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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   24 February [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Feb 24th

My dear Gray

I received yesterday your kind letter & the remaining sheets of the Review, which I forwarded to Hooker, to go to Dr Boott & then to Lyell.—2

This remainder of the Review most fully confirms my opinion that it is by far the most able which has appeared, & you will have done the subject infinite service. And now I most sincerely hope that it will cost you no more labour.—   Lyell quite agreed with me that the two first sheets were the best thing which has appeared on the subject.—

Thank you much for your letter, which as it contains such curious botanical facts, I have sent to Hooker. Why should you call one of the best essays ever written (at least in my opinion) on Geograph. Distribution of Plants “unfortunate”. I really hope, as a punishment to myself, that I may be found egregiously wrong about the warmer period subsequent to the Glacial Epoch.—3 Certainly very much more has to be made out about the latest geological periods.—

I am very glad to think (if I understand rightly, but I must reread your letter) that the greater resemblance of N.E. America than of N.W. America to Asia in its plants, is not quite so great an anomaly as it at first appears.—

I have been interested by your theological remarks in the Review, but I must reconsider them. It has always seemed to me that for an Omnipotent & omniscient Creator to foresee is the same as to preordain; but then when I come to think over this I get into an uncomfortable puzzle something analogous with “necessity & Free-will” or the “Origin of evil”, or other such subject quite beyond the scope of the human intellect. I was interested the other day in reading the Life of Newton by Brewster to find that Leibnitz actually attacked the Law of Gravity as “subversive of all Natural Religion’!!4 He further attacked Newton for having used gravity ”an occult quality“ to explain the motions of the Planets.—   Newton answered that it is philosophy to explain movement of wheels of clock, though the cause of descent of the weight could not be explained. This seems to me rather to bear on what you say of Nat. selection not being proved as a vera causa.—5

I cannot but think you lay rather too much stress on new organs appearing in the animal kindgom, at least, it is most difficult to show any number of new organs.—   Milne Edwards has tried with very little success.6 One shd never forget such transitions or at least such gradations, as a swim-bladder into a Lung.— So even with the Eye, as numerous fine gradations can be shown to exist, the perfecting this wondrous organ by Nat. Selection I must look at as a difficulty to our imagination & not to our reason.—

In the M.S. additions sent you for any future edition, there is one blundering sentence, herewith corrected. If I knew there wd. be a second American Edition I would send a few more additions & corrections

With most sincere thanks for all your extreme kindness— Believe me | Yours most sincerely | Charles Darwin


Dated by the reference to [Gray] 1860a.
Gray’s letter to CD has not been found. See letter to J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1860].
CD refers to a paper on the flora of Japan (Gray 1859), in which Gray proposed that there had been a post-glacial, as well as a pre-glacial, warm period during which the plants of northern America and northern Asia intermingled. For CD’s comments on the postulated post-glacial warm period, see Correspondence vol. 7, letters to J. D. Hooker, 11 May [1859], and to Asa Gray, 24 December [1859].
CD followed Henri Milne-Edwards in believing that organs were generally transformed through performing increasingly specialised functions rather than formed de novo. See Milne-Edwards 1851 and Natural selection, p. 354.


Brewster, David, ed. 1855. Memoirs of the life, writings and discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Thomas Constable and Co.

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

Gray, Asa. 1859. On the coiling of tendrils. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 27: 277–8. [Vols. 10,11]

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.


Last sheets of AG’s review of Origin have arrived. CD’s comments and criticisms.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (23)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2713,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

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