skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   25 April [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 25th

My dear Gray

I have no doubt I have to thank you for copy of a Review on the “Origin” in N. American Review.2 It seems to me clever, & I do not doubt will damage my Book. I had meant to have made some remarks on it; but Lyell wished much to keep it, & my head is quite confused between the many Reviews which I have lately read. I am sure the Reviewer is wrong about Bees cells, ie about the distance; any lesser distance would do, or even greater distance, but then some of the planes would lie outside the generative spheres, but this would not add much difficulty to work—3

The Reviewer takes a strange view of Instinct: he seems to regard intelligence as developed instinct; which I believe is wholly false.—4 I suspect he has never much attended to Instinct & minds of animals, except perhaps by reading.

My chief object is to ask you if you could procure for me a copy of the New York Times for Wednesday March 28th: it contains a very striking review of my Book, which I shd. much like to keep.5 How curious that about the two most striking Reviews (ie yours & this) shd. have appeared in America! This review is not really useful, but somehow is impressive.— There was good Review in the Revue des Deux Mondes April 1st. by M. Laugel, said to be a very clever man.—6

Have you seen how I have been thrashed by Owen in last Edinburgh: he misquotes & misrepresents me badly, & how he lauds himself.— But the manner in which he sneers at Hooker is scandalous,—to speak of his Essay & never allude to his work on Geograph. Distribution is scandalous.7 When Hooker’s Essay appeared Owen wrote a note, which I have seen, full of strongest praise! What a strange man he is. All say his malignity is merely envy because my Book has made a little noise. How strange it is that he can be envious about a naturalist, like myself, immeasurably his inferior! But it has annoyed me a good deal to be treated thus by a friend of 25 years duration. He might have been just as severe without being so spiteful.— Owen consoles himself by saying that the whole subject will be forgotten in ten years.—

Have you noticed how completely I have been anticipated by a Mr. P. Matthew, in Gardeners Chronicle.8

Hooker about a fortnight ago staid here a few days & was very pleasant; but I think he overworks himself. He is beginning to experimentise on various subjects at Kew, & if he can but spare time I think he will be glad of it. He is going to try to degenerate our culinary vegetables. What a gigantic undertaking, I imagine, his & Benthams Genera Plantarum will be!9 I hope he will not get too much immersed in it, so as not to spare some time for Geograph. Distribution & other such questions.

I have begun to work steadily, but very slowly as usual, at details on Variation under domestication.

My dear Gray | Yours always truly & gratefully | C. Darwin


Dated by the reference to the review of Origin in the North American Review ([Bowen] 1860a).
Francis Bowen, professor of natural religion at Harvard University and a friend of Louis Agassiz’s, was the author of the review. CD’s copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [April 1860].
[Bowen] 1860a, pp. 494–9. In his copy of the review, CD wrote in pencil next to the discussion of bees’ methods of constructing cells: ‘All this mistaken’ ([Bowen] 1860a, p. 496).
Speaking of instinct, the reviewer stated that ‘in the infinite number of variations which he requires us to believe this faculty to have undergone, why has it never overstepped the clearly marked line which still divides it from reason?’ ([Bowen] 1860, p. 497). CD scored this passage in his copy of the review and added an exclamation mark in the margin.
The New York Times, 28 March 1860, p. 3, carried a long and generally favourable review of Origin. The review was unsigned, but the text suggests that it may have been written by James Hall, who was palaeontologist to the New York State Geological Survey. Referring to the most recent work on the earliest fossils in the geological record as support for CD’s theory, the reviewer stated that ‘the present writer had an opportunity last Summer, in company with Sir Wm. Logan, of examining a fossil from the Laurentian rocks of Canada—far older than the Silurian strata—which if it holds its authenticity, must be the intimation of a new and elder world of organic forms, into which research and induction may yet be prolonged.’ William Edmond Logan was head of the Geological Survey of Canada. Although criticising some of CD’s views, the reviewer nonetheless stated: It is clear that here is one of the most important contributions ever made to philosophic science; and it is at least behooving on scientists, in the light of the accumulation of evidence which the author has summoned in support of his theory, to reconsider the grounds on which their present doctrine of the origin of species is based.
Laugel 1860. There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
[R. Owen] 1860a. The article reviewed Hooker 1859 in addition to Origin.
Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 7 April 1860, pp. 312–13. See Appendix V. For CD’s reply to Patrick Matthew, see letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [13 April 1860].
Bentham and Hooker 1862–83. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 March [1860].


[Bowen, Francis]. 1860a. [Review of Origin.] North American Review 90: 474–506.

Laugel, Antoine Auguste. 1860. Nouvelle théorie d’histoire naturelle. L’origine des espèces. Revue des deux mondes 2d ser. 26: 644–71.

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.


Origin reviews. Is annoyed at Richard Owen’s malignity [Edinburgh Rev. 111 (1860): 487–532].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (13)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2767,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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