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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker1   6 July 1863

Cambridge, Mass.

July 6, 1863.

My Dear Hooker

I have to thank you for a nice letter of June 12, and later, for the draft on your bankers for £72.12 for Parry.2 The latter send profound thanks, and is quite set up by his venture on seeds. He ought to be (and is) very thankful to you.

A note from Bentham3 came in your envelope. Let me answer one of his enquiries to you—who will let him know my answer: for I infer that this will not reach him at Kew until after his holiday, so I address to you

He asks whether the Major John Le Conte, Deceased, of Philadelphia, is the Entomologist and F.L.S.4 Yes, doubtless, if a Fellow of long standing. His son John L. Le Conte is the more distinguished entomologist:5 but he could have been chosen only a few years ago,—and I suppose you do not now elect Fellows in foreign parts. Whereas the old Major Le Conte was probably chosen about the same time with his contemporary Dr. Bigelow.6

Now I am to discourse, partly for Bentham, partly for you, anent Bentham’s Anniversary address.7—which I like greatly, and yet have some flaws to pick at.— Here—far away from the great centres of scientific activity, we “are nothing if not critical”.8

He rightly blames Huxley for his use of the term Biology.9 I take the word to be essentially equivalent to Physiology and a better term. It certainly is not = Nat. History.

Darwin may well be pleased and satisfied at having made such an impression on Bentham. The latter’s conclusion as to “the tide of opinion,” on p. 13, I am pleased to see—;10 both because it is evidently true, and because I had lately in Amer. Journal. been saying the same.11 Natural Selection he does not quite appreciate, I think; but few do.

The caution, in p. 10, is well enough. But few, I imagine, fit to handle such questions, ever take an illustration for an argument, at least for a proof.12 A comparison is sometimes a capital argument for its purpose.— An analogous case may perfectly rebut an objection, tho’ it establishes nothing for itself.

As to my Essay in Atlantic—which has been made so much of—Bentham seems to misapprend a little its object and the occasion.13 It was not to “remove the prejudices excited by religious views” or to deprecate attack on Darwin in this regard, but to rebut and turn aside attacks which had been made on this ground, and partly by scientific men. To show the futility and unreasonableness of such attacks was only to remand the discussion to its proper court. “His opponents reply that his Natural Theology is not Religion” Bree, I suppose.14 But the same line of argument holds as well. It is easy to show that the very same principles have been admitted in respect to astronomy & geology, and so may just as well be in Natural history.— But all this is of no account. But as a review of Darwin’s Theory on scientific grounds, why did not B. mention my much earlier review, in Silliman’s Journal,—perhaps the better of the two, and addressed to scientific men instead of ad populum.15

I am pleased to see him pitch into Owen for ill-treating Carpenter.16 But, in the Heterogeny question, the prejudice (in which I share) against spontaneous generation, and too great deference to French Academy, has made him unjust to Wyman,—who is one of the most conscientious and accurate of observers.17 Wyman will now probably publish the results of a lot of experiments, which he did not think were worth while.18 As respects the heat employed to destroy germs, Wyman’s experiments are better than Pasteur’s. The latter subjected them to dry heat only, and to say 230o Fahr. But Wyman in the experiments under pressure, boiled at 25012 o and 30712 o Fahr.. You know how great the difference between the two modes.

I enclose you a brief mem. by Dr. Wyman.19 By the way, when you want a new Foreign Member of Linn. Socy. you should think of Wyman.20 He is pure gold.

As to canvassing for scientific honors—for which you blame A.DC,21 one may be led into it, and I suspect it is not uncommon on the Continent. Last summer Ruprecht,—whom I know little of, wrote to ask me to furnish him with what I could to enable him to put me in nomination for a vacancy in Acad. Petro[ff].22 I declined to have anything to do or say in the matter, telling him to refer to any botanists he chose. Where upon I supposed the matter was dropped. But, last week, the diploma came to me.

