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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   23 November [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 23d

My dear Gray

I have been rather slack in obeying my boy Leonard’s instructions to thank you most sincerely for a number of stamps with which your envelope of Oct. 27th was plaistered (the enclosures were duly posted) & for a precious Canada stamp previously sent.—2 He believes he is by far the richest boy in the whole school in N. American stamps, & expects to get wonderful treasures by trading with some sent by you in duplicate.—3 The Nesæa seeds came all safe, & are as great a treasure to me as the stamps to Leonard, & stronger I cannot put it.4 I see you say you have sent 2d notice on Orchid Book to Silliman;5 I have not received the first, which I shd. think must be out, & which I shd. very much like to possess.—6 By the way in the last Edinburgh Rw. there is an article by Duke of Argyll on “Supernaturalism” in which Orchids are brought in:7 it is clever; but I do not see that it really removes any of the difficulties of Theology.—

In the last Macmillan there is a little Review on Max Muller,—on the origin of language; (by my Brother-in-law, H. Wedgwood & his daughter) which I think is worth looking at.8 This letter is a sort of Literary Intelligencer; for I am going to tell you that Bates’ paper on Butterflies of Amazonia, in last part of Linn. Transactions. is well worth some labour in studying, though out of your special line.—9 The mimetic cases are really wonderful, & no one has brought so clearly before my mind the process of segregation of varieties into species. But I doubt whether you will have time to go into paper carefully enough to appreciate it. Lyell’s book, which I am very curious to see is not yet out; but Murray sold 4000! copies the other day at his auction.—10

I have nearly finished a long chapter on the simple facts of the variation of a few of our cultivated plants,11 & I shd. be very much obliged for an answer to one question. Is the fruit of the wild Fragaria Virginiana much larger, (twice or thrice?) than that of F. vesca?12 and secondly do you know anything of the F. grandiflorus, said to have come from Surinam, & often called the Carolina strawberry. How far south does F. virginiana range?

Do you remember about my Boy, Horace, on the natural selection of coward adders?13 I must tell you that the other day he overheard me talking about species; & afterwards he came to me, with his eyes open with astonishment & asked “Did people formerly really believe that animals & plants never changed? I answered oh yes. “Well then what did they say about the kinds of cabbages & peas in the Garden?” I answered that these were all due to man’s agency. “But do not wild plants vary”. I answered that they varied within certain fixed but unknown limits. To this he shrugged his shoulders with pity for the poor people who formerly believed in such conclusions.— I believe Horace is a prophetic type, as Agassiz would say, of future naturalists.—14

I see in Times today the great news of Macclellan’ds dismissal from your army—.— Good God what will be the end of all?—15

Ever my dear Gray | Yours most truly

C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship to the letter from Asa Gray, 27 October 1862. From Gray’s reply, it appears that this letter and the letter to Gray of 26[–7] November [1862] were posted in the same envelope (see letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862).
See letter from Asa Gray, 27 October 1862 and n. 1. Since June 1862, Gray had regularly sent Leonard Darwin North American postage stamps for his collection.
Leonard Darwin had begun to attend Clapham Grammar School, in south London, in January 1862; however, he became ill with scarlet fever in June 1862, and apparently did not return to the school until January 1863 (see letter to W. E. Darwin, 26 April [1862], n. 2).
CD refers to Gray’s follow-up article to his review of Orchids (A. Gray 1862b), which was published in the American Journal of Science and Arts in November 1862; the journal was commonly known as ‘Silliman’s journal’ after its founder, Benjamin Silliman. Gray had expressed a hope in his letter of 27 October 1862 that he would be able to send proof-sheets of the review ‘soon’; he sent them with his letter to CD of 10 November 1862.
CD made this statement under a misapprehension: he later told Gray that he had ‘confounded one Review with another—’ (Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Asa Gray, 19 January [1863]). Gray had sent CD a copy of A. Gray 1862a with his letter of 15 July [1862]; although the review is listed in the List of reviews (DAR 261~(DH/MS* 8: 6–18)) that served as CD’s index to his collection of reviews of his own books, it is absent from the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
[G. D. Campbell] 1862; there is an annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection– CUL. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [November 1862], n. 9.
Hensleigh and Frances Julia Wedgwood’s review of Max Müller 1861 ([H. Wedgwood and F. J. Wedgwood] 1862) appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine for November 1862. The attribution to F. J. Wedgwood is based on the reference in the letter from Emma Darwin to William Erasmus Darwin of [13 November 1862] (DAR 219.1: 69). In addition, the Wellesley index reports that a cheque was paid to F. J. Wedgwood for a contribution to this number of the magazine.
CD refers to Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a), which was not published until 6 February 1863 (C. Lyell 1863b, p. [vii]). John Murray’s annual trade sale was held on 4 November 1862 (Athenæum, 8 November 1862, p. 595).
According to his ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), CD prepared a draft of the part of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’ between 7 October and 11 December 1862. The material formed chapters 9 and 10 of the published work (Variation 1: 305–72).
Gray’s reply to these questions was apparently included in the missing portion of the letter from Gray of 29 December 1862; however, in the section on strawberries in Variation 1: 351–4, CD stated that he was informed by Gray that the fruit of Fragaria virginiana ‘is only a little larger’ than that of the common wood strawberry, F. vesca (Variation 1: 351 n.).
CD refers to Louis Agassiz’s concept of a ‘prophetic type’, the first-appearing representative of a group that reached its full development at a later period (Agassiz 1857–62 1: 116–18; CD’s annotated copy of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL).
The leader in The Times of 22 November 1862 (pp. 8–9) reported that on 7 November 1862, George Brindle McClellan had been removed from command of the Union’s army of the Potomac (see also McPherson 1988, pp. 562 and 570).


Agassiz, Louis. 1857–62. Contributions to the natural history of the United States of America. 4 vols. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown & Company. London: Trübner.

Bates, Henry Walter. 1862. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Coleoptera: Longicornes. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 9: 117–24, 396–405, 446–58.

[Campbell, George Douglas.] 1862. [Review of Orchids and other works.] Edinburgh Review 116: 378–97.

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

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

Max Müller, Friedrich. 1861. Lectures on the science of language delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in April, May, and June, 1861. London: Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts.

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.

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

Wellesley index: The Wellesley index to Victorian periodicals 1824–1900. Edited by Walter E. Houghton et al. 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1966–89.


Recommends H. W. Bates’s paper on butterflies of Amazonia ["Insect fauna of the Amazon valley", Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 23 (1862): 495–566].

Lyell’s book [Antiquity of man (1863)] is eagerly awaited.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (49)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3820,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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