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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   20 April [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

April 20th

My dear Gray.—

Thanks for two notes,2 one about the Duke of A. (did I tell you how capitally this was criticised in the Saturday Review?)3 & the other note very savage against England:4 I cannot help fearing that we shall drift into war:5 what a curse it will be to us anyhow; for you seem to be getting to like war.— I wish I had known when I read the Correspondence that Mr Loring was your father-in-law:6 I shd. have read it, if possible, with still greater interest. We must keep to science, I fear, for we both seem to be getting to think each other’s country conduct worse & worse. But I shd. like to know whether General Butler is in your honest opinion a bad man.—7

Your remark from Wyman about the Incas came very appropriately for I am at present summing up all facts on this subject & give facts on both sides.—8 I now regret that I have always intentionally evaded case of man; but have put in a note on such facts as I have heard of.—9

I sent off two days ago two copies of my Linum paper:10 I hope the case may interest you; it has me. Amsinckia turns out with me only variability in length of pistil.—11 I forgot to ask about Intermarriage; M. Devay says explicitly that state of Ohio, from evil shown by statistical returns, has legislated against cousins marrying: can this be true?12

Here is another heterogenous question: have you ever formed any theory, why in spire of leaves (I have been reading your most clear account in your Lessons)13 the angles go 12 13 25 38 &c— Why should there not be 14 or 15? It seems to me most marvellous— There must be some explanation. If you have theory, I know it would be too long to explain; but I shd like to hear whether you have. My good friend Falconer has been twitting me that these angles go by as fixed a law as that of Gravity & never vary.14 I can fancy that packing of organs in very early bud may cause general alternation in the parts of the flower & consequent interruption in the spires.—

Speaking of Falconer, I was very sorry to see his letter in the Athenæum; so irreverent & virulent towards Lyell.15 We have had lately sharp sparring in the Athenæum. Did you see the article on Heterogeny or Spontaneous generation, written I believe, certainly by Owen!! it was in Review on Carpenter, who seems to have been sillily vexed at Owen calling me Carpenter’s master; it was like his clever malignity.16 Under the cloak of a fling at Heterogeny I have sent a letter to Athenæum in defence of myself, & I take sly advantage to quote Lyells amended verdict on the Origin.—17 I suppose my letter will appear next week:18 it is no great thing.—

Be sure, if you have opportunity read Bates’ Amazonia, because you will like & admire it.—19

I have got to say a few words on Orchids. I hope that you may have time to look at the Rostellum of Gymnadenia, this summer;20 because a good observer in Bot. Garden at Edinburgh a Mr J. Scott has been experimenting on foreign genera, & he finds that the rostellum stimulates some kinds to protrude their tubes;21 but that these tubes never penetrate the rostellum only creep along its surface to the stigma. He wrote to me to know whether I could give him any details on your observations.22 By the way I lately found some primroses with 3 pistils, not united, so that I could peep into the ovarium: I put in pollen & afterwards found the tubes exserted & attached to & apparently penetrating the ovules; but never by the micropyle!23 I have now no doubt that you are perfectly right about fertilisation of Cypripedium;24 a friend lent me a plant of C. pubescens.25 I put excessively minute Bee (an Andrœna) into the Labellum & covered orifice with wet paper; but this precaution I afterwards found superfluous, for the edges all round of the orifice of labellum are folded over (just like insect traps for London kitchens) so that the Bee could not crawl out.— Well the bee immediately crawled out by one of the windows opposite the anthers, with his back towards the anther, against which he firmly pressed it, owing to the elastic wool opposite the anther. It was pretty to see under lens how the whole thorax & base of wings was smeared with pollen. I put him back into the labellum five times & five times I saw his back smeared. As you know he must pass under the stigma (with its spines directed towards the apex as you describe), for there is no other passage; & as I expected when I cut open the flower I found the stigma well smeared with pollen.—26 It was beautiful.—

