To Asa Gray 4 August 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Gray.
Thanks for two letters of July 7th & 21st,2 full of interest to me. I am heartily glad to hear that you are so thoroughily refreshed by your short holiday; for you seemed to be almost worn out by work.3 It is capital news about your Legacy;4 I only wish it was five or ten times as much, & then you could give up all your time to new work. How goodnatured you are to my little man about stamps: those enclosed in two last letters were ineffable treasures.5 Many thanks for Specularia;6 but, good Heavens, I fancied it was a specimen to show me the flowers & I put it in warm, not boiling, water: I then discovered my mistake & hope I have not killed the seeds. Was not that a misfortune?— With your previous letter came a most obliging & kind note from Mr Brace;7 if you have any communication with him, pray thank him; I will not write, as I had previously written to thank him for his kind present of his book.8 What a pleasant book his was on Hungary.—9
After I had written to you Versus Heer’s doctrine of sudden changes, I suspected what you would say:10 what, I think, ought to give you the severest “cold chill” is the case of Pouter, Fantail-pigeons &c: were not these variations accidental as far as the purpose man has put them to?11 Lyell said he would grapple with this, but I suspect he found it would be most prudent to shirk the question.12 In my present book I have been comparing variation to the shapes of stones fallen from a cliff, & natural or artificial selection to the architect;13 but I cannot at all work a metaphor like you do.— That seems a very pretty case of the orchid with prominence on labellum.—14
I have lots of Hobby-horses at present, fertility of peloric flowers & especially of “Homorphic” seedlings, which I suspect will throw much theoretical light on Hybrids.—15 I have worked Lythrum like a Trojan & have just finished 134 crosses, no slight labour; but the case seems to me worth any labour, for I declare I think it about the oddest case of reproduction ever noticed.—a triple marriage between three hermaphrodite.—16 I am so glad your Nesæas, after a sickly infancy are growing splendidly!17 But my present chief Hobby-horse I owe to you, viz tendrils;18 their irritability is beautiful, as beautiful in all its modifications as anything in orchids. About the spontaneous movement (independent of touch) of the tendrils & upper internodes I am rather taken aback by your saying “is it not well known?”.19 I can find nothing in any book which I have: neither Hooker nor Oliver knew anything of these movements.20 The spontaneous movement of the tendrils is independent of the movement of the movement of the upper internodes, but both work harmoniously together in sweeping a circle for the tendrils to grasp a stick. So with all climbing plants (without tendrils) as yet examined, the upper internodes go on night & day sweeping a circle in one fixed direction. It is surprising to watch the Apocyneæ with shoots 18 long, beyond the supporting stick, steadily searching for something to climb up. When the shoot meets a stick, the motion at that point is arrested, but in the upper part is continued, so that the climbing of all plants yet examined is the simple result of the spontaneous circulatory movement of the upper internodes.— Pray tell me whether anything has been published on this subject: I hate publishing what is old; but I shall hardly regret my work, if it is old, as it has much amused me.— If I do publish my paper, it will be too long to send you; for I am (or shall) examine very many plants.—21
I am very glad you are going to review Bates’ paper & I must say I enjoy anything which riles Agassiz.22 He seems to grow bigoted with increasing years; I once saw him years ago, & was charmed with him.23
Depend on it, you are unjust on the merits of my beloved Drosera:24 it is a wonderful plant, or rather a most sagacious animal. I will stick up for Drosera to the day of my death. Heaven knows whether I shall ever publish my pile of experiments on it.—25
How profoundly interesting American new is— I declare almost more so even to us than Crimean new.—26 Do not hate poor old England too much. Anyhow she is the mother of fine children all over the world. I declare no man could have tried to wish more sincerely for the north that I have done.— My reason tells me that perhaps it would be best,—of course best if it would end Slavery, but I cannot pump up enthusiasm. The boasting of your newspapers & of your little men, & the abuse of England, and the treatment of the free coloured population, and the not freeing Maryland slaves stops all my enthusiasm.27 If all the States were like New England the case would be different.— I find a man cannot hope by intention. You will think me a wretched outcast. Farewell & do not hate me much. What devils the low Irish have proved themselves in New York.28 If you conquer the South you will have an Ireland fastened to your tail.—
Good night & Farewell | C. Darwin
Anticipated AG’s attitude on design in orchids. Does he not think that the variations that gave rise to fancy pigeon varieties were accidental?
Has been working hard at Lythrum
and spontaneous movements of tendrils.
Defends Drosera as a "sagacious animal" but does not know whether he will ever publish on it.
Comments on political situation in U. S.
- constant varieties, races
- creationism, religion
- experiment, scientific observation
- movements and habits of plants
- queries / requests
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4262,” accessed on 30 September 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4262