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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   21 [and 22] January 18781

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R. [6 Queen Anne Street, London.]

Jan. 21st 78

My dear Gray

I received 2 or 3 days ago your review of my Forms of Flowers, which has pleased & as usual instructed me much.2 I was specially pleased at my suggestion of giving names to the subdivisions of polygamous plants being approved of by you.—3 Thanks, also, for the review of Mr Cook, written, I suppose by you.4 It seems to me rather too mild, but I have been very glad to read & have been amused by it.— By the way Carlyle’s letter about me was a forgery, or as he said to my Brother,—“it is all infernal lies”.—5

Could you not get some young man to experiment on & observe grades of fertility of Epigæa & Rhamnus. &c. Herman Müller describes Valeriana dioica as consisting of 4 analogous forms. He attributes their case primarily to the existence of 2 forms, one with larger & the other with smaller corolla, such as he has shown exist in other cases; but his German was obscure, & I could not follow the further supposed transformations.6

I hope that you have got over the first great press of accumulated work & are now not so much overworked. I hope tomorrow to see Hooker, for I am writing this in London, to which place I have come for a few days rest after working rather too hard.7

My son Frank & I have been observing the autonomous movements of seedlings & those due to Heliotropism, which latter from their complexity have almost driven us mad.8

We have made out something, but not very much about the uses of bloom or the waxy secretion on the leaves & stems of plants.9 Did you notice whether such glaucous plants are more or less common in the arid countries to the west or centre than in the more humid districts on the Atlantic?

You know my opinion of all American ladies, so you will believe how delighted we have been at my son marrying Sara Sedgwick—10 She is in every possible way quite charming.

Yours affectionately | Ch Darwin

Jan 21

P.S. | I forgot to add the following as I wished to do yesterday. Mr Meehan in a paper lately read before the Philadelphia Soc. says in a somewhat sneering tone that plants behave differently in one country from another for that a single plant of Linum perennes brought from Colorado by him was quite fertile with him, where I state (confirmed he might have added by Hildebrand) that it is absolutely sterile with its own pollen.11 Now he does not state whether his plant was long-styled or short-styled, & as he speaks of bringing the plant from Colorado, I imagine that it was there endemic. Does L. perenne grow there? Dr Alefeld says none of the true American species are heterostyled.12 Now if Mr Meehan has mistaken the species it seems to me too bad to throw a slur or doubt on another man’s accuracy without taking the smallest pains to be accurate himself. I have been almost tempted to write formally to the Phil. Soc. to enquire how the case really stands. But I have resolved not to do so, as Hildebrand has fully confirmed my statement.— Mr Meehans inaccuracy seems to me injurious in no small degree to Science


I have just spent a delightful 2 hours at Kew, & heard prodigies of your strength & activity. That you run up a mountain like a cat!—13


The postscript of the letter was written on 22 January, as is shown by references to ‘yesterday’ and to CD’s spending two hours at Kew, which earlier in the letter he said he would do ‘tomorrow’.
Gray reviewed Forms of flowers in the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1878a). There is a lightly annotated copy of the review in DAR 133.19: 36. See also Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Asa Gray, 27 September 1877.
See A. Gray 1878a, pp. 67–8, and Forms of flowers, pp. 12–13. CD had suggested the terms gyno-dioecious for plants that bore female and hermaphrodite flowers on different plants, and gyno-monoecious for plants that bore female and hermaphrodite flowers on the same plant; similarly, he suggested the terms andro-dioecious and andro-monoecious for plants that bore male and hermaphrodite flowers on different plants or on the same plant, respectively.
There is a copy of Gray’s review of Joseph Cook’s lectures on biology (J. Cook 1877) in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL ([A. Gray] 1878c).
The forged letter, purportedly written by Thomas Carlyle to a friend, appeared in The Times, 17 January 1877, p. 5, having originally appeared in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald. The letter began,

A good sort of man is this Darwin, and well meaning, but with very little intellect. Ah, it’s a sad, a terrible thing to see nigh a whole generation of men and women professing to be cultivated, looking around in a purblind fashion, and finding no God in this universe.

CD’s brother was Erasmus Alvey Darwin. It was later suggested that Carlyle’s remarks had been made in a conversation (see Correspondence vol. 25, letter from E. A. Darwin, 27 January [1877] and n. 5).
See letter to Hermann Müller, 1 January [1878]. In an article in the German scientific journal Kosmos, Müller wrote that Valeriana dioica existed in four forms closely allied to the four forms of Rhamnus (H. Müller 1877c, p. 130). Valeriana dioica is marsh valerian; Rhamnus is the genus of buckthorns. Epigaea repens (ground-laurel or mayflower) is the only Epigaea species native to eastern North America.
Joseph Dalton Hooker and Asa Gray had spent more than two months travelling together in the United States in 1877; see Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Asa Gray, 27 September 1877. CD stayed with his brother, Erasmus, from 17 to 23 January 1878 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
CD and Francis’s work was published in Movement in plants in 1880.
William Erasmus Darwin married Sara Sedgwick on 29 November 1877 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). For CD’s views on American ladies, see also Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Asa Gray, 10 June 1877.
Thomas Meehan’s comments were in fact in a note in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, December 1877, p. 189. There is a lightly annotated copy of the note in DAR 133.19: 37. See also Forms of flowers, pp. 90–8. Friedrich Hildebrand’s supporting evidence was in Hildebrand 1864. Linum perenne is blue flax.
Friedrich Alefeld’s remarks were in Alefeld 1863, p. 281.
See n. 7, above. Hooker was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Alefeld, Friedrich. 1863. Ueber Linum. Botanische Zeitung, 18 September 1863, pp. 281–2.

Cook, Joseph. 1877. Boston Monday lectures. Biology, with preludes on current events. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Hildebrand, Friedrich. 1864. Experimente über den Dimorphismus von Linum perenne und Primula sinensis. Botanische Zeitung 22: 1–5.

Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants. By Charles Darwin. Assisted by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

Müller, Hermann. 1877c. Das Variiren der Größe gefärbter Blüthenhüllen und seine Wirkung auf die Naturzüchtung der Blumen. Kosmos 2 (1877–8): 11–25, 128–140.


Thanks for AG’s review of Forms of flowers [Am. J. Sci. 3d ser. 15 (1878): 67–73].

Thomas Carlyle’s letter about CD was a forgery.

Gives Hermann Müller’s observations on Valeriana dioica.

Is unsure about function of "bloom"; are glaucous plants more or less common in arid parts of U. S.?

Observations on heliotropism.

Thomas Meehan reports that Linum perenne is self-fertile; CD thinks that he has mistaken the species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
London, Queen Anne St, 6 Down letterhead
Source of text
Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University (123 and 127)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11330,” accessed on 17 April 2024,