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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker1   5 January 1860

Cambridge, Mass.

Jany. 5/1860

My Dear Hooker

Your last letter, which reached me just before Christmas— has got mislaid during the upturnings in my study which take place at that season, & has not yet been discovered. I should be very sorry to lose it, for there were in it some botanical mem. which I had not secured. It will turn up, I trust. I remember you wrote of dear Lady Hooker being laid up with a bad leg.2 We hope it will not prove serious,— I fear it will be tedious.

The principal part of your letter was high laudation of Darwin’s book.—Well, the book has reached me, and I finished its careful perusal 4 days ago!— And I freely say that your laudation is not out of place.

It is done in a masterly manner,—it might well have taken 20 years to produce it. It is crammed full of most interesting matter—thoroughly digested—well expressed—close, cogent—and taken as a system it makes out a better case than I had supposed possible.

Dr. Wyman is just reading it—is struck with its ability,—but I shall know more what he thinks of it presently.3

I gave a copy to a hard-headed friend of mine, of very impartial mind, familiar with physical science, thoughtful about general problems in Nat. Hist. but neither naturalist nor geologist. He is much impressed by it.

Agassiz—when I saw him last, had read but a part of it.4 He says it is poorvery poor!! (entre nous). The fact he growls over it, like a well cudgelled dog,—is very much annoyed by it—to our great delight—and I do not wonder at it. To bring all ideal system within the domain of pure science, & give good physical or natural explanations of all his capital points, is as bad as to have Forbes take the glacier-materials A. had long muddled over, and give scientific explanation of all the phenomena.—5

Tell Darwin all this. I will write to him when I get a chance.6 As I have promised he & you shall have fair play here,—& Dana is in Italy, ill.—7 I must myself write a review of Darwin’s book for Sill. Journal, (the more so that I suspect Agassiz means to come out upon it)—for the next (March) no.—8 And I am now setting about it (When I ought to be every moment working Expl. Expedition Compositæ, which I know far more about).—9 And really it is no easy job, as you may well imagine.

I doubt if I shall please you altogether. I know I shall not please Agassiz at all. I hear [one more] reprint is in press,—and the book will excite much attention here, and some controversy.10

Your last letter had the address to Cambridge so blotted that the Boston Post office kept it a day or so to decypher. Else I should have had it in time to acknowledge in my last to Sir William.11 It answers the queries I asked, after the safety of the case I sent last summer, &c, &c.—

CD annotations

9.1 Your … &c.— 9.4] crossed ink


Hooker sent the first sheet of this letter to CD (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [22 January 1860]).
Maria Hooker was J. D. Hooker’s mother. She was suffering from ‘inflammation in the cavity of the Tibia’ (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 December [1859] and n. 4).
Jeffries Wyman, professor of anatomy at Harvard University, was a friend of Gray’s (Dupree 1959, p. 149). According to Appel 1988, p. 84 n. 40, Wyman borrowed the work from Charles Eliot Norton, who later recalled: “I had the first copy of the ‘Origin of Species’ that came to Boston, & after reading it, before it was reprinted, lent it to Jeffries Wyman.”
CD had sent Louis Agassiz a presentation copy of Origin (see Correspondence vol.8, Appendix III and Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Louis Agassiz, 11 November [1859]).
Gray refers to James David Forbes, who had investigated the structure and movement of glaciers at length. Controversy arose between Forbes and Agassiz over an alleged want of recognition on Forbes’s part of Agassiz’s previous work on the structure of glaciers.
James Dwight Dana was convalescing in Italy. See letter to T. H. Huxley, 1 January [1860] and n. 6.
[Gray] 1860a.
Since 1848, Gray had been working on a description of the flowering plants collected on the United States Exploring Expedition, the first volume of which was published in 1854. The final volume did not appear until 1873.
William Jackson Hooker, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and J. D. Hooker’s father, was a close friend of Gray.


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.

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.


Opinions on the Origin: AG thinks it masterly; Agassiz considers it very poor.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 98 (ser. 2): 20–1
Physical description
AL inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2638,” accessed on 18 September 2023,

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