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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   22 September 1862

Cambridge. [Massachusetts]

Sept. 22, 1862.

My Dear Darwin.

Your pleasant epistles of Aug. 21 & Sept. 4. are to be acknowledged, with thanks.1 But I have nothing in particular to communicate, except our hearty congratulations that your boy and Mrs. Darwin are recovering so well.2

Tell Leonard that I was pleased both with his attention in writing, and with the occular proof of his convalescence in his being able so soon to use a pen.3

His requests shall be kept in view,—the 5cts stamp I send now,—dare say I shall some time pick up the 30 and 90, though I never saw the latter, nor the 12, 20 & 24 on envelopes. (the 24ct per se he must have already, as it is often used on my envelopes to you.

Bravo for Horace, whose illustration of Natural Selection as to the adders is capital.4 A chip of the old block, he evidently is.

I told you that Rothrock had gone to the war, and perhaps has already been under—probably not.5 I had intended that next spring he should do up Houstonia more perfectly, and work up this and some related matters for his thesis when he comes up for examination. But all this is broken up by his enlistment.6

I may take occasion just to allude briefly to the case in next Silliman apropos to something.7 But if you think it of the least use, dress up a note of the facts and send it to Gard. Chronicle. I should be pleased if you would.8

I have been lazy about all my writing,—working all day at dry & dull systematic Botany, which you anathematise.9 But if I get time to turn it over I will say a few words on the last chapter of your Orchid book.10 But it opens up a knotty sort of question about accident or design, which one does not care to meddle with much until one can feel his way further than I can.11

You make too much far of my casual obs. on Orchids last summer.12 Most of them should be worked over anew before I should put much confidence in them. But I am convinced there is something mighty queer about Gymnadenia tridentata.13

Just you come over here next summer—bringing all your sickly ones to this drier climate—and work up these Orchids, &c.—

Here are good quarters for you and I will have the orchids poured in upon you from all the country round.

The change of position in Spiranthes cernua is striking enough. Once seen it can never be overlooked. I cannot however, tell whether it is the labellum or the column that moves, but I suppose the latter, resting much on Goodyera, where I had no doubt.14

Well, it is very pretty, the triple forms of Lythrum Salicaria.15 Being in the Garden I will look to it next year.

I doubt if I get seeds of any N. Amer. sp. But Nesæa verticillata I expect to supply seeds—not yet ripe. Ten to one you will find triple state in it.—16

I have not seen it growing since your letters came.

So, to spite the book, the honey-bees will suck clover!17

The extract from McMillan’s Mag, which I send you in an English newspaper, herewith, is a just and fair account—will let you know how we feel & think as to the civil war.18

We find it a far tougher job than we supposed. But we have no more notion of giving it up than—the English nation would have, under a similar case. For my part, I would fight till 45 of our property and half our men were destroyed before I would give up!—and I think that is the general opinion. Cambridge volunteered to fill up her quota under both calls long ago, and a number over.19

Ever, dear Darwin— | Yours | A. Gray

CD annotations

9.1 Just … round 10.2] crossed ink
12.1 Well, … year. 12.2] crossed ink
13.1 I doubt … over. 17.5] crossed ink
Top of first page: ‘Seeds— | Pollen’ pencil


