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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   16 October [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 16th

My dear Gray

I have not indulged myself for some little time in writing to you, though I have to thank you for two very pleasant notes, & for some pages of Silliman with several notices which I was glad to see.2 Lythrum salicaria is coming out so clear (though all seed not counted) that I do not care much for other species; but I shall be very glad of seed of Nesæa.3 My geese are always at first Swans; but I cannot help going on marvelling at Lythrum. It is a consolation to me for I am utterly routed, beaten, “whipped” by those odious Melastomatads; yet I feel sure there is something very curious to be made out about them.4

On getting your last note, I looked at Rothrock’s observations on Houstonia;5 they are capital on the structure; but when I began to think how I could put the case for Gard. Chron, I failed; for the observations are not sufficient about reciprocal fertilisation.6 It would be a pity to spoil a good case; by aid a few experiments, if your seed will grow, I could make a paper & give all his facts.7

Now that we are at home again, I have begun dull steady work on “Variation under Domestication”; but alas & alas pottering over plants is much better sport.—8

By the way at Bournemouth, for the want of something else to do, I worked a bit at my old friend Drosera: I took to testing all sorts of fluids, which are not corrosive & do not, I believe, act on ordinary organic compounds, but do act on the nervous system of animals; & I declare I am coming to the conclusion that plants or at least Drosera, must have something closely analogous to nervous matter.9 It was pretty to see effect of acetate of strychnine, how it stopped all movement; & how acetate of morphia greatly dulled & retarted movement. I think I shall some day pursue this subject.—10

Another little point has interested me, viz finding such a number of natural hybrids between two species of Verbascum; & linking V. thapsus & lychnitis closely together. They are all utterly sterile. This fact has given Hooker, to whom I told it, a fit of the horrors.—11

So we are all come to you next summer! Alas my days for moving anywhere are come to an end.12

Many thanks for sending the article in Daily News, which we read aloud in Family conclave.13 Our verdict was, that the N. was fully justified in going to war with the S.; but that as soon as it was plain that there was no majority in the S. for ReUnion, you ought, after your victories in Kentucky & Tennessee, to have made peace & agreed to a divorce. How curious it is that you all seem to believe that you can annex the South; whilst on this side of the Atlantic, it is the almost universal opinion that this is utterly impossible. If I could believe that your Presidents proclamation would have any effect, it would make a great alteration in my wishes;14 I would then run the risk of your seizing on Canada (I wish with all my heart it was an independent country) & declaring war against us. But slavery seems to me to grow a more hopeless curse. How detestably the special correspondent of the Times writes on the subject; the man has not a shade of feeling against slavery.15 This war of yours, however it may end, is a fearful evil to the whole world; & its evil effect will, I must think, be felt for years.— I can see already it has produced wide spread feeling in favour of aristocracy & Monarchism: no one in England will speak for years in favour of the people governing themselves.

Well good night.— Do not be indignant with me & do not let Mrs Gray be more indignant than she can help.—16 Good Night & farewell | Yours cordially | Ch. Darwin

N.B | Do you chance know anything of Mr Floy of N. York17 who sent in 1846 Hort. Soc. Journal vol I to Lindley ears of wild maize & says he cultivated it & saw Bracts decreasing.18 De Candolle doubts story.19 Is he trustworthy ie Mr Floy?)


The year is established by the relationship to the letter from Asa Gray, 22 September 1862.
Letters from Asa Gray, 5 September 1862 and 22 September 1862. ‘Silliman’s journal’ was the name commonly given to the American Journal of Science and Arts, founded by Benjamin Silliman. The pages referred to have not been found. Gray had already sent CD part of the July 1862 number of the journal (see letter to Asa Gray, 28 July [1862]); the subsequent number (September 1862) contained several notes by Gray in the section headed ‘Scientific intelligence. III. Botany and zoology’. CD may refer particularly to a synoptical review of the latest numbers of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) (A. Gray 1862f), in which Gray briefly noticed CD’s paper, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula.
CD refers to his crossing experiments carried out on Lythrum salicaria in the summer of 1862, the notes from which are in DAR 27.2. In his letter of 9 August [1862], CD had asked Gray to make observations on, and, if possible, to send seed of American species of Lythrum and the related plant Nesaea verticillata (a synonym of Decodon verticillatus, swamp loosestrife). See also letters from Asa Gray, 5 September 1862 and 22 September 1862.
Gray’s pupil, Joseph Trimble Rothrock, had carried out crossing experiments on CD’s behalf on the dimorphic plant, Houstonia caerulea, the results from which Gray sent to CD in his letter of 4 August 1862.
In his letter to CD of 22 September 1862, Gray suggested that CD draw up an account of Houstonia for the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette.
Gray had sent CD seed of Houstonia (see letter to Asa Gray, [3–]4 September [1862] and n. 10). CD included Rothrock’s observations and experimental results in Forms of flowers, pp. 132, 254.
The Darwins returned from their holiday in Bournemouth on 30 September 1862; CD began work on the section of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’ on 7 October 1862 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).
CD had begun his investigations with the insectivorous plant Drosera rotundifolia while ‘idling and resting’ at the Sussex home of his sister-in-law, Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood, in July 1860 (Autobiography, p. 132, and Correspondence vol. 8). For an account of the trials made on Drosera in Bournemouth in 1862, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 September [1862]. There are notes in DAR 54: 29–49 detailing CD’s experiments with this species between 14 and 26 September 1862.
CD did not again work extensively on the subject of insectivorous plants until 1872 (LL 3: 322); his findings were published in 1875 as Insectivorous plants.
Gray had sent a copy of D[icey] 1862, which discussed the American Civil War, with his letter to CD of 22 September 1862.
On 22 September 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation, announcing that from 1 January 1863, all slaves in the states still in rebellion would be freed (McPherson 1988, p. 557).
Charles Mackay became the North American correspondent for The Times in 1862 (Brogan ed. 1975, p. xvi).
Like Asa Gray, Jane Loring Gray was a fervent supporter of the Republican Party and the war effort (Dupree 1959, pp. 307–8 and 329). See also letter to Asa Gray, 22 January [1862] and n. 8.


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Candolle, Alphonse de. 1855. Géographie botanique raisonnée ou exposition des faits principaux et des lois concernant la distribution géographique des plantes de l’époque actuelle. 2 vols. Paris: Victor Mason. Geneva: J. Kessmann.

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.

‘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.]

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

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

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

[Lindley, John.] 1846a. A note upon the wild state of maize, or Indian corn. Journal of the Horticultural Society of London 1: 114–17.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

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

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Lythrum salicaria is coming out clear.

Would be glad of Nesaea seed.

Is disappointed with Melastoma, but is sure there is something curious to be made out.

His experiments with poisons on Drosera lead him to conclude that it possesses something analogous to nervous matter.

Comments on natural hybrids of Verbascum.

Deplores the Civil War and the feelings it has fostered in Britain.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (81)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3766,” accessed on 28 May 2024,

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