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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   27 January 1863

Cambridge [Massachusetts]

Jany. 27, 1863

My Dear Darwin.

I have been far too busy to write letters—have been interrupted too by visitors, etc—

Your last is of Jany. 2d 1

I am glad the plants reached you safely.2

Linum Lewisii, I suppose to be only L. perenne. Why do you think not?3

I do not recal any bud-variations.4

You “wish to Heaven the North did not hate us so”.5 We equally wish the English did not hate us so. Perhaps we exaggerate the ill will in England against us. You certainly over-estimate that of U.S. against England,—which an influential part of your press exaggerates and incites for the worst purposes. But, after all after the first flurry,6 we think and say very little about you, and shall live in peace with you, if you will let us. There should have been and might have been the most thorough good-will between us. I do not think it is all our fault that it is not so.

In reply to your question—7

If Oak and Beech had large-colored corolla, &c—I know of no reason why it would be reckoned a low form, but the contrary, quite. But we have no basis for high & low in any class—say Dicotyledons, except perfection of development or the contrary in the floral organs,—and even the envelopes,—and as we know these may be reduced to any degree in any order or group, we have really that I know of, no philosophical basis for high & low. Moreover, the vegetable kingdom does not culminate, as the animal kingdom does. It is not a kingdom, but a commonwealth—a democracy, and therefore puzzling and unaccountable from the former point of view.

I have just read De Candolle’s paper on Oaks & Species, & origin.—8 Well, he has got on about as far towards you as I have.9 It is clear enough that (as I thought at first) Derivation of species is to be the word. And Nat. Sel., admitted. The only question, whether this is enough.10

Ever Your attached friend | A. Gray

[Enclosure 1]

No 3 Myrtle St, Boston Jan. 7th., 1863 Prof. Asa Gray. Dear Sir,

The butterfly which I showed you the other day with the pollinia of Platanthera Hookeri attached, I discover to be ⁠⟨⁠a n⁠⟩⁠ew species of Nisoniades, which I shall pu⁠⟨⁠blish⁠⟩⁠ very shortly under the name of Persius 11

I forgot to remark when I saw you that if these pollinia had been atta⁠⟨⁠ched to⁠⟩⁠ any part of the body covered by scales, their weight would doubtless have dragged away the scales ⁠⟨⁠from⁠⟩⁠ their attachment, wasting the pollinia ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ they were attached to the ⁠⟨⁠exter⁠⟩⁠na⁠⟨⁠l⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ body, except the tongue.

Recalling our conversation,12 I should like to copy a remark from my notes on ⁠⟨⁠Platan⁠⟩⁠thera orbiculata, made at the ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ “the pollinia on being removed ⁠⟨⁠see⁠⟩⁠med to have their angle of verticality changed, not by a rotation of th⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ pedicel, but by the weight of the ponderous masses of pollen at the tip, which passed down to a nearly horizontal position, or as far as the elasticity of the thread would allow. ⁠⟨⁠A⁠⟩⁠ll the other movements were the same (as described by Dar⁠⟨⁠win⁠⟩⁠ but the disks of the pollinia were so widely seperated that I should hardly think they could be often detached (because not stuck) by ⁠⟨⁠insect⁠⟩⁠ smaller than a bee, yet in a spike I examined containing 23 flowers, all open, none had ⁠⟨⁠b⁠⟩⁠oth pollinia remaining and only 4 or 5 had ⁠⟨⁠a⁠⟩⁠ny— upo⁠⟨⁠n⁠⟩⁠ the stigmatic surface of one were plainly seen the hairs and scales of a Lepidopterous insect.”13

Very truly and respectfully yours | Sam. Scudder—

This note gives the name of the Lepidopt. which I wrote of as having pollinia of Platanthera on his eyes.14

[Enclosure 2]15

On your principle of Nat. Selection being not subordinated to intention, are we to suppose, in accounting for the naked eyes,—that the ancestors of this butterfly had all its scales pulled off their eyes by the pollinia of orchids, and the race was naturally-selected through the advantage of seeing their way to the flowers?16

CD annotations

Enclosure 1
2.2 their weight … tongue. 2.4] scored pencil; cross in margin, blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘⁠⟨⁠four words destroyed⁠⟩⁠ except on eyes and proboscis’ ink
Enclosure 2
1.1 ‘On your principle’] cross in margin, blue crayon


Gray had sent CD a box of living plants for him to grow and examine (see letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and nn. 4–7).
Gray refers in part to the Trent affair of November 1861, which created a diplomatic crisis between Britain and the United States (see McPherson 1988, pp. 389–91, and Correspondence vol. 9).
CD had asked Gray whether, if oak or beech trees had colourful flowers, they would still be classified as ‘low’ (see letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863]). See also letter to Asa Gray, 23 February [1863] and n. 7.
A. de Candolle 1862a; there is an annotated copy of this and A. de Candolle 1862b in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. There is also an annotated copy of Gray’s review of A. de Candolle 1862a and 1862b (A. Gray 1863d) in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See n. 8, above. For CD’s view of Candolle on natural selection, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 January [1863], and the letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 14 January [1863].
CD and Gray had long debated teleology and the possibility of an intentional design in nature (see Correspondence vols. 8 and 9).
The author of the enclosure, Samuel Hubbard Scudder, showed Gray the butterfly with orchid pollinia attached, on 29 December 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862). Scudder published his description of Nisoniades persius (a synonym of Erynnis persius subsp. persius), a member of the Hesperidae, in the Proceedings of the Essex Institute 3 (1863): 170 (see also Scudder 1889, pp. 1468–76).
Gray had speculated that the pollinia belonged either to Platanthera hookeri or to P. orbiculata, but probably to the former owing to its size (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862).
CD discussed movements of the pollinia of various genera in Orchids, pp. 80, 90–1, and 335–9, including the genus Habenaria, synonymous with Platanthera (A. Gray 1862c, pp. 259–61). In the second edition of Orchids (Orchids 2d ed., pp. 75–7), CD added information from A. Gray 1862a, 1862b, and 1863b on pollination in American species of Platanthera, and also mentioned the Nisoniades that Gray had seen with the pollinia attached to the eyes. See also ‘Fertilization of orchids’, pp. 147–8 (Collected papers, pp. 144–5).
This sentence was appended by Gray to the bottom of Scudder’s letter. Gray refers to his letter to CD of 29 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10).
Gray enclosed an additional note.
See n. 10, above.


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–.

‘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.]

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

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

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.

Scudder, Samuel Hubbard. 1889. The butterflies of the Eastern United States and Canada with special reference to New England. 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: the author.


Discusses the ill-will between England and U. S.

Considers the bases for deciding which plant species are "high" and which "low".

Comments on Alphonse de Candolle’s paper on oaks ["Étude sur l’espèce", Ann. Sci. Nat. (Bot.) 4th ser. 18 (1862): 59–110].

Encloses S. H. Scudder’s letter on Lepidoptera and fertilisation of orchids which identifies a butterfly with Platanthera pollinia adhering to it. Jokingly applies natural selection to butterflies acted on by orchid pollinia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 129, 130
Physical description
ALS 3pp encl ALS 2pp damaged (by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3950,” accessed on 24 March 2023,

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