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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   17 February [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

Feb 17th.—

My dear Gray

I received your note of Feb 5th this morning.2 I am most sincerely sorry to hear of your accident to your thumb, which I cannot but fear will be a very serious loss.3 I will send your note soon to Hooker that he may hear about it.— I am glad to hear of the 250 copies now I presume at Trübners;4 I wrote to him today about a few advertisements &c &c & to send me copies for distribution. I hope for my sake, as well as yours, that Murray & Lyell will not prove entirely true, that it is impossible to circulate a pamphlet in England.—5

I fear that the state of the U. States must stop all interest in everything not political.—6 I will in few days enquire at my Bankers how I can repay you the £7. s10: I truly wish you would let me pay the whole £15. Will you not?7 I have asked Trübner to forward C. Wright’s article to proper quarter.8 The Printers have been very slow with my new Edit. of Origin so that I have been able to insert notice of your Pamphlet with title in full, which I am especially glad of.—9 The other day a very clever Lady was staying here & read your Reviews; & remarked “how extraordinary if such a writer has written only on science”   I need not say that she was not a scientific Lady.—10

With respect to Pumilio, you are quite right11   I knew nothing whatever on subject, but I looked at the seeds to amuse myself, & asked Hooker who told me a little about Sencio & he thought Lindley would like an account for G. Chronicle.12 It was foolish of Lindley to put it so conspicuous: in my note to him I said that he might like to use it sometime just to fill up space.— It strikes me, however, as pretty case of adaptation for the ignorant, like myself.—

When I last wrote, after receiving your letter of Dec. 15th, I was in much distress about my daughter: the attack though very severe lasted only 4 days & she has now got up to state as before.—13

I have just reread your letter, which like all yours, interests me. You ask about Drosera: if you like to try anything, put the minutest atom (under a lens) on point of fine needle on any one single extreme marginal gland of a leaf, which has all the hairs equally expanded & watch it or look again in 10 minutes.— Or put fragment of Hair of your head & look in a hour’s time. I intend trying many more experiments this summer & then publishing: I am doubtful on many points.14 But the worst is that my health is failing much. I literally cannot listen to a novel for 12 hour without fatigue. My good dear wife declares, I must go with our whole family (if my girl can be moved) for two months to Water Cure; & I fear I must, but it will be ruin to all my experiments.— I remember formerly having read your extremely curious observations on Tendrils, but I thank you for telling me of them.—15

With respect to Design &c you say that you suppose that I have “not brought forward my real objections against your views.—” I have no real objection, nor any real foundation, nor any clear view.— As I before said I flounder hopelessly in the mud.—

You have amused me much by your account of Agassiz’s denying the community of descent of allied languages, & of Bowen denying heredity.16 I cannot believe that Bowen is a strong man. What an odd & foolish fancy he must think it that all breeders of Race-Horses, Cattle & pigs &c should keep pedigrees, & would certainly prefer breeding from a poor animal of a good pedigree than from the finest of bad pedigree.— These men in fact work on my (I wish I dared say our) side.

Farewell. Do not forget to have look at rostellum of your Spiranthes.—17

Farewell.— I most truly hope that your Thumb will not cause you much inconvenience.

Most cordially & gratefully yours | Charles Darwin

If you want a book for light reading, the 1st. vol of Leslie’s Life (the American Painter) is very nice.—18


Dated by the reference to plans for the distribution of A. Gray 1861a (see n. 7, below).
Gray’s letter has not been located.
Gray lost part of his left thumb in a gardening accident (Dupree 1959, pp. 307–8).
CD refers to their arrangement to reprint as a pamphlet Asa Gray’s three articles on Origin from the Atlantic Monthly ([A. Gray] 1860a). Gray had arranged for the Boston publishers Ticknor and Fields to print the pamphlet and send the copies to the English publisher Nicholas Trübner for distribution. See letter to Asa Gray, 23 [January 1861].
The Times was carrying lengthy accounts of the worsening political situation in the United States. Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate who had been elected president on a platform of excluding slavery in the territories, had not yet been sworn in. Following the lead of South Carolina, six other states had seceded from the Union and withdrawn their representatives from Congress. Northern states were building up their militia and preparing for an expected attack on one of their Southern forts.
There is an entry in CD’s Account book (Down House MS) on 25 February 1861 for £7 10s. under the heading: ‘Asa Gray for Pamphlet’. CD and Gray had agreed to share the expense of publishing A. Gray 1861a (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 11 December [1860]).
The advertisement for the pamphlet was inserted as a ‘Postscript’ at the end of the list of additions and corrections in the third edition of Origin, p. xii. The new edition was published in April 1861. See Freeman 1977, pp. 78–9, and Peckham ed. 1959, p. 57.
The ‘very clever Lady’ may have been ‘Miss Latter’ (probably Mary Sarah Latter), whose visit to the Darwins from 2 to 4 February 1861 was recorded in Emma Darwin’s diary. Payments to Miss Latter entered into CD’s Account book (Down House MS) suggest that she had served as a governess for the Darwin children from April 1859 until February 1860, when Camilla Ludwig assumed the position.
See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 5 January 1861].
John Lindley was editor of the Gardeners’ Chronicle. See Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 December [1860], and letter from J. D. Hooker, 28 December 1860. The genus Senecio includes ragworts and groundsel.
In the event, CD did not publish the results of his study of Drosera until 1875 (Insectivorous plants).
The reference is to A. Gray 1858.
See Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 31 October [1860], in which CD asked Gray to examine the American species Spiranthes autumnalis. See also letter to Asa Gray, 17 September [1861].
The reference is to the edited volume of autobiographical recollections of Charles Robert Leslie (Taylor ed. 1860).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

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.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

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.


Distribution of AG’s pamphlet.

Insectivorous plants.

Informs AG of his [CD’s] notice on Pumilio in Gardeners’ Chronicle [5 Jan 1861; Collected papers 2: 36–8].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (54)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3064,” accessed on 20 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9