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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   18 June [1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 18th.—

My dear Dr. Gray

I must thank you for your two very valuable letters.2 It is extremely kind of you to say that my letters have not bored you very much, & it is almost incredible to me, for I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science. One chief object of this note is to say that I have not received the last part of your Silliman Papers:3 Hooker has, & he says he will lend it me, if, as is very likely, you have not another copy. But it may come with the Watson correspondence.—4 Your remarks on that head will be of real use to me, when I return to the subject, for a man must be blind not to see how cautious a reasoner you are.

Thank you much for your remarks on disjoined species:5 I daresay I may be quite in error: I saw so much difficulty even theoretically & so much impossibility practically from my ignorance, that I had given up notion till I read your note to your Article. I had only just copied out a few striking cases out of Hooker’s Him: Journal6 & turned to Steudel7 to see what the genera were. The notion was grounded on the belief that disjoined species had suffered much local extinction & therefore (conversely with the case of genera with many species having species with wide ranges.) I inferred that genera & Families with very few species (ie from Extinction) would be apt (not necessarily always) to have narrow ranges & disjoined ranges. You will not perceive, perhaps, what I am driving at & it is not worth enlarging on,—but I look at Extinction as common cause of small genera & disjoined ranges & therefore they ought, if they behaved properly & as nature does not lie to go together!—8

I have not the least doubt that the proportions of British naturalised plants were due to simple chance; but I thought it was just worth mentioning to you: I had from your former Edition of Manual quite given up idea.—

It has been extremely kind of you telling me about the trees: now with your facts, & those from Britain, N. Zealand, & Tasmania, I shall have fair materials for judging:9 I am writing this away from home,10 but I think your fraction of 95132 is as large as in other cases, & is at least a striking coincidence.—

I thank you much for your remarks about my crossing notions, to which I may add, I was led by exactly the same idea as yours, viz that crossing must be one means of eliminating variation, & then I wished to make out how far in animals & vegetables this was possible.— Papilionaceous flowers are almost dead floorers to me, & I cannot experimentise as castration alone often produces sterility. I am surprised at what you say about Compositæ & Gramineæ. From what I have seen of latter they seemed to me (& I have watched Wheat owing to what L. Deslongchamps has said on their fertilisation in bud)11 favourable for crossing; & from Cassini’s observations12 & Kölreuters13 on the adhesive pollen & C. C. Sprengels’,14 I had concluded that the Compositæ were eminently likely (I am aware of the pistil brushing out pollen.) to be crossed. If in some months time you can find time to tell me whether you have made any observations on the early fertilisation of plants in these two orders, I shd be very glad to hear, as it wd. save me from great blunder. In several published remarks on this subject in various genera it has seemed to me that the early fertilisation has been inferred from the early shedding of the pollen, which I think is clearly false inference. Another cause, I shd. think, of the belief of fertilisation in the bud, is the not-rare abnormal early maturity of the pistil, as described by Gærtner.—15 I have hitherto failed in meeting with detailed account of regular & normal impregnation in the bud.— Podostemon & Subularia under water (& Leguminosæ) seem & are strongest cases against me, as far as I as yet know.

I am so sorry that you are so overwhelmed with work; it makes your very great kindness to me the more striking. Believe me, Your’s gratefully | C. Darwin

It is really pretty to see how effectual insects are: a short time ago I found a female Holly 60 measured yards from any other Holly & I cut off some twigs & took by chance 20 stigmas, cut off their tops & put them under microscope: there was pollen on every one & in profusion on most! Weather cloudy & stormy & unfavourable, wind in wrong direction to have brought any.16


The year is given by CD’s reference to recent observations of holly plants, his notes on which are dated 25 May 1857 (see n. 16, below).
Letters from Asa Gray, [c. 24 May 1857] and 1 June 1857.
Gray had promised to send CD a new and corrected copy of A. Gray 1856–7, the third part of his ‘Statistics of the flora of the northern United States’ (see letter from Asa Gray, 1 June 1857). In letter from Asa Gray, 7 July 1857, Gray informed CD that he had dispatched the memoir to him.
In his letter of 1 June 1857, Gray had also mentioned that he would send back to CD ‘in a week or two’ the letters from Hewett Cottrell Watson.
J. D. Hooker 1854.
Steudel 1840–1.
See letter to Asa Gray, I January [1857], in which CD first mentioned this aphorism.
See Natural selection, p. 62 n. 1, and Origin, pp. 99–100.
CD was writing from Edward Wickstead Lane’s hydropathic establishment at Moor Park, where he had arrived on 16 June 1857 (‘Journal’; see Correspondence vol. 6, Appendix II).
Loiseleur Deslongchamps 1842–3. The first part of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
In Natural selection, p. 48 and n. 1, CD cited T. Smith 1822, p. 595, as the reference for Henri Cassini’s observations. Thomas Smith discussed Cassini’s discovery that in dioecious species of Compositae the different times of flowering prevent self-fertilisation, citing Cassini 1813 as the source (T. Smith 1822, pp. 600–1).
These observations are described in a note in DAR 49: 45 dated ‘May 25. 57/’.


Cassini, Henri. 1813. Observations sur le style et le stigmate des synanthérées. Journal de Physique, de Chemie, d’Histoire Naturelle et des Arts 76: 97–128, 181–201, 249–75.

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

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Gray, Asa. 1856–7. Statistics of the flora of the northern United States. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 22: 204–32; 23: 62–84, 369–403.

Kölreuter, Joseph Gottlieb. 1761–6. Vorläufige Nachricht von einigen das Geschlecht der Pflanzen betreffenden Versuchen und Beobachtungen. Leipzig: Gleditschischen Handlung.

Loiseleur Deslongchamps, Jean Louis Auguste. 1842–3. Considérations sur les céréales et principalement sur les froments. 2 pts. Paris. [Vols. 6,9]

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Smith, Thomas. 1822. On certain species of Carduus and Cnicus which appear to be dioecious. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 13: 592–603.

Sprengel, Christian Konrad. 1793. Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen. Berlin: Friedrich Vieweg.


Thanks for AG’s remarks on disjoined species. CD’s notions are based on belief that disjoined species have suffered much extinction, which is the common cause of small genera and disjoined ranges.

Discusses out-crossing in plants.

Has failed to meet with a detailed account of regular and normal impregnation in the bud. Podostemon, Subularia, and underwater Leguminosae are the strongest cases against him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Moor Park Down letterhead
Source of text
Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University (9a)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2109,” accessed on 23 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6