skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   21 July 1863

Cambridge. [Mass.]

July 21, 1863

Dear Darwin.

Your latest is of 26th ult.1 You need not worry! It never wearies nor bores me to write to you—in the off hand way I do.2 I enjoy our correspondence too much to consent to curtail or interrupt it. I learn from you—here in this remote part of the world—a thousand things which I should not otherwise know at all. And you stimulate my mind far more than any one else, except, perhaps, Hooker.3 So please do not make a fuss, but let me go on in my own fashion, and send me your fresh and stimulating letters—whenever you are in the mood for it.

I am now in my vacation, and already—having idled and dawdled a week or two, I am as well and hearty as possible, and in the best of spirits. We should leave home this week for 3 weeks run in the country. But the sickness of my wife’s nephew, Lieut. Jackson of Mass. Cavalry4 will keep us a while,—as tho’ not alarming it might take a bad turn,—and so I may not be in the country for a week or two yet. We shall see.

So I must stop this idling and set to some of the work which has laid so long untouched around me. I am to-day fixing up an abstract of Bates’s Mimetic Analogy paper, &c—for Sill. Journal.5

Get your Mitchella on a shady well-drained slope, and let it well alone, & it will thrive. I will send fresher seed of Sicyos & Echinocystis.6 And if I can remember you shall have seeds of Houstonia.7

I have strong & fresh Drose〈ra〉 rotundifolia, & it will soon turn in its bristles & stick the viscid gland fast to a fly—binding him fast on all sides with Lilliputian cords.8 But it is awfully slow about it,—say 3 or 4 hours. And the next day, the leaf sometimes becomes involute & folds over or curves around the insect. But what good. If the fly is not stuck fast in alighting, no movement takes place to hold him till he has got away if he ever could. However it is an indication of what is so effectually done in Dionæa.9

Rotary movement of end of tendril-bearing stems is common, is it not, and well known?10

Any notes you will give me to put in Sill. Journal, I shall 〈alw〉ays delight in.11

〈I〉 have been reading Owen’s Aye-Aye paper.12 Well, this is rich and cool! Did I not tell you in Atlantic long ago that Owen had a transmutation theory of his own.13 It is your Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet left out.14 But as you say now you don’t so much insist on Nat. Selection if you can only have derivation of species,— and Owen goes in for derivation on the largest scale, you may as well lovingly embrace!15 Oh, it is rare fun. How I could now tease Agassiz, if I could see him,— only he is of late so cross and sore.16

He has been digging various pits for me, but has fallen himself into the pit that he digged. However, I am good-natured; and only laugh at him.

I have been so far disappointed in getting no Gymnadenia tridentata. But I still hope for it. I must have it, indeed.17

Benth.’s address is good—chiefly very good.18 But he speaks of Wyman’s paper without having duly considered it.19 Wyman’s experiments are far better than Pasteur’s, & the results opposite!20

A. Gray.

PS. | Papers just in—or rather telegrams—that you in London were daily awaiting & expecting the capture of Washington. etc.21—and speculating as to whether Jeff. Davis’s envois from Washington might not be received at London—as a fait accompli.—22 A good-deal of little-concealed joy. &c—

Oh foolish people! When will you see that there is only one end to all this:—and that the North never dreams of any other,—the complete putting down of the rebellion. And since 1863 began, it was clear that it would be attended with the annihilation of slavery.23

Time was when we should have highly valued English appreciation of the right cause.— We have now long ceased to care or think about it.

We only wish you had the city of New York. But the sympathizers with secession and riot there have done their worst—and lost their game.24 The city of New York is the only part of our country which I am ashamed of. And the trouble there is that it is not American.

Enough— Good Bye | A. G.

