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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   23 February [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

Feb. 23d

My dear Gray

Many thanks for your note of Jan 27th.—2 The enclosures were forwarded.3 The maize seed has proved a treasure; for besides seeing the kinds, a young man at Edinburgh will experiment on the mutual fertility of some of the varieties.—4

Pray thank, when you see, Dr. Scudder about pollinia (from whom I have since received a pamphlet):5 that was very good remark about attachment possible only to eye or proboscis; & these are only two parts where I have seen attachment.6 Thanks, also, about highness & lowness of oak-tree:7 Hooker was pleased (to whom I mentioned your remark) about the “commonwealth” of Plants.—8 When I send my Linum paper you will see about L. Lewisii.—9

If you have time to read you will be interested by parts of Lyell’s Book on Man:10 but I fear that the best part, about Glacial period, may be too geological for anyone except a regular geologist.11 He quotes you at end with gusto.12 By the way he told me the other day how pleased some had been by hearing that they could purchase your pamphlet.13 The “Parthenon” also speaks of it as the ablest contribution to the literature of the subject.14 It delights me when I see your work appreciated. The Lyells come here this day week,15 & I shall grumble at his excessive caution: I feel sure that he admits almost fully the modification of species by variation & selection; & yet, though writing at length on subject, is afraid to say so; & he will not serve as guide to anyone.16 The public may well say, if such a man dare not or will not speak out his mind, how can we who are ignorant, form even a guess on subject.— Lyell was pleased, when I told him lately that you thought that language might be used as excellent illustration of derivation of species; you will see that he has admirable chapter on this—17

I received a little while ago the correspondence between Loring & Field:18 I cannot tell you how it has interested us all: it is so real; & it so curious to see two able & honest men differing so enormously. of course I side chiefly with the Englishman; but I never so well understood your horror of Disunion. It is very natural that you shd. dread becoming split up like Germany; but to us it does not seem quite so horrible. I think both correspondents underrate the very general belief entertained for many years in England, that your Government delighted in making us eat dirt, & that we had eat dirt about Boundary Line, Right of Search, Vancouver Isd &c.19 I believe that this has greatly checked all sympathy with you; & made the whole country fire up, when, as we thought, you had passed our swallowing powers in the Trent affair.—20 after finishing the above Correspondence; I read Cairns excellent Lecture, which shows so well how your quarrell arose from Slavery.21

It made me for a time wish honestly for north; but I could never help, though I tried, all the time thinking how we shd be bullied & forced into a war by you, when you were triumphant. But I do, most truly think it dreadful that the South, with its accursed Slavery, shd. triumph, & spread the evil. I think if I had power, which thank God I have not, I would let you conquer the border states, & all west of Mississippi & then force you to acknowledge the Cotton States. For Do you not now begin to doubt whether you can conquer & hold them? I have inflicted a long tirade on you.—

The Times is getting more detestable,—but that is too weak a word,—than ever.22 My good wife wishes to give it up; but I tell her that is a pitch of heroism, to which only a woman is equal to.. To give up the “Bloody Old Times” as Cobbett used to call it, would be to give up meat drink & air.—23

