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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   [10 January 1860]1

Copy-right.2 And it may be useful, since it is largely occupied with a defence of you against Agassiz—who has been helping the circulation of your book by denouncing it as atheistical in a public lecture!3 I suspect, also, he means to attack it in the Atlantic Monthly.4 The book annoys him; and I suppose the contrast I run between his theories and yours will annoy him still more.5

Ever since I read your book I have been busy—absorbed—in a review of it—no easy job, I tell you.— It is only half written now, and is too long, & the printer will want the MSS. this week. So I must hurry up the close.6 Lose no time, but send me over a lot of new matter.7

Wyman—the best of judges—& no convert, but much struck with it;—says your book is “thundering able”,—“a thoroughly scientific & philosophical work”.8 ⁠⟨⁠section missing⁠⟩⁠

There are more very strong points made than I can mention here,—but 2 or 3 great gaps in the evidence—some of them you frankly admit,—the others I suppose you do not feel to be as important as I do— I will mention them hereafter— No time now.

Ever dear Darwin | Yours sincerely | Asa Gray


Dated by the relationship to the letter to Asa Gray, 28 January [1860], in which CD refers to ‘your letter to me of the 10th of Jany.’ The manuscript was, however, marked ‘Jan 5 1860’ by Francis Darwin, perhaps on the basis of the letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 5 January 1860.
The missing portion of this letter may have included the suggestion that Gray’s review ([Gray] 1860a) be included as a preface to the revised American edition of Origin in part to secure CD’s copyright in the United States. See n. 7, below, and letter to Asa Gray, 28 January [1860].
Details concerning the public lecture given by Louis Agassiz, in which he discussed Origin, have not been traced. Francis Darwin suggested that it was given before the Mercantile Library Association (LL 2: 269 n.). Gray subsequently sent CD passages from it. For a transcript of the extract, see the letter to Asa Gray, 28 January [1860], n. 10. At a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on 25 January 1860, Agassiz and others ‘discussed several points in natural history and geology in reference to their bearing upon the origin and distribution of species’ (Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1857–60): 362). Agassiz also denounced CD’s views at a meeting of the Boston Natural History Society on 15 February 1860 (Proceedings of the Boston Natural History Society 7 (1860): 231–5). For the debate between Gray and Agassiz over CD’s theory, see Dupree 1959, chaps. 14 and 15.
Agassiz in fact discussed Origin in the July issue of the American Journal of Arts and Sciences (Agassiz 1860). Gray wrote a three-part article on Origin for the Atlantic Monthly ([Gray] 1860b).
Gray alludes to the preface he suggested writing for the American edition of Origin. See n. 7, below.
Gray refers to his review of Origin published in the March number of the American Journal of Science and Arts ([Gray] 1860a). Gray had received his copy of Origin around Christmas 1859 (see Dupree 1959, p. 267–8, and letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 5 January 1860).
Gray had asked CD about the possibility of an American edition of Origin in a letter (now missing) that CD received late in December 1859 (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter from J. D. Hooker, [20 December 1859], and letter to Asa Gray, 21 December [1859]). CD consequently arranged for the unbound sheets of the second edition of Origin, compiled in November and December 1859, to be forwarded to Gray by John Murray, the English publisher (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to John Murray, 22 December [1859]), and Gray began negotiations with Ticknor and Fields, a Boston publishing firm. Gray probably asked CD in the missing part of the letter to supply as soon as possible any corrections that he would like to make for an authorised version of Origin. See also letter from Asa Gray, 23 January 1860, and letter to John Murray, [25 January 1860].
Jeffries Wyman, a colleague of Gray’s at Harvard University, taught courses on comparative anatomy and physiology. For his importance alongside Gray and Louis Agassiz in the development of natural history in the United States, see Appel 1988. See also letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 5 January 1860, and letter from Asa Gray, 23 January [1860].


Agassiz, Louis. 1860. On the origin of species. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 30: 142–54. [Reprinted in Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 6 (1860): 219–32.]

Appel, Toby A. 1988. Jeffries Wyman, philosophical anatomy, and the scientific reception of Darwin in America. Journal of the History of Biology 21: 69–94.

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

Dupree, Anderson Hunter. 1959. Asa Gray, 1810–1888. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

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.


Agassiz denounces Origin as "atheistical";

AG is currently reviewing it [in Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 29 (1860): 153–84].

Jeffries Wyman praises it, though not a convert.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98 (ser. 2): 26a
Physical description
ALS 2pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2631,” accessed on 22 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8