From Asa Gray 2–3 July 1862
July 2, 1862.
My dear Darwin.
Many thanks for your long and interesting letter of June 10th, & later.1 Pray write upon thinner paper, and then one of the long letters which I find so enjoyable and so stimulating, will cost you only 1/ in postage.
The word postage reminds me of your young son’s request (I do hope he has quite recovered his health), which shall surely be attended to.2 Some young people here, of Mrs. Gray’s family take to stamp-collecting, and will help. They s〈ay〉 Wells, Fargo & Co. Express 〈are〉 most rare. I never 〈saw〉 them. But we will 〈 〉 Blood,—a Philadelph〈ia〉 〈 〉 penny-post carrier, is more common. I used to see his stamp upon my Philadelphia letters, and I think I may find or procure them. And for the rest, is it our U.S. stamps on letter envelopes your boy wants? I enclose a 3 cent, and will lay hold of the first one & two cent ones that I see. I am glad if my off-hand orchid notes interest you, or prove of the least use..3 I am daily expecting a copy to send you of my notice of the early chapters of your book. I will continue in the ensuing number.4 And whatever of the notes I send you seem 〈to〉 you worth touching upon, 〈you〉 have only to indicate 〈 〉 and send back my 〈memor〉anda, and I will take 〈 〉. But as to Cypripedium, I should like to have an opportunity of examining them (except C. acaule) more at large, and growing.
A week from to-morrow, I expect to be able to leave Cambridge.—to go down, with my examination-papers to read, to my beau-pere’s place on the shore for a few days.5 There I will try to look up & bring home living Rhexia Virginica,6 and also I expect to have a look at Calopogon pulchellus with its strong bearded labellum. And I hope it will not be too late to get plenty of Mitchella repens which my pupils do not bring in as they ought.7 I want to see if long-styled stigma & short, differ, and also the pollen of the two, as they do in Houstonia,—of which I hope I sent you Rothrock’s observations. At least I will send when he has completed them.8
Meehan—a good gardener—send me his ms. before printing.9 I tried to find exceptions to his rule, and thought I had; but he beat me down.
If any body comes out with a new empirical law, I always disbelieve him prima facie. But Meehan is an honest and I suppose very good observer, and you may “approximately” trust him, I should think.10 He may have got hold of something.
Precocious fertilization in the bud was much noticed here very long ago, by Torrey, in Viola, Specularia, &c, &c—11also in Impatiens—about which see my Genera Fl. vol. 2.12 I once mentioned it to you as good evidence of close-fertilisation.13 As to the pollen-tubes of such, I have no observations of my own, but a memory, or fancy, that they were shown to me by Torrey. I will ask him, and have him look at Specularia.14
As to the French Lady’s translation and commentary on the Origin, I am not so much surprised.15 As I view it there are only two sides to the main question. Very likely she takes one side in a thorough-going and consistent manner; and either she is right, or I am right. I.e. there is design in nature or there is not. The no-design view, if one can bring himself to entertain it may well enough lead to all she says, and we may very much admire how collission, and destruction of least favored brings about apparently orderly results,—apparent contrivances or adaptations of means to ends. On the other hand, the implication of a designing mind must with it a strong implication of design in matters where we could not directly prove it. If you grant an intelligent designer anywhere in Nature, you may be confident that he has had something to do with the “contrivances” in your Orchids.
I have just received and glanced at Bentham’s address, and am amused to see how your beautiful flank-movement with the Orchid-book has nearly overcome his opposition to the Origin.16
The military simile above leads me to speak of your wonder that I can think of science at all in the midst of war.17 Well, 1st we get used to it. 2d, We need something to turn to, and happy are they who, forbidden to engage personally in the 〈war〉 (as I am ever itching to do,〈)〉 have something to turn to.18 3d. I do not do much.—do nothing in fact except my college duties now for months.—and that is the reason I have time to write to you, and be interested in all your doings.19
If you suppose everything is paralysed and desolate here, and country greatly put back, read a very sensible letter of an Englishman in the Spectator of June 7.20 It is very just & true. We shall recuperate fast enough, and be better off than ever, as much prosperity as is good for us, and more sol〈id,〉 more independent, more sel〈f-〉contained,—which is our g〈reat〉 desideratum. Free-tr〈ade〉 be blowed; we must nee〈ds have〉 high duties on imports; an〈d〉 〈 〉 that we should. By 〈th〉ese and by direct taxes—the 〈t〉ax-bill just passed—we shall have to pay over largely.21 Very well.
Just at present our prospects (viz. evening of July 3) are looking badly enough. Mc’Clellan has clearly been over matched and driven to the wall, after very obstinate fighting with very heavy loss on both sides.22 Whether it is retrievable with reinforcements, or whether the whole campaign has to be begun again against Richmond is not yet clear. Anyway we have got to put shoulder to the wheel anew, and it may be done, we suppose, more easily, and far more 〈p〉romptly than last year. 〈All〉 we ask is that Europe shall 〈leave us〉 alone.
〈Enoug〉h for today. Ever Yours | cordially | A. Gray
Note | Utricularia vulgaris is about as neatly contrived for cross-fertilization by insects as almost any orchid.23
Discusses dimorphic plants and the occurrence of "precocious fertilisation" in the bud.
Gives some comments on design in nature in the light of the translator’s commentary in the French edition of the Origin.
Reports the recent events of the Civil War.
[Note on verso of envelope:] Utricularia vulgaris is "about as neatly contrived for cross-fertilisation by insects as almost any orchid".