I should have thought that they would have preferred Bentham or yourself. By the way, now that I am writing of myself I have, against my will been put into the chair of Amer. Acad. on the retirement of Dr. Bigelow. I could have succeeded in avoiding it had it not been that Agassiz and his small clique set to work with all their might against me,— —the result was a demonstration that made A open his eyes, and has, I hear, mortified him exceedingly.23

Bond is at home again, much pleased with his trip.24 He says that the greatest thing to see, and the most satisfactory, on the other side of the water, is Kew Gardens & museum. We were pleased to see one who had lately seen you all, and brought such pleasant accounts of you and Mrs. Hooker, I should suppose that Mrs. Hooker is as well as possible.25

The sudden death of an aged and very dear Great Aunt of Mrs. Gray’s took us to Connecticut last week, where we remained some while.26 The good soul has bequeathed to my wife property which would amount in ordinary times to about £2000:—a great help to us. I now see my way clearer than ever to shaking off other things before long and taking myself to Fl. N. Amer. 27

Flora Australiensis is a nice vol.28 Mesembryanthemum was truly collected in California by Fremont29 and by others—I think also by Coulter.30—said to be common on the coast. I always supposed it must have been introduced by the Spaniards.31

I note what you write of Seemann.32 I never liked the fellow, and always had just as little as possible to do with him, while being civil distantly. I looked upon him as a sort of adventurer.— I shall keep very clear of him.

Ovules bearing pollen is a very curious business. But I do not see what use can be made of the case.

I take issue with you square, and say that the radicle is 1st internode. I support the proposition thus— 1. It is in the place of internode, i.e. below the first node; 2. It grows like an internode whenever (as is usual) it lengthens at all. 3. It produces roots like an internode, i.e. all internodes favorably placed, e.g. 2nd. 3rd. &c—


Hooker enclosed this letter in a letter to CD of late July, which has not been found (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [21 July 1863], and letters to J. D. Hooker, 22 July [1863] and 26 [July 1863]).
John Eatton Le Conte died on 21 November 1860, at Philadelphia, where he had been resident for ten or twelve years (American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 31 (1861): 303, 463); his address was given as New York in the List of the Linnean Society of London 1863. Bentham was president of the Linnean Society.
The American botanist Jacob Bigelow was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1819; John Eatton Le Conte was elected a fellow in 1812 (List of the Linnean Society of London 1863).
Shakespeare, Othello, 2.1.122 (Wells and Taylor eds. 1988).
Thomas Henry Huxley. In his anniversary address, delivered to the Linnean Society on 7 May 1863, Bentham questioned whether the term ‘Biology’ could be retained in the limited sense in which it had been originally proposed, ‘that of the science of life, i. e. of the phenomena of life, in contradistinction to the description and classification of living beings’, given that it had recently been used in a more general sense to refer to ‘Zoology and Botany in all their branches’ (Bentham 1863, p. xii). He continued: ‘if Biology continues to be used by Professor Huxley and other distinguished public lecturers in the most general sense, it will be the one which will be definitively attached to it’.
Bentham devoted most of his address to a review of the state of the literature on the origin of species (Bentham 1863, pp. xii–xxii). In summing up the literature relating to Origin, he averred that the tide of opinion among ‘philosophical naturalists’ was ‘setting fast in favour of Mr. Darwin’s hypothesis’, and that few who really considered the subject would now deny that new species had been produced from a common ancestor by natural selection (Bentham 1863, pp. xxi–xxii; Gray evidently refers to the pagination of an offprint). For CD’s reaction to Bentham’s address, see the letter to George Bentham, 19 June [1863].
Gray probably refers to A. Gray 1863d, which was published in the May 1863 number of the American Journal of Science and Arts, and in which Gray discussed the ‘general drift of opinion’ on the question of the origin of species (A. Gray 1863d, p. 437).
In his address, Bentham argued that there was a ‘general logical confusion’ in most of the reviews of Origin, arising ‘from that aptness of illustration and figurative language’ in CD’s book, which, Bentham considered, carried CD’s supporters, and even sometimes CD himself, ‘beyond strict logical bounds’ (Bentham 1863, p. xviii). Among the figurative terms singled out as requiring ‘the greatest caution in their use’ were the phrases ‘Struggle for Life’ and ‘Natural Selection’.
Gray refers to his three-part review of Origin, which appeared in 1860 in the Atlantic Monthly (A. Gray 1860b), and was reprinted as a pamphlet on CD’s initiative (A. Gray 1861a; see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix 111). Bentham discussed Gray’s ‘remarkable dissertation’ in Bentham 1863, p. xvii.
The reference is apparently to Bree 1860. Although Charles Robert Bree did not discuss Gray’s natural theology in his book, he did argue that a developmental natural theology (like that espoused by Gray) was in conflict with revelation, and that a belief in the natural progressive development of species ‘struck at the root of religion itself’ (pp. 244–5).
Ad populum: ‘to the people’. A. Gray 1860c was published in the American Journal of Science and Arts, commonly known as ‘Silliman’s Journal’ after its founder, Benjamin Silliman.
Gray refers to Bentham’s criticism, in Bentham 1863, pp. xxvi–xxvii, of Richard Owen’s anonymous review of Carpenter 1862 in the Athenæum, 28 March 1863, pp. 417–19 (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VII).
In his address (Bentham 1863, pp. xxv–xxvi), Bentham criticised the work of Jeffries Wyman, Gray’s colleague at Harvard University, who in 1862 began a series of experiments which paralleled those of Louis Pasteur, although with different results (Wyman 1862; see DSB). Bentham suggested that Pasteur’s results (Pasteur 1861 and 1862) seemed to refute completely ‘the idea of heterogeny in the production of microscopic animals or plants in organic matter in a state of fermentation’ (Bentham 1863, p. xxv). The Académie des Sciences of Paris had awarded Pasteur the Alhumbert prize for his work on spontaneous generation in 1862 (see Farley 1977).
Wyman subsequently published a further paper detailing experiments relating to spontaneous generation (Wyman 1867).
The enclosure has not been identified.
Wyman was elected a foreign member of the Linnean Society in 1869; the number of foreign members was restricted to fifty (List of the Linnean Society of London 1870).
Franz Josef Ruprecht was director of the botanical museum of the Academy of Sciences of St Petersburg.
On Gray’s election as president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1863, and the opposition of Louis Agassiz, see Dupree 1959, pp. 319–20.
The reference is probably to Gray’s colleague at Harvard University, George Phillips Bond.
Jane Loring Gray’s great aunt, ‘one of the country kin in Connecticut’ (Dupree 1959, p. 332), has not been further identified.
In collaboration with John Torrey, Gray had first begun work on a planned flora of North America in 1833. A portion of the work was published between 1838 and 1843 (Torrey and Gray 1838–43), but it remained unfinished. Although Gray for many years planned to complete the work, he ultimately abandoned it, beginning to publish instead his Synoptical flora of North America (A. Gray 1878–84), which also remained unfinished (Dupree 1959, pp. 385–93).
Gray refers to the first volume of Bentham 1863–78.
In Torrey and Gray 1838–43, 1: 556, the authors stated that two or more species of Mesembryanthemum were reported to be naturalised in California, and that one of them was suspected to be native.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

