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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   19 January [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan 19th.

My dear Gray

When I look over your letter of Dec 29th,2 & see all the things you tell me & all the trouble which I have caused you, overworked as you are, upon my life I am ashamed of myself.— I will be less unreasonable for the future; but with lots of gold close beneath the surface it is hard not to dig for it. I was glad to hear of Platanthera & the Butterfly, & hearty thanks for the Indian corn; what little grains! I knew nothing about “glucose partly replacing starch”.3 I have several odds & ends to say: Bates has forwarded copy of his paper to you for Haldeman.4 I have reviewed for next Nat. Hist Review, & five pages will therein, if you care, give the cream of his case.—5 Do not trouble yourself to weigh, as I asked, fruit of your wild Strawberry; what you say suffices for my purpose.—6 I was muddled about 1st part of your Review of Orchids7 —it is not worth explaining how I came to be so; but my memory returned the day after my letter went; I confounded one Review with another.—8

You ask about “Dichogamy”, term & facts are given by C. K. Sprengel in his Entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur,9—a curious old book full of truth with some little nonsense.— I have been thinking how interesting it would be to experiment on the 3 kinds of flowers of Linum Lewisii, but I fear it would be impossible to get seed.—10 I have been at those confounded Melastomas again; throwing good money (ie time) after bad.11 Do you remember telling me you could see no nectar in your Rhexia;12 well I can find none in Monochætum, & Bates tells me that the flowers are in the most marked manner neglected by Bees & Lepidoptera in Amazonia.13 Now the curious projection or horns to the stamens of Monochætum are full of fluid, & the suspicion occurs to me that Diptera or small hymenoptera may puncture these horns like they puncture (proved since my orchid book was published) the dry nectaries of true Orchis.—14 I forget whether Rhexia is common; but I very much wish you would next summer watch on a warm day a group of flowers & see whether they are visited by small insects & what they do.— I shd. die a happier man, if I could understand these Melastomas. Oh dear, I wish poor wounded Mr Rothwick would not care for such trifles as the welfare of his country, & would stick to flowers!15

Well, your President has issued his fiat against Slavery—16 God grant it may have some effect.— I fear it is true that very many English do not now really care about Slavery; I heard some old sensible people saying here the same thing; & they accounted for it (& such a contrast it is to what I remember in my Boy-hood) by the present generation never having seen or heard much about Slavery.—17 I sometimes cannot help taking most gloomy view about your future. I look to your money depreciating so much that there will be mutiny with your soldiers & quarrels between the different states which are to pay.18 In short anarchy & then the South & Slavery will be triumphant. But I hope my dismal prophecies will be as utterly wrong as most of my other prophecies have been. But everyone’s prophecies have been wrong; those of your Government as wrong as any.— It is a cruel evil to the whole world; I hope that you may prove right & good come out of it.— Do not trouble or tire yourself to write to me,—though I never receive a letter from you without real pleasure & kind instruction.—

Farewell | Yours most sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship of this letter to the letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10).
Letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10).
See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862, and letter to Asa Gray, 6 November 1862. Gray’s reference to glucose and starch has not been found, but see the letter to John Scott, 16 February [1863].
Gray was one of the editors of the American Journal of Science and Arts, and had offered to ask Samuel Steman Haldeman to review Bates 1861 for the journal (see letter to H. W. Bates, 12 January [1863] and n. 2, and letter from H. W. Bates, 17 January [1863]).
‘Review of Bates on mimetic butterflies’ was published in the April 1863 number of the Natural History Review.
See letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and n. 17. In the section on strawberries in Variation 1: 351–4, CD stated that he was informed by Gray that the fruit of F. virginiana was ‘only a little larger’ than that of the common wood strawberry, F. vesca (Variation 1: 351 n. 100).
A. Gray 1862b.
A. Gray 1862a and 1862b. See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 10 November 1862, and letter to Asa Gray, 26[–7] November [1862].
Sprengel 1793. CD refers to the letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10).
CD completed his paper, ‘Two forms in species of Linum’, in December 1862. The paper was to be read before the Linnean Society on 5 February 1863 (see letter from George Bentham, 16 January 1863). Citing Planchon 1847–8, CD described L. lewisii as bearing, on the same plant, some flowers with anthers and stigmas of the same height, and others with styles either longer or shorter than the stamens; this he called ‘a unique case’ (p. 82; Collected papers 2: 104–5). CD does not appear to have conducted the trials to which he refers; instead, John Scott, who was head of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, offered to conduct experiments on the species on CD’s behalf (see letter from John Scott, [3 June 1863], and letter to John Scott, 6 June [1863]). See also letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and nn. 9 and 10.
CD was interested in what he considered might be a novel form of flower dimorphism in Melastomataceae (see letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863] and n. 22).
See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 4 August 1862 and n. 3.
Treviranus 1863a. CD’s heavily annotated copy of Treviranus 1863a is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Joseph Trimble Rothrock, a student and assistant of Gray’s, had made some observations for CD in the past, but in July 1862 he enlisted in the 131st Pennsylvania Infantry (DAB; see Correspondence vol. 10, letters from Asa Gray, 5 September 1862 and 22 September 1862).
In September 1862, Abraham Lincoln announced his emancipation proclamation, in which he decreed that from 1 January 1863, all slaves in territories still in rebellion would be free (Denney 1992, pp. 248, 251).
Many people in Britain were hostile to the Union for economic reasons; trade with the Confederate States had been prosperous prior to the outbreak of war (see McPherson 1988, pp. 548–53).
In addition to issuing bonds and raising taxes to fund the war effort, the gold standard was abandoned by the United States government in 1861, and, in February 1862, the Legal Tender Act was passed. By the end of the war, the Union authorities had sanctioned the issue of a total of $3.2 billion in legal tender notes, or ‘greenbacks’, to pay for military spending. As soon as they were printed, the value of greenbacks depreciated; by the end of the war a greenback dollar was worth only 35 cents in gold (Poulson 1981, pp. 352–7, and McPherson 1988, pp. 442–50).


Comments on his own review of Bates’s butterfly paper [Collected papers 2: 87–92].

Thanks AG for information on Platanthera.

Has been wasting more time with Melastomataceae; can find no nectar in Monochaetum; is there any in Rhexia?

Hopes Lincoln’s "fiat against Slavery" will have some effect.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (57)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3927,” accessed on 25 August 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11