DARWIN: 176 You must pay us a visit at Down and see our solitary and very quiet life. 177 I am [at present] plodding on, heavily correcting, and trying to make an atrociously bad style a little better, my book ‘On the Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication’. I finish … with a semi-theological paragraph, in which I quote and differ from you[r] 178 doctrine that each variation has been specially ordered or led along a beneficial line. It is foolish to touch such subjects. But there have been so many allusions to what I think about the part which God has played in the formation of organic beings, that I thought it shabby to evade the question. 179 What you will think of it, I know not. 180 A Reviewer in an Edinburgh paper, who treats me with profound contempt, says on this subject that Professor Asa Gray could, with the greatest ease, smash me into little pieces.
Gray is laughing
GRAY: 181 I wish he may live to see it done!
Seriously though… Gray and Darwin are addressing different audiences. Darwin clears his throat and makes a definitive, public statement against design.
DARWIN: 182 I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the details. As for each variation that has ever occurred having been preordained for a special end, I can no more believe in it than that the spot on which each drop of rain falls has been specially ordained. 183 The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered.
Gray also makes a declaration.
GRAY: 184 [I remain] one who is scientifically, and in his own fashion, a Darwinian, [and] philosophically a convinced theist.
DARWIN: The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.
GRAY: 185 Whatever Mr Darwin’s philosophy may be, or whether he has any, is a matter of no consequence at all… The argument from design always appeared conclusive of the being, and continued operation of, an intelligent First Cause. The Ordainer of Nature.
Darwin and Gray have for the first time become obviously irritated with one another’s positions.
DARWIN: 186 Can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?
GRAY:A fortuitous Cosmos is simply inconceivable. The alternative is a designed Cosmos… Variation and natural selection open no third alternative. They concern only the question how the results, whether fortuitous or designed, may have been brought about.
Darwin and Gray have reached a philosophical impasse. Any personal frostiness melts away immediately as, for the first time in this dramatisation, they greet one another in person.
GRAY: 187 My dear Darwin.
DARWIN: 188 My dear Gray.
They shake hands, good friends who have never met before as friends.
Darwin ushers Gray to one side to show him a botanical specimen or two which he is confident the Harvard man will find to be of interest. Jane Gray hangs back.
JANE GRAY: 189 [Jane Gray. Letter to her sister. Fall, 1868.] Mr Darwin [is].. fascinating… [he has] the sweetest smile, the sweetest voice, the merriest laugh! And so quick, so keen!
DARWIN: 190 It is dreadful work making out anything about dried flowers. I never look at one without feeling profound pity for all botanists, but I suppose you are used to it like eels to be skinned alive.
Gray and Darwin laugh and delight in one another’s company.
JANE GRAY: He never stayed long with us at a time. But, as soon as he had talked much, he said he must go and rest. Especially if he had had a good laugh.
Then, Darwin’s health dictates that he and his American guests must separate. Gray notes Darwin’s ill health and waxes sentimental.
GRAY: 191 It is really serious, this leaving England, and choice friends in it, when one considers that, whatever I may fondly say, I cannot expect to see it again. I do not say ‘them’.
THE OLDER ONE GETS THE MORE THERE IS TO DO: 1868-1876
In which the friends consider the benefits and drawbacks of age – including the death of one’s spouse – and while Gray and Hooker look forward to retirement, Darwin appears more active than ever.
Gray is back working in his Harvard study, beginning to feel his age.
Darwin is looking over old papers, including old letters of Gray.
DARWIN: 192 My dear Gray. When I look over your letter[s] … and see all the things you tell me and all the trouble which I have caused you, overworked as you are, upon my life I am ashamed of myself. 193 I suppose [once more] you are working away as hard as ever. I think the older one gets the more there is to do.
GRAY: 194 I am half dead with drudgery 195 [I took on work] when I foolishly thought there was no end of work in me. 196 [But now, at least,] I am working away at what I am fittest for: study of groups of North American plants one by one. Slow work, but pleasant [and] 197Saturday I gave the last lecture that I mean ever to deliver!
This thought clearly lifts Gray’s spirits.
DARWIN: 198 I have finished my book on the ‘Descent of man etc.’, and its publication is delayed only by the Index. When published, I will send you a copy, but I do not know that you will care about it. Parts… will I daresay aggravate you. And, if I hear from you, I shall probably receive a few stabs from your polished stiletto of a pen.
Gray takes receipt of Darwin’s latest book and begins to leaf through it with pleasure.
GRAY: 199 You have such a way of putting things … Almost thou persuadest me to have been ‘a hairy quadruped, of arboreal habits, furnished with a tail and pointed ears’ etc. 200 You do not speak of yourself, but as you write with your own hand, I infer you are pretty well.
DARWIN: 201 My wife and self have our game of backgammon every evening… [She] threatens me sometimes if I triumph too much.
GRAY: 202 My wife (who sends her love to you and yours) is much amused by your backgammon reminiscence. For the year past we have a way of getting on most peacefully. I sit by her side and play solitaire with two packs of cards. She looks on and helps, and when we don’t succeed there is nobody to ‘flare up’ against but luck.