In his letter to Gray of [3–]4 September [1862], CD reported that Emma and Leonard Darwin were recovering from attacks of scarlet fever.
In the summer of 1862, Gray sent a number of North American postage stamps for Leonard’s collection; Gray suggested that Leonard write to let him know what stamps he still required. Leonard’s letter has not been found, but was apparently enclosed with CD’s letter to Gray of [3–]4 September [1862] (see letter to Asa Gray, [3–]4 September [1862] and n. 4).
Joseph Trimble Rothrock was Gray’s assistant and student at the Lawrence Scientific School, Harvard University; he enlisted in the 131st Pennsylvania Infantry on 1 July 1862 (DAB). Gray told CD this news in his letter of 5 September 1862.
In the summer of 1862, Rothrock carried out experiments and observations on CD’s behalf with the dimorphic plant Houstonia caerulea (see letter from Asa Gray, 4 August 1862). Rothrock was eventually wounded at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and honourably discharged from the Union army in June 1864; he took his degree from Harvard University in July 1864 (DAB).
Gray mentioned that Houstonia was dimorphic in a brief notice on the subject of dimorphism that appeared in the November 1862 number of the American Journal of Science and Arts, commonly referred to as ‘Silliman’s journal’, after its founder Benjamin Silliman (A. Gray 1862e, p. 419).
CD regularly published brief notices in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette; however, he did not publish an account of Rothrock’s experiments with Houstonia caerulea until 1877 (Forms of flowers, pp. 132 and 254).
See, for example, the letter to Asa Gray, 21 August [1862] and n. 10.
Gray’s review of Orchids (A. Gray 1862a) was published in the American Journal of Science and Arts in July; his follow-up article (A. Gray 1862b) appeared in the November issue.
CD had asked Gray for his opinion of the last chapter of Orchids, noting: ‘It bears on design’ (see letters to Asa Gray, 23[–4] July [1862] and n. 21, and 21 August [1862] and n. 15). In the follow-up article to his review of Orchids (A. Gray 1862b, pp. 428–9), Gray praised CD for having ‘brought back teleological considerations into botany’, and concluded: we faithfully believe that both natural science and natural theology will richly gain, and equally gain, whether we view each varied form as original, or whether we come to conclude, with Mr. Darwin, that they are derived:— the grand and most important inference of design in nature being drawn from the same data, subject to similar difficulties, and enforced by nearly the same considerations, in the one case as in the other. For CD’s extended correspondence with Gray on the question of design in nature, see Correspondence vols. 8 and 9.
Gray had made a number of observations on American species of orchids in the summer of 1862, sending several sets of notes to CD, who encouraged Gray to publish them. In his letter to Gray of [3–]4 September [1862], CD expressed pleasure at Gray’s intention to include some of his observations in the follow-up article to his review of Orchids (A. Gray 1862b).
See letter to Asa Gray, [3–]4 September [1862] and n. 7. In A. Gray 1862b, p. 426, Gray described in this species an instance of self-pollination that was ‘apparently so remarkable that we hesitate to bring forward our too scanty observations until another summer affords an opportunity to test them’. Gray noted that the pollen-masses could not independently ‘fall upon or reach the stigma beneath’, and argued that they must therefore be conveyed on an insect’s proboscis. However, he also noted that the pollen-masses were frequently found lying on the three narrow processes of the rostellum, which, since the pollen freely sent down pollen-tubes into them, appeared to ‘act as stigmas’. Gray confirmed this view after re-examining the species the following summer (A. Gray 1863a, p. 293). CD cited the case in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 147 (Collected papers 2: 144). Gymnadenia tridentata is a synonym of Platanthera clavellata, the small green wood orchid.
See letter from Asa Gray, 5 September 1862 and n. 11. Spiranthes cernua is common ladies’ tresses.
See letter to Asa Gray, 9 August [1862], and letter from Asa Gray, 5 September 1862. Nesaea verticillata (a synonym of Decodon verticillatus) is swamp loosestrife.
D[icey] 1862; the reference is to the American Civil War.
Two proclamations calling for volunteers had been made by the Union, the first in April 1861 and the second in July 1862 (McPherson 1988, pp. 274 and 491).


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

D[icey], E[dward]. 1862. The outlook of the war. Daily News, 4 September 1862, p. 3. Abridged and reprinted from Macmillan’s Magazine 6 (1862): 408–20.

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.

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

McPherson, James M. 1988. Battle cry of freedom: the Civil War era. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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.


Last chapter of Orchids opens up a "knotty sort of question about accident or design".

Changes in orchid flowers as they age.

Thinks CD may find trimorphism in Nesaea verticillata.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 118, 119
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3736,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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