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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   11 November [1859]

Down Bromley Kent [Ilkley]

Nov. 11th

My dear Gray

I have directed a copy of my Book (as yet only an abstract) on the Origin of species to be sent you.—1 I know how you are pressed for time; but if you can read it, I shall be infinitely gratified. From its condensed state it is indispensable to read it all straight through. If ever you do read it, & can screw out time to send me (as I value your opinion so highly) however short a note, telling me what you think its weakest & best parts, I should be extremely grateful. As you are not a geologist you will excuse my conceit in telling you that Lyell highly approves of the two geological chapters; & thinks that on the Imperfection of the Geological Record not exaggerated.2 He is nearly a convert to my views.—

I have been so hard worked & my health so bad that I have not yet read your Japan Flora;3 but I will hereafter borrow Hooker’s copy. Hooker sent me a few pages in which you propound a doctrine of migration into America like that, which I sent you last summer in a letter.4 Dana is of course a far better authority than I am; but his arguments have by no means convinced me in regard to the warm period subsequent to the Glacial period.5 I daresay I may be wrong, but I rather doubt whether his & your view will explain facts of distribution so well as my view of migration during the certainly warmer period anteriorly to the Glacial period.6 Anyhow on my heteredox doctrine of modification your view does not bear on the representative species in the middle U. States. I thought of your doctrine several years ago, & consulted Lyell, but rejected it as less safe than the warm period anteriorly to Glacial Period. There seemed to me some little confusion about your fossil Elephants: the species in N. & S. States, I believe, are distinct according to Falconer.7 The northern one, anyhow, can hardly be adduced as evidence of warmer climate. But it is foolish in me to write on; for I am writing only after one hasty read, several months ago.—

Your Japan work must have been extremely interesting.

Farewell, with every good wish, especially for a little spare time for you

Pray believe me | Dear Gray | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

P.S. I suppose that you have not succeeded in getting me any information on correlation of complexion in Europeans & tendency to yellow or other Tropical Fevers.—8

Let me add that I fully admit that there are very many difficulties not satisfactorily explained by my theory of descent with modification, but I cannot possibly believe that a false theory would explain so many classes of facts, as I think it certainly does explain.— On these grounds I drop my anchor & believe that the difficulties will slowly disappear.—


Gray’s annotated presentation copy of Origin is in the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University.
Lyell’s letter discussing this topic has not been located, but see the letter to Charles Lyell,25 September [1859].
The section of A. Gray 1858–9 in which Gray discussed the geological facts that might account for the relations between the flora of Japan and that of the eastern United States had been forwarded to CD by Joseph Dalton Hooker in May (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 May [1859]). CD refers to his letter to Asa Gray, 11 August [1858].
Gray cited James Dwight Dana as his authority for his view that there had been a warm period immediately following the glacial era. Gray postulated a second migration of northern plants south-wards as the temperature gradually cooled (A. Gray 1858–9, pp. 448–9).
Origin, pp. 370–2.
Hugh Falconer, an expert on fossil elephants, asserted in Falconer 1857 that no less than four species had been confounded under the name Elephas primigenius (a synonym of Mammuthus primigenius, the woolly mammoth).


Gray, Asa. 1858–9. Diagnostic characters of new species of phænogamous plants, collected in Japan by Charles Wright, botanist of the US North Pacific Exploring Expedition … With observations upon the relations of the Japanese flora to that of North America, and of other parts of the northern temperate zone. [Read 14 December 1858 and 11 January 1859.] Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences n.s. 6: 377–452.

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.


Sends copy of Origin for comments.

Does not feel AG’s views of migration after the last glaciation explain distribution in U. S. as well as CD’s view of migration prior to glaciation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Ilkley Down letterhead
Source of text
Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University (17)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2520,” accessed on 15 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7