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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   3 February 1878

Herbarium of Harvard University, | Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Mass.

Feb. 3, 1878

My Dear Darwin

A rare and a great pleasure to hear from you—as I have this morning, by two letters.1 My notice of Cook’s Biology (save the mark!)—which a clerical friend, of much sense, urged me to expose, was to be incog.—but the Editor as good as peached.—and Norton says any page of it would have betrayed me. It was pitched “rather too mild” on purpose and with much restraint—lest the benighted portion of the religious world—who have to be rescued from a delusion—should fancy there was a bad animus. Dana said with you—“too mild”—but added—“perhaps the more judicious”—and so I think it proves.2

Oh, that one should have to waste time on such Vermin!— and yet I begin to understand some of the satisfaction which a cat takes with a mouse.

There is something about Valeriana dioica, and I hope H. Müller will make it intelligible3

I will see if I can get anything done with Epigæa.4 But here one must go 15 or 20 miles for it.

Do work at heliotropism & the like. The Germans make me mad with their pottering pretence and their names, to stand in place of explanation.5 ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠

Pale foli⁠⟨⁠age⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠5 or 6 words⁠⟩⁠ glaucis m⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠5 or 6 words⁠⟩⁠ certainly a ⁠⟨⁠5 or 6 words⁠⟩⁠ dry regions ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ recal a truly ⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ which belongs to ou⁠⟨⁠r⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ wooded country.

Yes, we are pleased to see opinions backed by deeds, and proud to add an American lady to your family, particularly6

As to Thos. Meehan, he is as rattle-brained as Joseph Cook, and almost ⁠⟨⁠as⁠⟩⁠ much a nuisance in ⁠⟨⁠his⁠⟩⁠ way. I write him ⁠⟨⁠very⁠⟩⁠ plain truths, privately telling him that he is an ingenious (but not an ingenuous) ass,—but somehow, it does not cure him.7

If you like, I will take ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠

⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ do make m⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ correct—put ⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ to L. perenn⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ who wanted ⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠t to see, or ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ mig⁠⟨⁠ht⁠⟩⁠ be two species ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ntre nous I no more ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠Meeh⁠⟩⁠an’s facts than his theo⁠⟨⁠ries⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ think he would never ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠eive.

Yes, thank Heaven, I have some bodily activity yet, which work like last summer developes. Mrs. Gray is as much improved by it as is8 | Your affectionate | Asa Gray

P.S. I have done up ⁠⟨⁠Me⁠⟩⁠ehan for Amer. Jour. Sci. ⁠⟨⁠Marc⁠⟩⁠h (next) number.—9

CD annotations

6.2 country.] ‘A. G⁠⟨⁠ray⁠⟩⁠ | Feb. 3d 1878’ added ink
10.1 do make … ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠eive. 10.3] crossed blue crayon


See letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878; the other letter has not been found.
Gray’s review of Joseph Cook’s Biology, with preludes on current events (J. Cook 1877) appeared in the New Englander 37 (1878): 100–13. The editor of the New Englander was William Lathrop Kingsley; the review was unsigned but the contents page said it was ‘Contributed by an eminent Naturalist, of orthodox opinions in religion’. Cook attacked the work of Thomas Henry Huxley and John Tyndall on evolution rather than CD’s (see J. Cook 1877, pp. 1–32). For CD’s comment on the review, see the letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878 and n. 4; Gray indicates that Charles Eliot Norton and James Dwight Dana had also commented.
Valeriana dioica is marsh valerian; see letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878 and n. 6. CD added Hermann Müller’s remarks about this plant to Forms of flowers 2d ed., p. viii.
In his letter of 21 [and 22] January 1878, CD had asked Gray whether Gray could get a young man to observe grades of fertility in Epigaea repens (ground-laurel or mayflower).
See letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878 and n. 8. Gray’s reference to Germans and ‘their pottering pretence’ was probably provoked by something CD said in his now missing letter (see n. 1, above) about the terminology, such as ‘geotropism’, ‘heliotropism’, and ‘apogeotropism’, for movement in plants, which originated with German authors (see OED and Movement in plants, p. 5; see also Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Henry Jackson to Francis Darwin, 18 November 1877). For a previous discussion between Gray and CD about the terminology in Forms of flowers, see Correspondence vol. 24, letter from Asa Gray, 5 December 1876 and n. 5.
CD’s son William Erasmus Darwin married Sara Sedgwick, an American, in 1877; see letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878 and n. 10.
CD had criticised Thomas Meehan’s work for inaccuracy; see letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878 and n. 11. He had previously disagreed with Meehan over Meehan’s review of Cross and self fertilisation (Meehan 1877) and Meehan’s earlier paper on the role of insects in fertilisation (Meehan 1875); see Correspondence vol. 25, letter to Thomas Meehan, 5 July [1877], and Correspondence vol. 23, letter to Hermann Müller, 26 October 1875.
In the summer of 1877, Gray and his wife, Jane Loring Gray, had visited the Rocky Mountains with Joseph Dalton Hooker (see L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 205–17).
Gray had reviewed Forms of flowers in the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1878a). In a supplementary note (A. Gray 1878b), he responded to Meehan’s assertion that Gentiana andrewsii (bottle gentian) and Linum perenne (blue flax) in his region behaved differently from those Gray and CD described; see A. Gray 1877 and letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878 and n. 11.


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. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Forms of flowers 2d ed.: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. 2d edition. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

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

Meehan, Thomas. 1875. Are insects any material aid to plants in fertilization? Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 24: 243–51.

Meehan, Thomas. 1877. Darwin on the fertilization of flowers. Penn Monthly, June 1877, pp. 463–71.

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

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


AG’s review of Joseph Cook ["Lectures on biology", New Englander 37: 100–13].

Encourages CD to work at heliotropism.

Thinks Thomas Meehan is as "rattle-brained" as Joseph Cook.

[A damaged fragment cut from this letter is pinned to 11051.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Herbarium of Harvard
Source of text
DAR 160: 169, DAR 165: 199
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11343,” accessed on 19 May 2022,