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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   22 May [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

May 22d

My dear Gray.

Again I have to thank you for one of your very pleasant letters (of May 7th), enclosing a very pleasant remittance of 22£.—2 I am in simple truth astonished at all the kind trouble you have taken for me. I return Appleton’s account.—3 For the chance of your wishing for a formal acknowledgment, I send one.—   If you have any further communication to the Appletons pray express my acknowledgment for his generosity; for it is generosity in my opinion. I am not at all surprised at sale diminishing: my extreme surprise is at greatness of sale. No doubt the public has been shamefully imposed on! for they bought the book, thinking that it would be nice easy reading. I expect the sale to stop soon in England: yet Lyell wrote to me the other day that calling at Murrays he heard that 50 copies had gone in previous 48 hours.—   I am extremely glad that you will notice in Silliman additions in the Origin.4 Judging from letters (& I have just seen one from Thwaites to Hooker) & from remarks, the most serious omission in my book was not explaining how it is, as I believe, that all forms do not necessarily advance,—how there can now be simple organisms still existing.—5 The article in Med. & Chirurg. Review is by Carpenter.—6 I would send Pictet’s, if you cannot see it, but I shd. require it back.—7 Sedgwick has been firing broadsides into me, but exclusively on geological grounds.— Prof. Clarke of Cambridge says publickly that the chief characteristic of such books as mine is their “consummate impudence”.—8

I hear there is very severe review on me in North British by a Revd. Mr Dunns,9 a free-Kirk minister & dabbler in Nat. Histy.    I shd. be very glad to see any good American Reviews,—as they are all more or less useful.— You say that you shall touch on other Reviews.—10 Huxley told me some time ago that after a time he would write review on all Reviews, whether he will I know not.—   If you allude to Edinburgh, pray notice some of the points which I will point out on separate slip.11 In “Saturday Review” (one of our cleverest periodicals) of May 5th. p. 573 there is a nice article on Owen’s Review, defending Huxley, but not Hooker; & the latter I think Owen treats most ungenerously.—12 But surely you will get sick unto death of me & my Reviewers.—

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.—   Let each man hope & believe what he can.—

Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws,—a child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by action of even more complex laws,—and I can see no reason, why a man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws; & that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event & consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter.

Most deeply do I feel your generous kindness & interest.—

Yours sincerely & cordially | Charles Darwin

[Enclosure 1]13

Asa Gray for Mr. Darwin Statement of the Sale of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” to May 1st, 1860 On hand last account, — On hand this date, 250 Printed since Jany/60 1500 In hands of Booksellers, 300 550 Feby—/60 500 Given away, 200 Mch/60 500 Sold to date, 1750 2500 2500 1750 Sold, at 5% on $ 1.25 Copyright amounting to $ 109.37

[Enclosure 2]14

Edinburgh Review

p. 489. I think I told you of the illiberality of Owen about the Branchiæ; he having in independent works fully admitted that the Branchiæ were Branchiæ15

496    what a quibble to pretend he did not understand what I meant by inhabitants of S. America: & anyone would suppose that I had not throughout my volume touched on Geograph. Distrib. He ignores also everything which I have said on Classification, Geological Succession. Homologies, Embryology & Rudimentary Organs.

500    He falsely applies what I said (too rudely) about “blindness of preconceived opinions” to those who believe in creation; whereas I exclusively apply the remark to those who give up multitudes of species as true species, but believe in remainder.—

p. 501. He slightly alters what I say.—   I ask whether creationist really believe that elemental atoms have flashed into life. He says I describe them as so believing; & this surely is a difference.—

501. He speaks of my “clamouring against” all who believe in creation: & this seems to me an unjust accusation.

512. It is a good joke that the Reviewer is so full of Owens work that he refers to “On the Nature of the Limbs”, when he means to refer to my book & give right page; but alters the quotation.

522— He makes me say that the Dorsal vertebræ vary— this is simply false: I nowhere say a word about dorsal vertebræ.

525. What an illiberal sentence that is about “any pretension to candour” & about my rushing through barriers which stopped Cuvier: such an argument would stop any progress in science.

530    How disingenuous to quote from my remarks to you about my brief letter, as if it applied to whole subject.

530. How disingenuous to say that we are called on to accept the theory from the imperfection of geological Record, when I over & over again how grave a difficulty the imperfection offers.—

519. How often that abominable arctic Bear has been made to worry me; but Owen is false, when he says that the case has no application, as put in my 2d. Edit, for it certainly well illustrates “diversified & changed habits” of life.—


Dated by an entry in CD’s journal recording the payment mentioned in the letter (see n. 2, below).
Gray’s letter has not been found. CD recorded receiving a payment of £21 17s. 6d. in May 1860 as his share of the profits from the sale of the first American edition of Origin (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
See the first enclosure. The first American edition of Origin had been published in January 1860 by the New York firm D. Appleton & Co. (Freeman 1977, pp. 83, 85). Gray had acted on CD’s behalf in negotiating the terms regarding the author’s share of the profit from sales of the American edition of Origin. See letter from Asa Gray, 20 February 1860 and the enclosure.
The fourth printing of Origin in the United States incorporated, through Gray’s exertions, substantial additions and corrections to certain sections of the text. See letters to Asa Gray, 28 January [1860], 1 February [1860], [8 or 9 February 1860], and 8 March [1860]. Gray was an associate editor of the American Journal of Science and Arts, also known as ‘Silliman’s journal’. However, the article that Gray was preparing (see n. 10, below) appeared in the Atlantic Monthly (Gray 1860b). Gray’s notice about the changes in the revised and augmented American edition of Origin is on p. 116.
See following letter. CD replied to this point in his letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 21 March [1860]. He rectified the omission of this discussion in the third edition of Origin (Origin 3d ed., pp. 134–7).
[Carpenter] 1860b.
CD refers to an account of a meeting of the Cambridge Philosophical Society on 7 May 1860 reported in the Literary Gazette, 12 May 1860, p. 582. See also letter from J. S. Henslow to J. D. Hooker, 10 May 1860.
The anonymous review of Origin in the North British Review was written by the editor, John Duns, a Scottish divine. See LL 2: 311 and Wellesley index 5: 236. CD had recently ordered a copy of the journal (letter to a Bookseller, 13 [May 1860]).
Gray published an article in the Atlantic Monthly 6 (1860): 406–25 entitled ‘Darwin and his reviewers’ (Gray 1860b). The article is reprinted in Gray 1876, pp. 72–145.
See the second enclosure. The reference is to [R. Owen] 1860a.
Saturday Review, 5 May 1860, pp. 573–4. See also letter to T. H. Huxley, 7 May [1860].
The first enclosure is a printed sales slip from the firm of D. Appleton & Co. sent to CD by Gray. CD wrote on the bottom of the slip ‘= £22.00—’, which was his share of the profit on sales after converting the sum given in dollars. See nn. 2 and 3, above.
The second enclosure is in the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (37a).


Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

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.

Pictet de la Rive, François Jules. 1860. Sur l’origine de l’espèce par Charles Darwin. Bibliothèque universelle. Revue suisse et étrangère n.s. 7: 233–55.

Wellesley index: The Wellesley index to Victorian periodicals 1824–1900. Edited by Walter E. Houghton et al. 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1966–89.


Opinions and reviews of Origin.

CD’s view on design in nature; although he does not believe in the necessity of design, he finds it hard to conclude that everything is the result of "brute force".

Comments on Owen’s review of Origin [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 (26 and 37a)
Physical description
ALS 3pp † encl 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2814,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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