Farewell my dear Gray | Yours most truly | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Asa Gray, 27 January 1863.
The enclosures referred to have not been identified. Gray’s letter of 27 January 1863 also included a letter from Samuel Hubbard Scudder to Gray (see n. 5, below), and a note from Gray commenting on Scudder’s letter.
Gray sent CD maize seeds from New England with his letter of 29 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10). CD refers to John Scott at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, to whom he had sent the seeds for crossing experiments (see letter to John Scott, 16 February [1863] and n. 9).
With his letter of 27 January 1863, Gray enclosed a letter he had received from Scudder giving detailed observations of insect pollination in two species of orchid: Platanthera hookeri and P. orbiculata. The pamphlet referred to by CD may be Scudder 1862a or 1862b. There are lightly annotated presentation copies of both papers in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See letter from Asa Gray, 27 January 1863. In his letter to Gray of 2 January [1863], CD expressed doubt about the view of the French botanist Jules Emile Planchon (Planchon 1847–8, p. 175) that Linum lewisii was only a variety of L. perenne, and noted Planchon’s observation that L. lewisii was trimorphic, bearing ‘on the same plant flowers with long, & short & equal (to anthers) pistils’. In ‘Two forms in species of Linum, pp. 82–3 (Collected papers 2: 104–5), CD argued: now that we know the meaning of reciprocal dimorphism, [L. lewisii] surely deserves specific honours.... According to Planchon, the same plant bears some flowers with anthers and stigmas of the same height, and others with styles either longer or shorter than the stamens; so that the same individual plant is trimorphic. This, as far as I know, is a unique case. From analogy we may pretty safely predict the function of the three kinds of flowers: those with stigmas and anthers of the same height will be self-fertile; those with these organs of unequal height will require reciprocal fertilization. CD sent Gray two copies of the paper, which was read before the Linnean Society on 5 February 1863, on 18 April 1863 (see letter to Asa Gray, 20 April [1863]).
C. Lyell 1863a.
Chapters 12 to 18 of Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 206–368) were concerned with the geological evidence of the Pleistocene glacial period, particularly the most recent glacial epoch, and examined the chronological relations between human and glacial history.
Chapter 24 of Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 471–506), ‘Bearing of the doctrine of transmutation on the origin of man, and his place in the creation’, concludes with a discussion of Gray’s ‘philosophical essay of great merit’ (A. Gray 1861a). Quoting from the pamphlet, Lyell enthusiastically embraced Gray’s argument that there was no inconsistency between natural selection and natural theology (C. Lyell 1863a, p. 506): The whole course of nature may be the material embodiment of a preconcerted arrangement; and if the succession of events be explained by transmutation, the pereptual adaptation of the organic world to new conditions leaves the argument in favour of design, and therefore of a designer, as valid as ever; ‘for to do any work by an instrument must require, and therefore presuppose, the exertion rather of more than of less power, than to do it directly.’
CD probably met Lyell during his stay in London between 4 and 14 February 1863 (see letter to Charles Lyell, 4 [February 1863]). CD had supervised the arrangements for the publication of Gray’s pamphlet (A. Gray 1861a), which was originally published as a series of articles in the American periodical Atlantic Monthly. CD and Gray shared the cost of having 500 copies printed, and 250 copies were put on sale at the London publishing firm Trübner & Co. (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 11 December [1860], and Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Asa Gray, 17 February [1861], and Appendix III). See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 15 March [1862].
In a review of Lyell’s Antiquity of man in the Parthenon, 21 February 1863, pp. 233–5, the author stated (p. 235): Dr. Asa Gray, who has written what is probably the ablest contribution to the literature of Darwinism, seeks to calm the minds of those who are in alarm lest the doctrines of variation and natural selection should weaken the foundations of natural theology, for ‘consistently with the derivative hypothesis of species, we may hold any of the popular views respecting the manner in which the changes in the natural world are brought about;’ and still less can we fear that our derived spiritual life can be affected.
Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell had been invited to Down House for a few days, from 1 to 4 March 1863, but CD became ill with ‘much sickness & weakness’, and was obliged to retract the invitation (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and 5 March [1863]).
Chapters 20 to 22 of Antiquity of man dealt with theories of transmutation, including the theory of the origin of species by variation and natural selection (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 385–453); CD’s annotated copy of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 525–7). In a letter from Henrietta Emma Darwin to William Erasmus Darwin of [22 February 1863], which is in DAR 210.6: 109, Henrietta recorded that CD was ‘reading Sir Charles Lyell & is rather indignant that he does not say clearer that he believes in Papa.’ CD confided to Hooker that he was ‘deeply disappointed’ that Lyell’s ‘timidity’ had prevented him giving any judgment on the subject (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863]).
CD refers to chapter 23 of Antiquity of man, ‘Origin and development of languages and species compared’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 454–70). See Correspondence vol. 10, letters from Asa Gray, 4 and 13 October 1862 and 24 November 1862, and letter to Asa Gray, 6 November [1862].
CD refers to the published correspondence between the American lawyer Charles Greely Loring and the English lawyer Edwin Wilkins Field concerning relations between Britain and the United States following the outbreak of the American Civil War (Loring 1862). Loring was Gray’s father-in-law (Dupree 1959, p. 180).
The United States and Britain had been involved in several border disputes, focusing particularly on Canada’s borders with the United States, and including a dispute over the position of the boundary in the San Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and United States territory to the south, a dispute which was not settled until 1871 (see H. C. Allen 1954, pp. 391–415). The ‘Right of search’ was the granting of reciprocal rights between nations to search ships for slaves, following agreements to bring an end to the international slave trade. Although the United States government subscribed to the ban on the slave trade, it consistently maintained the full freedom of the seas and refused to concede the right of search, even in the face of British pressure. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, in an effort by the Union to influence British opinion in its favour, and because the representatives from the southern states no longer occupied positions in the legislature, a right of search was finally ratified in Washington in April 1862 (see Soulsby 1933).
In November 1861, the United States navy seized two Confederate envoys from the Trent, a British mail packet. The British demanded their release, and Britain and the United States stood on the brink of war with one another until news that the United States government had acquiesced to British demands put an end to the affair in January 1862. For an account of the Trent affair, see Ferris 1977; see also Correspondence vols. 9 and 10.
CD refers to John Elliot Cairnes’s book, The slave power, the text of which had originally formed a course of lectures at the University of Dublin in 1861 (Cairnes 1862, p. vii). The book, which defended the Union cause, ‘made a great impression both in England and America’ (DNB).
Despite the editors’ claims of neutrality, in its coverage of the American Civil War during February 1863, The Times adopted a hostile tone towards the Union cause (see The Times, 7 February 1863, p. 8, and 20 February 1863, p. 9). CD’s complaint probably refers to the continued discussion of the war in The Times without ‘a shade of feeling against slavery’ (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 16 October [1862]).
The journalist and reform campaigner, William Cobbett, maintained a written campaign against The Times newspaper, which he considered a ‘vile …  atrocious paper’. He employed many derisory names to refer to it in the pages of Cobbett’s Political Register: ‘The Bloody Old Times’ dates from about 1830. Cobbett gave it this title because of ‘its having uniformly advocated punishment, cruelty, proscription and blood against all those, in whatever country, who were striving for freedom’ (Cobbett’s Political Register, 16 October 1830, p. 507; Spater 1982, 2: 542–3).


Allen, H. C. 1954. Great Britain and the United States: a history of Anglo-American relations (1783–1952). London: Oldhams Press.

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.

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–.

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.

Ferris, Norman B. 1977. The Trent affair: a diplomatic crisis. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press. [Vols. 9,10,11]

Loring, Charles Greely. 1862. Correspondence on the present relations between Great Britain and the United States of America. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown & Co.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Planchon, Jules Emile. 1847–8. Sur la famille des Linnes. London Journal of Botany 6 (1847): 588–603; 7 (1848): 165–86, 473–501, 507–28.

Soulsby, Hugh G. 1933. The right of search and the slave trade in Anglo-American relations 1814–1862. Ser. 51, no. 2, of The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press.

Spater, George. 1982. William Cobbett. The poor man’s friend. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]


Recommends Lyell’s book [Antiquity of man (1863)].

Quotes praise of AG’s pamphlet [see 2938].

Comments on U. S. politics.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (55)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4006,” accessed on 20 June 2024,

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