CD annotations

6.1 Rotary … known? 6.2] scored brown crayon


In his letter to Gray of 26 June [1863], CD expressed concern that Gray was overworked, and implored him not to write when busy.
Joseph Dalton Hooker.
Gray refers to Jane Loring Gray and to her nephew, Patrick Tracy Jackson III, who served as a first lieutenant in the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry during the American Civil War (Lamb’s textile industries of the United States, s. v. Jackson, Patrick Tracy IV).
See letter from Asa Gray, 7 July 1863, nn. 2 and 3. The references are to Bates 1861, A. Gray 1863a, and the American Journal of Science and Arts, commonly known as ‘Silliman’s Journal’ after its founder Benjamin Silliman.
See letter to Asa Gray, 26 June [1863] and nn. 11 and 12.
Gray had sent CD observations on and seed of the dimorphic species Houstonia caerulea in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10).
The reference is to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels, in which Gulliver was tied down to the ground by six-inch-high Lilliputians ([Swift] 1726, 1: 7 et seq.). Since 1860, CD had corresponded with Gray concerning his numerous experiments on the sundew, Drosera rotundifolia (see Correspondence vols. 8–10).
CD had also corresponded with Gray concerning his experiments on Dionaea muscipula (Venus’s fly-trap), in which the leaf movements that trap insects are relatively rapid (see Correspondence vols. 8 and 9).
Owen 1862c.
Gray refers to his statement, in his review of Origin in the Atlantic Monthly, that Richard Owen was ‘apparently in travail with some transmutation theory of his own conceiving, which may yet see the light, although Darwin’s came first to the birth’ ([A. Gray] 1860b, p. 115). In his monograph on the aye-aye (Owen 1862c, pp. 89–97), Owen discussed the question of the origin of species, committing himself to ‘creation by law’ while stating his ‘ignorance of how such secondary causes may have operated’ and refusing to endorse any of the mechanisms currently proposed (p. 96). For Owen’s views on the origin of new species, see Rupke 1994, pp. 220–58.
Gray alludes to the common phrase ‘Hamlet without the prince’, which derives from an anecdote told by Walter Scott, concerning a play bill which is said to have announced a performance of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, in which the character of Hamlet, prince of Denmark, was to be omitted (ODQ, p. 560). The reference is to Owen’s accepting a natural cause for the origin of new species, while rejecting natural selection.
See letter to Asa Gray, 31 May [1863]. For CD’s reaction to Owen’s claims, see the letters to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863] and 17 March [1863], and the letters to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863] and 17 March [1863].
Gray refers to his Harvard colleague, Louis Agassiz, with whom he had a long-running dispute over transmutation. Gray had just been elected president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, against the wishes of Agassiz (Dupree 1959, pp. 319–20). See also letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863.
Gray refers to George Bentham’s anniversary address to the Linnean Society (Bentham 1863). See also letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863 and n. 10.
The reference is to Wyman 1862 (see Bentham 1863, pp. xxv–xxvii). See letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863 and n. 17.
Louis Pasteur. See letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863 and nn. 17 and 18.
In the American Civil War, the previously successful Confederate campaign in Pennsylvania was brought to a dramatic end by the victory of the Union forces at the battle of Gettysburg, from 1 to 3 July 1863 (McPherson 1988, pp. 646–65).
Gray refers to the envoys of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America.
The reference is to Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of 22 September 1862, which announced that from 1 January 1863 all slaves in the states still in rebellion against the United States would be freed (Denney 1992, pp. 248, 251).
Between 12 and 16 July 1863, there were extensive riots in New York City against conscription into the Union army; the majority of the rioters were immigrants from Ireland (McPherson 1988, pp. 609–10).


Bates, Henry Walter. 1861. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidæ. [Read 21 November 1861.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23 (1860–2): 495–566.

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

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Denney, Robert E. 1992. The civil war years: a day-by-day chronicle of the life of a nation. New York: Sterling Publishing.

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

Lamb’s textile industries of the United States: Lamb’s textile industries of the United States, embracing biographical sketches of prominent men and a historical résumé of the progress of textile manufacture from the earliest records to the present time. 2 vols. Edited by John Howard Brown et al. Boston, Mass.: James H. Lamb. 1911–16.

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

ODQ: The Oxford dictionary of quotations. Edited by Angela Partington. 4th edition, revised. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1996.

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.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

[Swift, Jonathan.] 1726. Travels into several remote nations of the world. In four parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships. 2 vols. London: Benjamin Motte.

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.


Gives some observations on Drosera.

Comments on Richard Owen’s "transmutation theory" in his aye-aye paper [Trans. Zool. Soc. Lond. 5 (1866): 33–101].

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 128, 138
Physical description
6pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4248,” accessed on 26 November 2020,

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