To Asa Gray 31 May 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Gray.
I was very glad to receive your Review of Decandolle a week ago.2 It seems to me excellent & you speak out, I think, more plainly in favour of derivation of species, than hitherto, though doubtfully about natural selection.3 Grant the first, I am easy about the second. Do you not consider such cases as all the Orchids next thing to a demonstration against Heer’s view of species arising suddenly by monstrosities:4 it is impossible to imagine so many coadaptations being formed all by a chance blow. Of course Creationists would cut the enigma.
What an indomitable worker you are! Why these Reviews, supposing I were to attempt them, would take me a month’s work.5 I have written twice to you not very long ago,6 & sent 2 copies of my Linum paper;7 but they & letter were sent about time of sailing of Anglo-Saxon, & were perhaps lost.8 I only remember in my letter telling you how right you were about fertilisation of Cypripedium.9 Of the species sent by you, C. acaule alone has flowered & has puzzled me. Mitchella, alas, does not look very healthy with all our care.10 If you see & know Mr. Scudder please thank him particularly for his interesting paper on Pogonia, which I was very glad to read.—11
To return to your Review: I was very glad to see your Remarks in answer to Falconer on Phyllotaxy;12 I infer you cannot explain why there are not intermediate angles. I have been looking at Nageli’s work on this subject,13 & am astonished to see that angle is not always the same in young shoot when leaf-buds are first distinguishable as in full-grown branch. This shows, I think, that there must be some potent cause for those angles which do occur: I daresay there is some explanation as simple as that for the angles of the Bees-cells.—14
You allude to Saporta’s work;15 Alp De Candolle sent me a copy of part of letter from him, in which he expressed strong belief that N. Selection would ultimately be triumphant in France, though now quite ignored.—16
I have nothing to tell you about my own doings: I work every day, that I can, on my big book & am now at all causes of sterility under domestication & cultivation.17 I have got such an immense collection of facts, that the work though laborious & slow interests me, as I can generally come to some sort of conclusion. There never will be a man who will read my big book; it will be a sort of encyclopedia on special cases.—18
I have been looking again at the imperfect flowers of Oxalis & Viola: I was entirely wrong in supposing that in Oxalis the perfect flowers required insect-aid for fertilisation; so this view is knocked on the head. Viola, however, does require insects.19 I must yet stick to my opinion that the imperfect flowers of Viola at least deserve to be ranked as something more than mere precocious flowers. In V. canina only 2 anthers are developed; the pollen-grains are smaller—the pistil widely different in shape; no nectar-appendages to the two fertile stamens & no spur.—20 Remember, if you can get them, seed of Campanula perfoliata.—21
I suppose you are very busy, & I suppose the whirlwind of public affairs must waste much of your time. Do not think of writing to me unless you have any leisure; though a letter from you is always a real pleasure to me. I suppose there are few human beings in England who see so few persons out of their own family as I do.—
Good night. | Yours most sincerely | C. Darwin
I have been observing common Broom: hardly any orchid shows prettier adaptation to insects which are necessary for its fertilisation:— The upper & lower surface of thorax of Bees gets dusted with pollen, & first the stigma rubs the upper side of thorax & afterwards is rubbed by the lower side of thorax.—22
AG’s review of Alphonse de Candolle’s paper [Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 35 (1863): 430–44] is excellent.
Does not AG consider that orchids oppose Oswald Heer’s view that species arise suddenly by monstrosities?
Infers that AG cannot explain the angles of phyllotaxy; has been looking at Carl Nägeli on the subject.
Reports Gaston de Saporta’s belief that natural selection will ultimately triumph in France.
Is working slowly at Variation.
Reports his observations on the imperfect flowers of Viola and Oxalis.