Good Night | My dear Gray | Ever yours cordially | Though an Englishman | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from Asa Gray, 22–30 March 1863 and 11 April 1863.
Letters from Asa Gray, 22–30 March 1863 and 11 April 1863.
In his letter to CD of 22–30 March 1863, Gray had discussed the article by George Douglas Campbell, duke of Argyll, published in the October 1862 number of the Edinburgh Review ([Campbell] 1862). CD refers to an article in the Saturday Review, 15 November 1862, pp. 589–90, that critically examined Campbell’s review.
See letter from Asa Gray, 11 April 1863.
CD’s fear of war may have been in part a response to The Times, 16 April 1863, p. 14, and 17 April 1863, p. 9, which reported a speech made in New York on 2 April by Benjamin Franklin Butler. Butler had advised retaliation against England for the actions of two ships, the Florida and Alabama, which had been built in England for the Confederacy. His solution was to sever relations with England; this included the curtailment of grain and gold shipments. Butler’s behaviour and comments had already contributed to anti-Union sentiments in Britain (see Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 50–9). See also n. 7, below.
CD refers to the correspondence between Charles Greely Loring (father of Gray’s wife, Jane Loring Gray), and Edwin Wilkins Field concerning the relations between Britain and the United States following the outbreak of the American Civil War (Loring 1862). In his letter to Gray of 23 February [1863], CD expressed his interest in the correspondence.
See n. 5, above. As military governor of occupied New Orleans, Butler had acquired the sobriquet ‘Beast Butler’ (McPherson 1988, pp. 551–2; Sifakis 1988).
See letter from Asa Gray, 22–30 March 1863 and nn. 5–7.
CD evidently refers to notes he was making for Variation. A brief reference to humans appeared in Variation 2: 122–4. CD worked on a draft of the chapter in which these pages appeared from 1 April to 16 June 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). CD referred to ‘the origin of man and his history’ in one sentence at the conclusion of Origin, p. 488.
‘Two forms in species of Linum’ was read before the Linnean Society on 5 February 1863 and published in the second part of volume 7 of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. According to the General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society, this part was issued on 13 May 1863. Gray’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for this paper (see Correspondence vol.11, Appendix IV).
Having found from dried specimens sent by Gray that the pistil in one form of Amsinckia spectabilis was more than twice as long as in the other, with a corresponding difference in the lengths of the stamens, CD suggested that the species might be heterostyled (‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’, p. 95; Collected papers 2: 62). Since March 1862, he had been observing live specimens (see letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and n. 11). Experimental notes dated 23 March and 1 April 1863 record his growing conviction that Amsinckia was not dimorphic (see DAR 110: B2). In Forms of flowers, p. 110, CD reported that having raised ‘many plants from seed’, he ‘soon became convinced that the whole case was one of mere variability’.
Devay 1862, p. 141. There is a lightly annotated copy of Francis Devay’s book in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 194–5). In Variation 2: 122 n. 21, CD cited Devay on the prohibition by the legislature of Ohio of marriages between cousins and added that he had ‘been assured, in answer to inquiries made in the United States,’ that this statement was ‘a mere fable’. See letter from Asa Gray, [10–16] June [1863].
A. Gray 1857, pp. 72–5. There is an annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 347).
Falconer 1863a, p. 80. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 January [1863] and n. 22, and letter from Daniel Oliver, 17 February 1863.
CD refers to Hugh Falconer’s letter in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60, which was critical of Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a). See letter to Charles Lyell, 18 April [1863], and letter to Hugh Falconer, 22 April [1863].
Richard Owen’s anonymous review of Carpenter 1862 appeared in the Athenæum, 28 March 1863, pp. 417–19. William Benjamin Carpenter responded in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, p. 461. Both articles are reproduced in Appendix VII.
See letter to the Athenæum, 18 April [1863]. The reference is to C. Lyell 1863b, p. 469. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, [17 April 1863], and letter to Charles Lyell, 18 April [1863].
CD’s letter was published in the Athenæum, 25 April 1863, pp. 554–5 (see letter from W. H. Dixon, 16 April 1863).
CD refers to Henry Walter Bates’s The naturalist on the river Amazons (Bates 1863).
Gray had been puzzled by the type of self-pollination in Gymnadenia (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 22 September 1862 and n. 13). He published comments on Gymnadenia in A. Gray 1863b.
John Scott was foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (R. Desmond 1994). See letter from John Scott, [1–11] April [1863].
See letter from John Scott, [1–11] April [1863] and n. 13.
CD’s notes on this experiment, dated 26 March – 11 April 1863, are in DAR 108: 165 v. See also letter to Daniel Oliver, [12 April 1863], and letter from Daniel Oliver, 14 April 1863.
After reading Gray’s observations of American species of Cypripedium in A. Gray 1862a, pp. 427–8, CD examined specimens and their pollination by bees. CD confessed that he had not thought of ‘insects crawling into flower’ (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters to Asa Gray, 10–20 June [1862] and this volume, letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and n. 7.
The reference is to Arthur Rawson (see letters from Arthur Rawson, 1 April [1863] and [6 April 1863]).
CD’s note describing this experiment, dated 12 April [1863], is in DAR 70: 112–13.


Fears England and U. S. will drift into war; he and AG must "keep to Science".

Thanks for facts on Incas; regrets he has always avoided the case of man.

Has sent his Linum paper [Collected papers 2: 93–105].

Is it true that Ohio has legislated against marriage of cousins?

Can AG explain the invariable angles in phyllotaxy; are they the consequence of packing in the early bud?

Owen’s comments on heterogeny in the Athenæum [28 Mar 1863] have vexed W. B. Carpenter; CD has replied [Collected papers 2: 78–80].

Hopes AG will observe Gymnadenia; John Scott has been experimenting on its fertilisation.

Gives his observation on pollination of Cypripedium.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (51)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4110,” accessed on 28 April 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11