DARWIN: 203 Pray give our very kind remembrances to Mrs Gray. I know that she likes to hear men boasting. It refreshes them so much. Now the tally with my wife in backgammon stands thus: She, poor creature, has won only 2490 games, whilst I have won, hurrah, hurrah, 2795 games!
GRAY: 204 It would do [Mrs Gray] good to have one of those hearty laughs with you. But, alas, we are indeed sad, inexpressibly grieved and bleeding at heart for poor dear Hooker in his bereavement.
DARWIN: 205 The death of Mrs Hooker has indeed been a terrible blow… I know I would much sooner die than suffer such a loss… Poor Hooker came here directly after the funeral and bore up manfully.
Darwin attempts, with some success, to lift their spirts with talk of science.
206 I have taken up an old subject which formerly interested me. Namely, the amount of earth brought to the surface by worms. I want to know whether you have in the States the little vermiform piles of earth which are so common on our lawns, fields, woods and waste lands. Are they as numerous with you as they are with us? I should have assumed that this would naturally be the case had it not occurred to me that the severe winters might make all the difference.
GRAY: 207 Vermiform piles are common enough here, and I should think, if not as common as with you through the season, it was owing to interruption in the dry part of our hot summer…
Very much business as usual then, between our trans-Atlantic correspondents.
A GREAT DRAWBACK TO THE PRIVILEGES OF OLD AGE: 1882
In which Darwin dies and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
HOOKER: 208 We had a horrid scare 10 days ago, in the form of a Telegram from ‘Nature’ to the effect that Asa Gray was dead, and asking for a biographical notice. I could not but feel sure that one of his colleagues would have telegraphed to me, and yet was most anxious till two days ago, when I got a letter from him in excellent spirits.
Darwin, surrounded by books and papers, is motionless.
Once again, Gray is making a formal, public statement.
GRAY: 209 An English poet wrote that he awoke one morning and found himself famous. When this happened to Darwin, it was a genuine surprise. Although he had addressed himself simply to scientific men, and had no thought of arguing his case before a popular tribunal, yet ‘the Origin of Species’ was too readable a book upon too sensitive a topic to escape general perusal. And this, indeed, must in some sort have been anticipated. But the avidity with which the volume was taken up, and the eagerness of popular discussion which ensued, were viewed by the author – as his letters at the time testify – with a sense of amused wonder at an unexpected and probably transient notoriety…
Charles Darwin died on the 19th April , a few months after the completion of his 73rd year. And, on the 26th, the mortal remains of the most celebrated man of science of the nineteenth century were laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, near to those of Newton. [A setting of Proverbs, Chapter 13, verses 15 through 17 was composed for his funeral]
Hooker sings 210 .
HOOKER:Happy is the man, the man that findeth wisdom.
Gray joins in singing.
AND GRAY:And getteth understanding, getteth understanding.
Happy is the man, the man that findeth wisdom.
She is more precious than rubies,
And all the things thou canst desire
are not to be compared unto her,
Not compared unto her.
The music stops.
GRAY: 211 Such [losses] are a great drawback to the privileges of old age. You get left so alone, especially childless people, like Mrs Gray and I. But we slip away all the easier for it when the time comes.
GRINDING AWAY: 1888
In which Gray grinds away at his Flora before suffering a stroke and dying.
We return to where we were at the very opening of the drama: Gray, in his 70s suffering the effects of a mild stroke.
GRAY: 212 My dear Hooker…I grind away at [my] ‘Flora’ but, like the mills of the gods, I grind slowly, as becomes my age. Moreover, to continue the likeness, I grind too ‘exceeding fine’, being too finical for speed, pottering over so many things that need looking into, and which I have not the discretion to let alone. Consequently, the grist of each day’s work is pitiably small in proportion to the labour expended on it.
Gray, as he did near the opening of the play, sits in his chair.
I am now at Malvaceae which I once enjoyed setting to rights, and of which the North American species have got badly muddled since I had to do with them.
JANE GRAY:[January 1888]… a more severe shock returned [to Dr Gray] in the early afternoon, and, for a few moments, a loss of articulation. That disappeared, and the physician looked hopefully at the case, though recommending extreme quiet for mind and body. By Wednesday evening he seemed greatly improved.
Gray speaks with some difficulty but with spirit.
GRAY: 213 Well. I have got safely through my 76th birthday. Which gives a sort of. Assurance. I have always observed that. If I live to November 18. I live the year. Round.
JANE GRAY:… but the next morning the power of connected speech had gone. He could repeat words spoken to him, and could sometimes, apparently with long striving, connect the wish and the words. But, for the most part, he had lost the power of using the word he wanted, and could only express himself with signs, and his ‘eloquent left hand;’ for the paralysis gradually increased until the whole right side was helpless.
He lingered patiently in much weakness and at times suffering, until the 30th January. when he gradually sank and quietly passed away at half-past seven in the evening.
Jane picks up a small Bible from Gray’s desk.
JANE GRAY: 214 Every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure in his heart bringeth forth that which is good.
1 JANE LORING GRAY. BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ACCOMPANYING THE LETTERS OF A GRAY(BOSTON, 1893)
110 QUOTED IN C DARWIN TO A GRAY, 17 FEBRUARY 1861