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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   26 June [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 26th

My dear Gray.

I thank you for two pleasant letters; the former about Reviews in Athenæum & many other points, & the second shorter with answers to several of my questions.2 In this latter you seem cruelly overworked. Although it is one of my pleasures to write to you & a very great pleasure to receive a letter from you; I earnestly beg you never to write to me when so busy; if I did not hear for six months or twelve months, I should understand the cause. Remember what a number of valuable & most interesting letters, I have received from you. So pray do not write unless you have a little leisure, which seems rare with you.—

I have little or nothing to say, for I see no one & hear from no one except dear Hooker.3 But I must just run through some points in your letters. How curious the lie about Ohio marriages!4 I find it a dreadful evil in my compiling work, not knowing what to trust.5 Many thanks for references about Phyllotaxis;6 I have been half mad over it, but am having a lull: I have made no end of diagrams; but all my attempts have signally failed, as might have been expected. You will have seen by a later letter that I have received your Reviews on Decandolle.7 I suppose you will have received Bentham’s address, which has pleased me much, more than I understand why: it will do a world of good for our side.—8 What you tell me about Phlox sounds very suspicious;9 I have been looking at our one annual P. Drummondii & that is not dimorphic. Euonymus, I see, is dimorphic like Thyme, ie, hermaphrodite & female plants.10 Mitchella has only two flower buds, alas! but we have just found out, why it is unhealthy, viz we gave the plants too much water.—11

The seeds of Sicyos did not germinate; & only one plant has come up of Echinocystis: I have been looking at its tendrils & seen with great interest their irritability; it is a very pretty little discovery of yours.12 I am observing the plant in another respect, namely the incessant rotatory movement of the leading shoots, which bring the tendrils into contact with any body within a circle of a foot or 20 inches in diameter..— If I can make out anything clear about this movement, & do not find that it is known, I will perhaps write a letter to you for the chance of its being worth inserting in Silliman or elsewhere.—13

Farewell. I have written this merely to tell you not to write, which proves that I am one of the best of human beings, | Farewell. C. Darwin

(I do not know who “Historicus” is.)14


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Asa Gray, 26 May 1863.
CD refers to his work on the manuscript of Variation, which relied heavily on information gathered from a wide range of correspondents and published sources.
See letter from Asa Gray, [10–16] June [1863] and n. 13. CD refers to his letter to Gray of 31 May [1863] and to Gray’s reviews of A. de Candolle 1862a and 1862b in the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1863d and 1863e).
The reference is to George Bentham’s anniversary address to the Linnean Society, delivered on 25 May 1863, in which Bentham reviewed the scientific reaction to Origin (Bentham 1863). See also letter to George Bentham, 19 June [1863].
There are observational and experimental notes on Euonymus, dated 2 May, 4 June, and 20 July 1863, in DAR 109: 31–2; CD included the results from these experiments in Forms of flowers, pp. 290–1.
At the end of 1862, Gray sent CD specimens of the dimorphic plant Mitchella repens for experimental purposes (see letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and n. 4). See also letter to Asa Gray, 31 May [1863].
CD refers to A. Gray 1858b. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [June 1863] and n. 2.
CD refers to the American Journal of Science and Arts, commonly known as ‘Silliman’s journal’ after its founder, Benjamin Silliman. CD worked extensively on climbing plants during 1863 and 1864, publishing a paper in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) (‘Climbing plants’). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [June 1863] and n. 3.
See letter from Asa Gray, 26 May 1863. From 1861, William Vernon Harcourt wrote many letters to The Times under the name Historicus, defending the British policy of neutrality in the American Civil War on the basis of precedents in international law. In 1863, some of his letters to The Times were published separately ([Harcourt] 1863). See Jenkins 1974–80.


Bentham, George. 1863. [Anniversary address, 25 May 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): xi–xxix.

‘Climbing plants’: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 2 February 1865.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 1–118.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

[Harcourt, William Vernon.] 1863. Letters by Historicus or some questions of international law. Reprinted from ‘The Times’ with considerable additions. London and Cambridge: Macmillan.

Jenkins, Brian. 1974–80. Britain & the war for the Union. 2 vols. Montreal, Quebec, and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

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


Thanks AG for references about phyllotaxy

and information on marriage laws.

Has been looking for dimorphism in Phlox and Euonymus.

Has observed the irritability of tendrils of Echinocystis with great interest. Was also struck by the rotating movements of the leading shoots, which he proposes to investigate.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (82)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4222,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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