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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   18 May 1862

Cambridge. U.S.

May, 18. 62

My Dear Darwin,

Yesterday came by post the sheets—B–I of your Orchid book.1

This evening (Sunday) I have opened the parcel and read Introduction and Chapt. I. What a charming book it is.! You are right in issuing it in this form. It would be a sin not to do so.2

I fear, tho’, that no publisher would reprint it here.; though I may, on reading farther conclude to offer it to the Appleton’s—who should have the refusal.3 But it will surely be popular in England, where Orchids are popular and the species known to most intelligent and educated people.

—I hope soon to get the other sheets. I am perfectly delighted with O. pyramidalis, and must extract the whole account of its fertilization for Sill. Jour.4

But now for a request, Sill. Jour. does not really pay its cost, and so cant well pay for making wood cuts. Would it be too much bother to order for me (at my expense) electrotype or stereotype casts of the illustrations of O. pyramidalis—and perhaps of O. mascula also.5

Indeed, if I get your little book reprinted here—and I am not sure that I ought not—it would save much of the cost and risk to have casts from all your cuts. Those of O. pyramidalis, &c could be sent thro. Trübner,6 ⁠⟨⁠no⁠⟩⁠t mounted or backed.

Indeed, if the electrotyped copper casts alone were sent, in a proper box by post, they would hardly exceed a single 1/ postage. And I could have them backed & mounted here.

Our only Orchis—i.e. O. spectabilis I brought last summer from W. New York, & planted. I shall in a week have 3 or 4 spikes coming into flower, and I will cover one and leave the others exposed. They are in a wooded part of the garden, like their natural habitat. The rest of our Ophrydeæ are Habenarias, (Platanthera)

⁠⟨⁠I⁠⟩⁠ must recur to your letter about Cypripedium and see what you wanted of ⁠⟨⁠it⁠⟩⁠ i.e. what observation.7

If there be any adaptation—be it ever so pretty—I shall never see it without your direction. What a skill & genius you have for these researches. Even for the structure of the flower of Ophyrideæ I have to-night learned more than I ever knew before.

I think I have somewhere an older letter of yours unanswered, but at this moment I find only yours of April 21.8 I have sent to Trubner for you a package of my pamphlet from Atlantic, for you to give away— Can send as many more as you like, for I find—owing to my own folly in giving it to Ticknor & Field, & not looking after ⁠⟨⁠it⁠⟩⁠—that it has not sold at all here.9 ⁠⟨⁠In⁠⟩⁠deed, I had no care that it should. ⁠⟨⁠Th⁠⟩⁠e £8 is strictly yours: do not think of returning a penny of it.10

Hollies are 20 miles off, but I can send for them. Rhexias I hope to get young live plants of, soon.11

I shall be continuously overworked now till 10th July,

Ever yours | A. Gray.


Asa Gray had asked CD to send him the printed sheets of Orchids as they appeared so he could write an early review (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from Asa Gray, 31 December 1861). See also letter to Asa Gray, 21 April [1862]. Gray’s name also appears on CD’s presentation list for Orchids (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix IV).
CD initially considered publishing his study of orchid pollination as a paper in one of the journals of the Linnean Society of London (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to John Murray, 21 September [1861]).
The New York publishing house D. Appleton & Co., established by Daniel Appleton and continued by his son William Henry Appleton, had published the first American edition of Origin (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Asa Gray, 21 December [1859], and Correspondence vol. 8, letter from Asa Gray, [10 January 1860]).
The American Journal of Science and Arts was commonly known as ‘Silliman’s journal’ after its founder Benjamin Silliman. Gray’s review of Orchids appeared in the July issue of the journal; the review included extracts from Orchids on Orchis pyramidalis, a species not found in the United States (A. Gray 1862a, pp. 140–2).
Gray refers to Orchids, figures 3 and 1, facing pages 22 and 18, respectively. He used the illustrations in a follow-up article to his review published in the November issue of Silliman’s journal (A. Gray 1862b, pp. 421, 423). See also letter to John Murray, 13 June [1862] and n. 6.
Orchis spectabilis is a synonym of Galearis spectabilis, the showy orchid. The London publisher Nicholas Trübner frequently acted as Gray’s London agent.
Gray probably refers to CD’s letter of 15 March [1862]; although Gray notes its receipt in his letter to CD of 31 March [1862], CD had asked Gray to carry out some observations on Rhexia and let him know the results, and Gray had yet to do so.
CD and Gray shared the cost of reprinting and publishing as a pamphlet Gray’s reviews of Origin that had appeared in the Atlantic Monthly (A. Gray 1861). CD had already given away more than 100 copies of the pamphlet (see Correspondence vol. 9); in his letter to Gray of 21 April [1862], he asked for further copies to give away. Gray refers to the Boston publishing company conducted by William Davis Ticknor and James Thomas Fields.


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

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.


Has received first sheets of Orchids and is very impressed. "What a skill & genius you have for these researches."

Details of U. S. orchids.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 109
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3559,” accessed on 22 July 2024,

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