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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   6 March [1862]

Cambridge. [Massachusetts]

March 6, 18⁠⟨⁠62⁠⟩⁠

My Dear Darwin

I have your note of Feb. 16, about Melastomaceæ 1   The test of a good theory is said to be its power of predicting. If your speculations lead you to predict style curved to one side in Melastomaceæ, and the prediction is verified,—that will be a great matter in your favor. Why you are coming out so strong in final causes that they should make a D.D. of you at Cambridge.2

I shall be pleased if I can help you about Rhexia. R. Virginica grows not far from here, and I will set to watching it next summer.3 But I fear ⁠⟨⁠I⁠⟩⁠ may not help you, as it is stated (in our Flora of N. America) to have “anthers uniform”. I see, however, the phrase: “style somewhat declined” in the character,—which must be looked to.4 The character was drawn wholly from dried specimens. I have good details from the fresh drawn by Mr. Sprague,5 but cannot just now lay hands on them

Freely point out any thing else you want looked at. I have now a very zealous pupil, who will be glad to be entrusted with looking up plants & observing,6

Ever Yours | Cordially | Asa Gray

There is some jolly science in the Saturday Review, now and then—as in Dec. 28, p. 665, where we are informed that icebergs “are formed by the splashing of the waves on the coast of Labrador”.7

Mill, being “the greatest logician in England”, I send you an American reprint of a specimen of his logic, which I know you will like.8

We are very sad here at the death of the President of our University, who had also many warm friends in England.9

CD annotations

End of first paragraph: ‘Holly-trees’10 added pencil


For the extensive correspondence between CD and Gray on questions of teleology, see Correspondence vols. 8 and 9.
Asa Gray provided CD with further information on Rhexia later in the year (see letter from Asa Gray, 4 August 1862).
Torrey and Gray 1838–43, 1: 476–7.
Isaac Sprague was a botanical illustrator who had worked for Gray since 1845 (Dupree 1959, p. 166).
Gray probably refers to his assistant and student, Joseph Trimble Rothrock, whose observations on Houstonia were sent to CD later in the year (see letters from Asa Gray, 15 July [1862] and 4 August 1862, DAB, and Dupree 1959, p. 326).
An article published in the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 28 December 1861, pp. 665–7, examined the conditions that British forces could expect to encounter during a Canadian winter; additional troops were dispatched to Canada in the tense period following the Trent affair in the American Civil War.
The enclosure has not been found, but the reference is probably to John Stuart Mill’s article entitled ‘The contest in America’, which discussed the recent tensions between Britain and the Federal states in America following the Trent affair (Mill 1862); the article, first published in Fraser’s Magazine, was subsequently reprinted in Boston (MacMinn et al. 1990, p. 94). Mill argued that English sympathies in the American Civil War should lie with the northern states since, whatever their initial motives had been, their purpose in the conflict was increasingly the abolition of slavery.
Cornelius Conway Felton, president of Harvard University, died on 26 February 1862 (DAB).


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

DAB: Dictionary of American biography. Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 20 vols., index, and 10 supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Simon & Schuster Macmillan. London: Oxford University Press; Humphrey Milford. 1928–95.

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


Will observe Rhexia for CD to see whether it is dimorphic.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
MR 21 62
Source of text
DAR 165: 107
Physical description
ALS 3pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3467,” accessed on 1 March 2024,

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