To Asa Gray 23 November 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Gray
I have been rather slack in obeying my boy Leonard’s instructions to thank you most sincerely for a number of stamps with which your envelope of Oct. 27th was plaistered (the enclosures were duly posted) & for a precious Canada stamp previously sent.—2 He believes he is by far the richest boy in the whole school in N. American stamps, & expects to get wonderful treasures by trading with some sent by you in duplicate.—3 The Nesæa seeds came all safe, & are as great a treasure to me as the stamps to Leonard, & stronger I cannot put it.4 I see you say you have sent 2d notice on Orchid Book to Silliman;5 I have not received the first, which I shd. think must be out, & which I shd. very much like to possess.—6 By the way in the last Edinburgh Rw. there is an article by Duke of Argyll on “Supernaturalism” in which Orchids are brought in:7 it is clever; but I do not see that it really removes any of the difficulties of Theology.—
In the last Macmillan there is a little Review on Max Muller,—on the origin of language; (by my Brother-in-law, H. Wedgwood & his daughter) which I think is worth looking at.8 This letter is a sort of Literary Intelligencer; for I am going to tell you that Bates’ paper on Butterflies of Amazonia, in last part of Linn. Transactions. is well worth some labour in studying, though out of your special line.—9 The mimetic cases are really wonderful, & no one has brought so clearly before my mind the process of segregation of varieties into species. But I doubt whether you will have time to go into paper carefully enough to appreciate it. Lyell’s book, which I am very curious to see is not yet out; but Murray sold 4000! copies the other day at his auction.—10
I have nearly finished a long chapter on the simple facts of the variation of a few of our cultivated plants,11 & I shd. be very much obliged for an answer to one question. Is the fruit of the wild Fragaria Virginiana much larger, (twice or thrice?) than that of F. vesca?12 and secondly do you know anything of the F. grandiflorus, said to have come from Surinam, & often called the Carolina strawberry. How far south does F. virginiana range?
Do you remember about my Boy, Horace, on the natural selection of coward adders?13 I must tell you that the other day he overheard me talking about species; & afterwards he came to me, with his eyes open with astonishment & asked “Did people formerly really believe that animals & plants never changed? I answered oh yes. “Well then what did they say about the kinds of cabbages & peas in the Garden?” I answered that these were all due to man’s agency. “But do not wild plants vary”. 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.—14
I see in Times today the great news of Macclellan’ds dismissal from your army—.— Good God what will be the end of all?—15
Ever my dear Gray | Yours most truly
Recommends H. W. Bates’s paper on butterflies of Amazonia ["Insect fauna of the Amazon valley", Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 23 (1862): 495–566].
Lyell’s book [Antiquity of man (1863)] is eagerly awaited.