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Letter 4234

Gray, Asa to Darwin, C. R.

7 July 1863

    Summary Add

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    Has extracted CD's Linum paper [Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 36 (1863): 279–84].

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    Elaborate co-adaptations of orchids and insects demonstrate against "chance blows", whether few, as Oswald Heer would have, or many and slight as CD proposes.

Transcription

Cambridge. [Mass.]

July 7, 1863

Dear Darwin,

My last from you is May 31.

I had arranged to reprint most of Bates on Mimetic analogy in Sill. Jour. but my long review of A. DC. crowded it out. I then thought of a brief abstract, but have had no time to prepare it. I wrote remarks & arranged long extracts of your Linum paper, and insisted on it for July no. of Sill. Jour.— But it too was laid over.—not for any thing I had, for I have little in July no.

I like and agree to your remark that in Bates's Geographical varieties, etc. etc. we get about as near to seeing a species made as we are ever likely to get:—and so believing I think your gradual way more likely than Heer's jumps.

A propos to Heer, you ask me if it is not impossible to imagine so many & nice coadaptations as we see in Orchids being formed all by a chance blow.

I reply yes, perfectly impossible to imagine (and much the same by any number of chance blows).

So I turn the question back upon you, is not the fact that the co-adaptations are so nice'' next to a demonstration against their having been formed by chance blows at all, one or many!

Here lives, I suppose the difference between us. When you bring me up to this point, I feel the cold chill.

I have been doing nothing but attend to my daily work, & had got so fagged that I really thought I was about to have softening of the brain, or some other break down. But a week of respite—caused by the death of an aged relative of my wife's—a dear old soul—taking us away from here perforce, has nearly set me up very nearly. And now after a week since comes my vacation, and we are off into the quiet country for 3 weeks.—

A little legacy of about £2000 to my wife comes in opportunely to relieve us of anxiety for the future. We have no children—(which I regret only that I have no son to send to the war), and this with a little income—rather precarious, of about £200 a year would support us in our very simple way, if I were to throw up my place here. But I cannot do that yet.

Hooker writes that you have been ill. I am very sorry to hear it.

Look at Impatiens flowers. See if the most fertile ``precociously fertilized'' ones ever get crossed!

I have asked in three directions for seeds of the Specularia perfoliata. Enclosed are depauperate specimens.

It is pretty to see Honey bees cross-fertilize Locust (Robinia) much as you say of Broom. One of my students has been noticing the way bees act on Kalmia

Now for my best thing for to-day.

An Orchid which I missed last year Platanthera flava, I knew would be curious, for I remembered a strong protuberance on base of labellum, on the median line. I have not time left to describe it now—having been sadly interrupted— But it is pretty.—equal to anything you have yet seen in British Orchids   The process turns proboscis of insect either to right or left—where it will slip in to an imperfect ring (as seen from above) or deep groove (as seen from before)—in which lies the disk,—not flat but coiled up—ready to catch proboscis— It is like the eye of needle to re<ce>ive the thread.—

Perhaps I will send you, or print—a sketch of the thing.

I am waiting for Gymnadenia tridentata to come on.

But the post-hour has come, Good Bye | Ever | A Gray

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 4234.f1
    Letter to Asa Gray, 31 May [1863].
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    f2 4234.f2
    Gray had planned to reprint extracts from Bates 1861 in the May 1863 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts, commonly known as `Silliman's Journal' after its founder Benjamin Silliman (see letter to H. W. Bates, 4 March [1863], and letter from Asa Gray, 22--30 March 1863). Gray also refers to his review of A. de Candolle 1862a (A. Gray 1863d). See also letter from Asa Gray, 13 April 1863.
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    f3 4234.f3
    Gray prepared a review abstract of Bates 1861 for the September 1863 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1863a; see also letter from Asa Gray, 21 July 1863).
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    f4 4234.f4
    Gray's review abstract of `Two forms in species of Linum' was published in the September 1863 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1863c).
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    f5 4234.f5
    In his review of Bates 1861 (`Review of Bates on mimetic butterflies', p. 223 (Collected papers 2: 92)) CD observed: It is hardly an exaggeration to say, that whilst reading and reflecting on the various facts given in this Memoir, we feel to be as near witnesses, as we can ever hope to be, of the creation of a new species on this earth.
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    f6 4234.f6
    Oswald Heer. See letter to Asa Gray, 31 May [1863] and n. 4.
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    f7 4234.f7
    Gray had expounded his interpretation of natural selection as consistent with design in a series of articles published in 1860 in the Atlantic Monthly (A. Gray 1860b). For Gray and CD's extended correspondence on the question of design in nature, see Correspondence vols. 8--10. See also Dupree 1959.
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    f8 4234.f8
    The relative was a great aunt of Jane Loring Gray's, `one of the country kin in Connecticut' (Dupree 1959, p. 332; see letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863); she has not been further identified.
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    f9 4234.f9
    The reference is to the American Civil War.
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    f10 4234.f10
    Gray did not retire as Fisher Professor of natural history at Harvard University until 1873 (DAB).
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    f11 4234.f11
    Joseph Dalton Hooker.
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    f12 4234.f12
    CD and Gray had discussed the occurrence of what Gray called `precociously fertilized' flowers in Impatiens over a number of years (see Correspondence vols. 9 and 10). The reference is to small, unopening flowers in which self-pollination occurs (a phenomenon later known as `cleistogamy'). CD discussed his experiments on the cleistogamic flowers of Impatiens noli-me-tangere in Forms of flowers, p. 328 and Cross and self fertilisation, p. 367.
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    f13 4234.f13
    CD asked for seeds of the dimorphic plant Specularia perfoliata (which he called Campanula perfoliata) in his letters to Gray of 20 March [1863] and 31 May [1863]; it is a North American species that bears cleistogamous flowers.
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    f14 4234.f14
    See letter to Asa Gray, 31 May [1863]
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    f15 4234.f15
    The reference is apparently to William James Beal, a teacher in Union Springs, New York, who studied botany with Gray at Harvard University during his vacations (DAB). Beal published his observations of the role of bees in the pollination of Kalmia in Beal 1868, pp. 257--8.
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    f16 4234.f16
    Gray gave an account of the pollination mechanism of Platanthera flava in A. Gray 1863b, pp. 292--3, which CD cited in `Fertilization of orchids', p. 148 (Collected papers 2: 145).
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    f17 4234.f17
    In the summer of 1862, Gray observed that Gymnadenia tridentata was adapted for self-pollination, reporting his results in A. Gray 1862a, p. 426, and A. Gray 1862c, p. 260 n. However, Gray introduced his more detailed account with the comment: `we hesitate to bring forward our too scanty observations until another summer affords an opportunity to test them' (A. Gray 1862a, p. 426); he confirmed his observations in A. Gray 1863b, pp. 293--4. See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 26[--7] November [1862] and n. 27.
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