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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   18 February 1862

Cambridge, Mass.

18: Feb. 1862

Dear Darwin

Accept a hasty line at this present, when I am busy above measure.

Thanks for the Primula paper, which I have barely looked over.1 I do hope that you and the other 14 of your household are out of bed and done with influenza.2 As I have not given you up ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ notwithstanding your very shocking principles and prejudices against design in nature,3 so we shall try to abide your longitudinarian defection.4 I suppose it is longitude, and I am sorry to see that their is a wide and general desire in that meridian that we (U.S.) should fall to pieces. But the more you want we should, the more we w’ont, & the more important it appears to us that we should be a strong and unbroken power. God help us, if we shall not keep strong enough, at whatever cost now it may be, to resist the influence of a country which looks upon the continuation of our steady policy to protect and diversify our domestic industry, as a wrong and sin against them. No, no, we must have our own way. But the triumph of the Republicans was the political destruction of the very people who were always making trouble with England and, if you would only let us, and have some faith in the North, we should have been permanently on the best of terms.

What you complain of in ⁠⟨⁠th⁠⟩⁠e Boston dinner, was indeed ⁠⟨⁠l⁠⟩⁠amentable.5 Such men should not have talked bosh, even at a little private ovation. And we have reason to know some of them were heartily ashamed of it as soon as they saw it in print.. It was immediately spoken of here, by influential people (some of whom refused to attend the dinner), and in at least one paper, in a tone like your own. It was really as bad as the speeches of some members of Parliament, and worse because it was foolish.

The fact is, a set of cunning fellows on both sides of the water,—(but here utterly characterless) have contrived to make both English & Yankees believe that ⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ach was bent up⁠⟨⁠on⁠⟩⁠ quarrelling with the othe⁠⟨⁠r.⁠⟩⁠

Your thinking of me “as ⁠⟨⁠an⁠⟩⁠ Englishman”,6 would once ha⁠⟨⁠ve⁠⟩⁠ been a compliment, and is what from my well known feelings & expressions I have passed for among my friends here. Had the North gone on giving in to the South as for years past, I should have been one, at least in residence just as soon as I could have got out of the country. I thank God, it has been otherwise, and that I have a country to be proud of, and which I will gladly suffer for, if need be. With all its weakness & follies—and I know them well, I go ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ my country, and friendly to those ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ we ought to be on good terms wit⁠⟨⁠h.⁠⟩⁠ I am cured of some illusions ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠   We shall do very well, and ⁠⟨⁠the⁠⟩⁠ two countries will be on the best of terms when we are strong,— till then we must not expect it.

If it is the old question of struggle for life,—good feeling has not much to do with it:—the weak must go to the wall, because it cant help it. “Blessed are ⁠⟨⁠the⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠s⁠⟩⁠trong, for they shall ⁠⟨⁠inher⁠⟩⁠it the earth”.

⁠⟨⁠My⁠⟩⁠ wife, who is loath to strike ⁠⟨⁠you⁠⟩⁠ from her books,7 begs you ⁠⟨⁠to m⁠⟩⁠ake allowances for the people here, who were so very cocky at having caught two such ineffable scamps as Mason & Slidell—8whom we have reason to hate with perfect hatred, that they thought of nothing else, and did not mean to be saucy to England. But you have made us sore, there is no denying it. We did not allow enough for longitude.

Her former message did not refer to Boott,—tho‘ he is unfortunately influenced by longitude; but is a Yankee born,9—nor to Hooker, who, Gallio-fashion cares for none of these things,—thinks us ⁠⟨⁠un⁠⟩⁠wise for fighting, I presume.—10 ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ we perfectly agree to say nothing ⁠⟨⁠abou⁠⟩⁠t such matters. It is odd ⁠⟨⁠how⁠⟩⁠ you all fail to appreciate that ⁠⟨⁠it⁠⟩⁠ is simply a struggle for existence ⁠⟨⁠on o⁠⟩⁠ur part, and that men will persist in thinking their existence of some consequence to themselves—tho’ you prove the contrary ever so plain,—and will strike or grasp or kick, right & left, in an undignified way some times,—which the safe & sound bystander, cooly looking on, may not appreciate, not sharing his feelings. Telling him the world will get on quite as well without him; yet he some how does not quite like it.

Ever, Yours, | A. Gray.

CD annotations

Top of first page: ‘Pamphlet | Rhexia’11 ink


Gray refers to ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula. CD wrote of having fifty copies of his paper printed for private distribution in his letter to George Bentham, 24 November [1861] (Correspondence vol. 9); Gray’s name appears on the presentation list CD drew up for these pre-prints (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix III).
CD told Gray about the influenza that had swept through his household in the letter to Asa Gray, 22 January [1862].
For the disagreements between Gray and CD on design in nature, see their extensive correspondence on this topic in Correspondence vols. 8 and 9.
CD joked in his letter to Gray of 22 January [1862] that his difference of opinion with Gray about the Trent affair in the American Civil War was ‘all owing to that confounded Longitude’, a reference to Henry Thomas Buckle’s suggestion of a statistical relationship between a country’s climate and the progress of its civilisation (Buckle 1857–61, 1: 38 et seq.). Gray is also making a pun on the word ‘latitudinarian’, meaning broad-minded or liberal in religious belief. For CD and Gray’s earlier correspondence about the Trent affair, see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Asa Gray, 11 December [1861], and letter from Asa Gray, 31 December 1861.
The reference is to the banquet in Boston on 26 November 1861 given in honour of Charles Wilkes for his action in the Trent affair (see letter to Asa Gray, 22 January [1862] and n. 9).
Jane Loring Gray. In his letter to Asa Gray, 22 January [1862], CD wrote that his political opinions might mean that he would ‘never receive another kind message from Mrs. Gray.’
James Murray Mason and John Slidell were the two Confederate envoys removed from the British mail-packet, the Trent.
Gray probably refers to Jane Loring Gray’s message, relayed in the letter from Asa Gray, 31 December 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9), that CD was ‘the only Englishman’ whose letters did not ‘give her a shock to read’. Francis Boott, though a resident in England since early adulthood, had been born and brought up in Boston, Massachusetts. He told CD of his feelings about the American Civil War, and of his regret at the animosity between the United States and Great Britain, in his letter to CD of 27 January 1862.
The reference appears to be to the Roman administrator, Junius Annaeus Gallio, who refused to pass judgment on the apostle Paul (Acts 18: 12–17). For an indication of Joseph Dalton Hooker’s views on the American Civil War, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 January 1862].


Buckle, Henry Thomas. 1857–61. History of civilization in England. 2 vols. London: John W. Parker & Son.

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

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]


Discusses politics in the U. S. and relations between Britain and America.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 106
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3451,” accessed on 19 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10