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

Bentham, George and Mueller, Ferdinand von. 1863–78. Flora Australiensis: a description of the plants of the Australian territory. 7 vols. London: Lovell Reeve and Company.

Bree, Charles Robert. 1860. Species not transmutable, nor the result of secondary causes. Being a critical examination of Mr Darwin’s work entitled ‘Origin and variation of species’. London: Groombridge & Sons. Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Stewart.

Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1862. Introduction to the study of the Foraminifera. Assisted by W. K. Parker and T. R. Jones. London: Ray Society.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

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

Farley, John. 1977. The spontaneous generation controversy from Descartes to Oparin. Baltimore, Md., and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gray, Asa. 1878–84. Synoptical flora of North America. 2 vols. New York: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co.

List of the Linnean Society of London. London: [Linnean Society of London]. 1805–1939.

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.

Pasteur, Louis. 1861. Mémoire sur les corpuscules organisés qui existent dans l’atmosphère, examen de la doctrine des générations spontanées. Annales des Sciences Naturelles (Zoologie) 4th ser. 16: 5–98. [Vols. 10,11]

Wyman, Jeffries. 1862. Experiments on the formation of Infusoria in boiled solutions of organic matter, enclosed in hermetically sealed vessels, and supplied with pure air. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 34: 79–87.

Wyman, Jeffries. 1867. Observations and experiments on living organisms in heated water. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 44: 152–69.


Includes comments about George Bentham’s anniversary address to the Linnean Society with particular notice of the favourable attention to Darwin, except for Natural Selection, and to AG’s essay in the Atlantic Monthly.

He defends [W. B.] Carpenter and [Jeffries] Wyman against [Richard] Owen.

Gossip about scientific honours and other matters.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Asa Gray correspondence: 328–9)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4232F,” accessed on 20 May 2022,

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