To Asa Gray 23[–4] July 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Gray
I received several days ago two large packets, but have as yet read only your letter;2 for we have been in fearful distress & I could attend to nothing. Our poor Boy had the rare case of second rash & sore throat, besides mischief in kidneys; & as if this was not enough a most serious attack of erysipelas with typhoid symptoms.3 I despaired of his life; but this evening he has eaten one mouthful & I think has passed the crisis. He has lived on Port-wine every of an hour day & night. This evening to our astonishment he asked whether his stamps were safe & I told him of the one sent by you,4 & that he shd. see it tomorrow. He answered “I should awfully like to see it now”; so with difficulty he opened his eyelids & glanced at it & with a sigh of satisfaction said “all right”.— Children are one’s gretest happiness, but often & often a still greter 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 & a man might (whether he would is another question) work away like a Trojan.— I hope in a few days to get my Brains in order & then I will pick out all your orchid letters (& read by & bye your last)5 & return them in hopes of your making use of them—6 Planthanthera would be eminently well worth giving & as much as feel safe about Cypripedium;7 in part I am not sure that I understand the passages by which insects crawl in & out. Could you give a diagram?8 I have such an arrear of letters & such a number of experiments,9 all going to the dogs, that I have not time to make abstract of your letters. Will you return me such, as you do not use: but I hope you will be led to use all some time or another.—10 I shall be very glad to hear of Rosmacks *? observations on Houstonia; you only just alluded to them.—11 You did formerly tell me about Specularia:12 in viola & oxalis the case seems to me to be much too remarkable to be called “precocious flowering”.13
*I hope he will publish note; I hear the French say that my paper on Primula is all pure imagination; but I cannot hear that this is grounded on any observations—14
You will never read my horrid writing, if I write on both pages, of thin paper which I have taken in obedience to orders.—15 Of all the carpenters for knocking the right nail on the head, you are the very best: no one else has perceived that my chief interest in my orchid book, has been that it was a “flank movement” on the enemy.16 I live in such solitude that I hear nothing, & have no idea to what you allude about Bentham & the orchids & Species.17 But I must enquire.—
By the way one of my chief enemies (the sole one who has annoyed me) namely Owen, I hear has been lecturing on Birds, & admits that all have descended from one, & advances as his own idea that the oceanic wingless Birds have lost their wings by gradual disuse.18 He never alludes to me or only with bitter sneers & coupled with Buffon, & the Vestiges.—19
Well it has been an amusement to me this first evening scribbling as egotistically as usual about myself & my doings; so you must forgive me, as I know well your kind heart will do.— I have managed to skim the news-paper, but had not heart to read all the bloody details. Good God what will the end be; perhaps we are too despondent here; but I must think you are too hopeful on your side of the water. I never believed the “canard” of the army of the Potomac having capitulated.20 My good dear wife & self are come to wish for Peace at any price.
Good Night my good friend. I will scribble no no more— C. D.
One more word. I shd like to hear what you think about what I say in last Ch. of Orchid Book on the meaning & cause of the endless diversity of means for same general purpose.— It bears on design—that endless question—21
Good Night Good Night.
P.S. Last night after writing the above, I read the great bundle of notes.22 Little did I think what I had to read. What admirable observations! You have distanced me on my own hobby-horse! I have not had for weeks such a glow of pleasure as your observations gave me.— Plat. hyperborea is indeed a most curious case & especially interesting to me. How like the Bee ophrys.23 Does it live in arctic regions where insects may be scarce? It would be very good to ascertain whether there actually is any occasional crossing, or removal of pollinia in this species.24 How curious about the nectary. See my note p. 324 about Aceras.25 Aceras, I now find, leads, also, most closely into the rare O. hircina.26 How organic beings are connected! How excellently you have worked Cyp. spectabilis. I daresay I may be altogether wrong, & fertilisation may always be by small insects bodily crawling in: I wish you could get some 2 youths to watch on warm day for 2 or 3 hours a fine plant of some Cypripedium.—27 What diversity in Platanthera— Your observations seem to me much too good to be sunk in any review of my Book; they won’t be noticed.—28 But I am so very sorry I did not return your M.S. earlier: I shall be so grieved if I thus cause you inconvenience; but in truth it was physically impossible for me before last night to read or attend to anything.
Farewell my good Friend | C. Darwin
AG’s orchid observations are admirable.
Owen has lectured on birds’ descending from one form.
French criticism of CD’s Primula paper.
Only AG has seen that Orchids was "a ""flank movement"" on the enemy".