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Darwin Correspondence Project


To Asa Gray   22 January [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent.—

Jan. 22d.

My dear Gray

Your letter interested us much; for we are all curious to see how things look to you all, & a letter is something living.—2 But first thanks for your new cases of Dimorphism: new cases are tumbling in almost daily, but I shall never have time to work a quarter of them. You will have received before this my Primula paper,3 & will know the amount of evidence.— I have been ill with influenza (indeed we all have, for there have been 15 in bed in my household) & this has lost me 3 whole weeks, & delayed my little Orchid Book.—4 I fear that you expect in this opusculus much more than you will find— I look at it as a hobby-horse, which has given me great pleasure to ride. I will with great pleasure send you the sheets if I can; for Clowes, my printer, often does not print off till the whole is set up.—5 I shall be very curious to hear what you think of it; for I have no idea whether it has been worth the trouble of getting up,—though the facts, I am sure, were worth my own while in making out—

I am heartily glad to hear a better account of Dana, whom I much respect. What a striking looking man!6 I forwarded your letter to Boott & to Hooker, from whom I had a long & capital letter this morning.7 He is working like a Horse. Here is a good joke, my book on Nat. Selection, he says, has made him an aristocrat in fact— he thinks breeding—the high breeding of the aristocracy—of the highest importance.—

Now for a few words on politics; but they shall be few, for we shall no longer agree, & alas & alas, I shall never receive another kind message from Mrs. Gray.8 I must own that the speeches & actions recently of your leading men (I regard little the newspapers), and especially the Boston Dinner have quite turned my stomach. I refer to Wilkes’ being made a Hero for boarding an unarmed vessel.—to the Judges advice to him—& to your Governor triumphing at a shot being fired, right or wrong, across the bows of a British vessel.9 It is well to make a clean breast of it at once; & I have begun to think whether it would not be well for the peace of the world, if you were split up into two or three nations. On the other hand I cannot bear the thought of the Slave-holders being triumphant; & it is really fearful to think of the difficulty of making a line of separation between the N. & the S., with armies, fortifications, & custom-houses without end with your retrograde tariff. Now I have done for myself in your eyes; & Mrs Gray will be indignant at having sent a kind message to so false a caitiff.—

Well I can’t help my change of opinion— It is all owing to that confounded Longitude.—10 Bad man, as you will think me, I shall always think of you with affection.— Here is an insult! I shall always think of you as an Englishman.

Ever yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

P.S | I have just performed an Herculean labour in looking through the nine big volumes of Lecoq’s Bot. Geograph.—11 it is a horrid dull Book, but I have stumbled on a few good facts; & on some cases of dimorphism,—several in Borragineæ & Labiatæ— Lythrum seems a very curious case for the two or three kinds of flowers occur on the same plant.—12 I am now trying an experiment on one of the Melastomas; & I much suspect, that the two sets of anthers have different functions.—13

Hottonia is dimorphic like Primula.—14


The year is established by the relationship to the letter from Asa Gray, 31 December 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9).
Gray discussed aspects of the American Civil War in his letter to CD of 31 December 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9).
CD refers to ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’; Gray’s name is on CD’s presentation list for the paper (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix III).
Orchids was published on 15 May 1862 (Freeman 1977, p. 112).
In his letter to CD of 31 December 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9), Gray had asked CD to send him the sheets of Orchids ‘one by one—as soon as they come out’, in order that he might write an early review of it. William Clowes was head of the London printing firm William Clowes & Sons, printers to John Murray.
James Dwight Dana suffered a nervous breakdown in 1859 (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Charles Lyell, 29 [December 1859] and n. 10). In his letter of 31 December 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9), Gray enclosed a photograph of Dana and informed CD of his improved condition.
The references are to Francis Boott and Joseph Dalton Hooker, and to the letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 January 1862]. See also letter from Francis Boott, 27 January 1862.
In his letter of 31 December 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9), Gray included a message from his wife, Jane Loring Gray: ‘my wife … bids me send her love to Mr. Darwin, & say that his is the only Englishman whose letters do not give her a shock to read’.
In November 1861, Charles Wilkes, captain of the Union vessel, San Jacinto, had ordered the seizure of two Confederate envoys from the British mail packet, the Trent. A dinner in honour of Wilkes was held in Boston on 26 November, the details of which were reported in The Times, 10 December 1861, p. 9. Several speeches were made, praising Wilkes’s action. The judge, George Tyler Bigelow, called upon to give a legal opinion on the case, advised: ‘England, unless she falsifies her own conduct, unless she falsifies the statements of her own statesmen, unless she sets aside the judgments of her own judiciary, cannot undertake to make an issue with us upon this great act.’ He went on to state that it was acceptable to regard the envoys as ‘contraband of war’. John Albion Andrew, governor of Massachusetts, also gave a eulogy, in which he said: ‘And that there might be nothing left to crown the exultation of the American heart, Commodore Wilkes fired his shot across the bows of the ship that bore the British lion at its head’. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 January 1862] and n. 10.
This is a reference to the suggestion made by the historian Henry Thomas Buckle that there was a statistical relationship between the nature of a country’s climate and the progress of its civilisation (Buckle 1857–61, 1: 38 et seq.). In his letter to Asa Gray, 11 December [1861] (Correspondence vol. 9), CD had remarked: ‘Buckle might write a chapter on opinion being entirely dependent on Longitude!’
CD had begun reading Lecoq 1854–8 in December 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letters to J. D. Hooker, [9 December 1861] and 28 [December 1861]). There is an annotated copy of the work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 488–95).
Lecoq 1854–8, 6: 154–9. CD mentioned his interest in the ‘magnificent case’ of trimorphism in Lythrum in the letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [December 1861], and asked if Hooker could provide him with seeds or plants for experimentation. He carried out numerous crossing experiments in 1862 and 1863 with help from his son, William Erasmus Darwin (see the experimental notes by CD in DAR 27.2 and by W. E. Darwin in DAR 117). His paper on the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria (‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’) was read before the Linnean Society of London in June 1864.
CD had recently begun to investigate what he believed might be a novel form of dimorphism in the Melastomataceae (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [1 January 1862] and n. 3). The reference in this letter is probably to a pollination experiment on Heterocentron roseum that CD began in October 1861; the resulting seed pods were gathered at the end of January 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letters to J. D. Hooker, 17 November [1861] and [30 and 31 December 1861]; see also the dated experimental notes in DAR 205.8: 45–6). CD had also begun to examine Monochaetum ensiferum, but did not begin experiments on this species until early in February (see the dated notes in DAR 205.8: 22–4, 26).
Charles Cardale Babington pointed out the occurrence of dimorphism in Hottonia in his letter to CD of 17 January 1862. CD discussed the case in Forms of flowers, pp. 50–4, 252, and 254.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Gray, Asa
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University
Physical description
6pp †


Dimorphism: "new cases are tumbling in almost daily".

U. S. politics.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3404,” accessed on 4 May 2016,