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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   24 November 1862

Cambridge. [Massachusetts]

Nov. 24, 1862.

My Dear Darwin.

As another peculiar stamp is waiting for Leonard’s collection, and I have notes &c—to fill it, here goes for an early response to yours of the 6th inst.1

About Max Müller. Surely you can’t wonder that the attempt to account for the “first origin of language” or of anything else, should be the “least satisfactory”.2

The use that I fancied could be made of Max Muller’s book,—or rather of history of language—is something more than illustration, but only a little more,—i.e. you may point to analogies of development & diversification of language—of no value at all in evidence in support of your theory, but good & pertinent as rebutting objections, urged against it.3

Bishop Colenso’s book will make a noise in England, indeed. I have only read the notice in the Athenæum4

You detest the spirit of the Times quoad U.S.5 The Athenæum is just as bad in its little penny-trumpet way, every chance it can get from the very first. Can you be much surprised that we return dislike with interest. But we are pleased to find there sensible & fair writers,—such as Cairnes & Mill.6

No, dear Darwin, we don’t scorn your joining in the prayer that we daily offer that “God would help our poor country”, and I know and appreciate your honest & right feeling.

I see also, from the English papers I read how you must picture us as in the extreme of turmoil and confusion and chaos.— But if you were here, you would open your eyes to see everything going on quietly, hopefully, and comfortably as possible. I suppose we do not appreciate our miseries. We accept our misfortunes and adversities, but mean to retrieve them,—and would sink all that we have before giving up. We work hard, & persevere, and expect to come out all right,—to lay the foundations of a better future, no matter if they be laid in suffering. That will not hurt us now, and may bring great good hereafter.

I never saw, and have scarcely heard of Miss Cooper’s book you ask after.7 She is the daughter of late J. Fenimore Cooper, the novelist.8 The village she describes must be Cooperstown—in the county adjacent to that in which I was brought up,—a region, which every time I visit it, I say it is the the fairest of lands, and the people the happiest.9

Oh—as to the weeds,—Mrs. Gray says she allows that our weeds give up to yours. Ours are modest, woodland, retiring things, and no match for the intrusive, pretentious, self-asserting foreigners.10 But I send you seeds of one native weed which corrupted by bad company—is as nasty and troublesome as any I know, viz. Sycios angulatus,—also of a more genteel Cucurbitacea, Echinocystis lobata (the larger seeds). Upon these, especially upon the first, I made my observations of tendrils coiling to the touch.11 Put the seeds directly into the ground; they will come up in spring, in moist garden soil. My observations were made on a warm sunny day. I doubt if you have warmth and sunshine enough in England to get up a sensible movement.

My note about them is in Proceed. Amer. Acad. 4, p. 98, reprinted in Sill. Jour. March, 1859, p. 277.12 I must own, that upon casually taking them up since, I never have obtained such very good results, as upon 2 days of Aug. 1858.

Upon gourds affecting each others fruits, I have made no observations at all. I have only referred to that,—as a well-known thing—at least, of common repute here,—and then referred to maize, where the soft sweet-corn, when fertilized by hard yellow-corn, the grain so fertilized takes the character of the fertilizer. My note about it is in Acad. Proceed. vol. IV, I think.—13 You have the vols, (which I have not in reach now), & can find it by the Index. It does not amount to much. Nothing on Maize I know of except Bonafous’ folio volume.14 I am going to get & send you grains of 4 or 5 sorts of maize. About the involucrate form, I wrote in my last.15

Whenever I post to you a Boston Semi Weekly Advertizer, please to send it on to Dr. Boott.16

Ever, dear Darwin | Yours cordially | Asa Gray

CD annotations

1.1 As … day. 9.8] crossed pencil
10.1 My note … 1858. 10.3] scored brown crayon
11.4 the grain … I think.— 11.5] scored brown crayon
Top of letter: ‘Tendrils’ brown crayon


Letter to Asa Gray, 6 November [1862]. Since June 1862, Gray had regularly sent Leonard Darwin North American postage stamps for his collection.
See letter to Asa Gray, 6 November [1862] and n. 7. Gray refers to volume 1 of Colenso 1862–79, and to the review published in the Athenæum, 1 November 1862, pp. 553–4.
See letter to Asa Gray, 16 October [1862] and n. 15. Gray refers to the American Civil War.
The Irish political economist John Elliot Cairnes was the author of The slave power (Cairnes 1862), which made a great impression in both Britain and America, and has been described as ‘the most powerful defence of the cause of the Northern states ever written’ (DNB). John Stuart Mill wrote a number of articles in support of the Union cause in the American Civil War, a copy of one of which Gray had sent to CD earlier in 1862 (Mill 1862; see letter from Asa Gray, 6 March [1862] and n. 8).
Cooperstown is a town in New York State (Seltzer 1952); Asa Gray was brought up in the nearby villages of Sauquoit and Paris Furnace, New York State (Dupree 1959, pp. 4–5).
See letter to Asa Gray, 6 November [1862] and nn. 17 and 21. Echinocystis lobata is wild cucumber; Sicyos angulatus (‘Sycios’ is a misspelling) is oneseed bur cucumber.
CD’s annotated copy of the volume of the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in which A. Gray 1858b was published, is in the Darwin Library–CUL. A. Gray 1858b was reprinted in the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1859), commonly known as ‘Silliman’s journal’ after its founder, Benjamin Silliman.
Gray refers to his observations, given before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on 9 February 1858, which were reported in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1860): 21–2.
Gray refers to the postscript, now missing, to his letter of 10 November 1862 (see letter to Asa Gray, 26[–7] November [1862]).
Gray refers to the American botanist Francis Boott, who had been resident in London for many years (Dupree 1959).


Bonafous, Matthieu. 1836. Histoire naturelle, agricole et économique du maïs. Paris and Turin.

Cairnes, John Elliot. 1862. The slave power: its character, career, & probable designs; being an attempt to explain the real issues involved in the American contest. London: Parker, Son, & Bourn.

Colenso, John William. 1862–79. The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua critically examined. 5 vols. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green.

Cooper, Susan Fenimore. 1855. Journal of a naturalist in the United States. 2 vols. London: R. Bentley.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

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

Gray, Asa. 1859. On the coiling of tendrils. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 27: 277–8. [Vols. 10,11]

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.

Seltzer, Leon E., ed. 1952. The Columbia Lippincott gazetteer of the world. New York: Columbia University Press.


Gives reference to his observations on tendrils [Proc. Am. Acad. Arts & Sci. 4: 98–9].

Notes cases in which the pollen of the fertilising plant affects the form of the fruit of the fertilised plant, e.g., gourds and maize.

Discusses the Civil War and the attitudes of the English press.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 124
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3823,” accessed on 15 July 2024,

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