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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   19 April [1865]1

Down Bromley Kent

April 19th

My dear Gray

I have not written for a long time (& a good job too perhaps you will think), not since receiving your letter written on Jany 19th;2 but I have often thought of you & often wished to write, but either had other things to do, or felt too tired. I have nothing particular to say now, but the grand news of Richmond has stirred me up to write.3 I congratulate you, & I can do this honestly, as my reason has always urged & ordered me to be a hearty good wisher for the north, though I could not do so enthusiastically, as I felt we were so hated by you.—4

Well I suppose we shall all be proved utterly wrong who thought that you could not entirely subdue the South. One thing I have always thought that the destruction of Slavery would be well worth a dozen years war.5 Two days ago a very charming man, enthusiastic for the north, called here, Mr. Laugel, & he does not believe that you will attack us & Canada.6 I fear it will take many years before your country will shake down to its old routine.—

I received a little time ago a paper with good account of your Herbarium & Library,7 & a long time previously your excellent review of Scotts Primulaceæ, & I forwarded it to him in India, as it would much please him.—8 I was very glad to see in it a new case of Dimorphism (I forget just now the name of plant);9 I shall be grateful to hear of any other cases, as I still feel interest on subject. I shd. be very glad to get some seed of your dimorphic Plantagos;10 for I cannot banish suspicion that they must belong to the very different class like that of the common Thyme. How could the wind, which is agent of fert. with Plantago, fertilise “reciprocally dimorphic” flowers like Primula.11 Theory says this cannot be, & in such cases of one’s own theories I follow Agassiz & declare “that Nature never lies”.12 I shd even be very glad to examine the 2 dried forms of Plantago. Indeed any dried dimorphic plants wd. be gratefully received. You made capital remarks, with respect to Mohls little imperfect flowers, on flowers which rarely open—13

Did my Lythrum paper interest you?14 I crawl on at rate of 2 hours per diem with Variation under Domestication;15 & I have begun correcting proofs of my paper on “Climbing Plants”. I suppose I shall be able to send you a copy in 4 or 5 weeks. I think it contains a good deal new & some curious points, but it is so fearfully long, that no one will ever read it. If, however, you do not skim through it, you will be an unnatural parent, for it is your child16

Believe me, my dear Gray, | Yours affectionately | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Asa Gray, 15 and 17 May 1865.
Letter from Asa Gray, 17 January 1865; CD wrote ‘19th’ in error.
Richmond, Virginia, had fallen to Federal troops on 3 April 1865; General Robert E. Lee of the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, on 9 April 1865. The other Confederate armies soon followed suit (see McPherson 1988, pp. 846–9, and Denney 1992, pp. 554–7).
Tension between Britain and the northern states of the USA during the American Civil War, and Gray’s staunch support of the North, had affected the correspondence between Gray and CD (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 15 March [1862], and letter from Asa Gray, 31 March [1862], and Correspondence vol. 11, letters to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and 4 August [1863], and letter from Asa Gray, 27 January 1863). See also Colp 1978.
For CD’s correspondence with Gray about the American Civil War and his opposition to slavery, see the letter from Asa Gray, 17 January 1865 and n. 11.
CD mentioned Auguste Laugel in his letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 April [1865]. On British fears that a victorious Union army would turn to new theatres of war, including Canada, in an effort to expand its territory, see Crook 1975, pp. 126–7, 168–171, and 177.
The article has not been found. Gray’s herbarium and library had been moved to the new Harvard University Herbarium (see Dupree 1959, pp. 327–9, and letter from Asa Gray, 17 January 1865). The building of the herbarium is discussed in the letters from Asa Gray, 16 February 1864 and 11 July 1864 (Correspondence vol. 12).
CD refers to A. Gray 1865a, Scott 1864b, and John Scott. See letter from John Scott, 10 April 1865 and n. 13.
At the end of his notice of Scott’s paper, Gray wrote: ‘We may here append the remark that the Thymelæaceous genus Leucosmia is dimorphous, and some species of Drymispermum exhibit one if not both of the two forms’ (A. Gray 1865a, p. 104).
CD probably refers to four North American species of heterostyled Plantago discussed in A. Gray 1856, p. 269. There is an annotated copy of A. Gray 1856 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 348–51). CD discussed the pollination mechanisms of Plantago with Gray on several occasions (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 26[–7] November [1862], and letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862, and Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Asa Gray, 11 May [1863] and n. 14). CD evidently did not obtain seeds of dimorphic Plantago from Gray (see letter from Asa Gray, 15 and 17 May 1865); his observations on dimorphism in this genus were made primarily with the locally available P. lanceolata (see Forms of flowers, pp. 306–7). CD’s notes on P. lanceolata, dated from 28 April to 14 June 1863, are in DAR 109: A27–9 and DAR 49: 91; see also DAR 109: A50 and A64, and DAR 111: A51.
Species of thyme were taken by CD to be representative of a class of dimorphism that he later called ‘gyno-dioecism’, in which plants bear either hermaphrodite or female flowers (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Daniel Oliver, 12 [April 1862], Correspondence vol. 11, letter to W. E. Darwin, [5 May 1863] and n. 6, and Correspondence vol. 12, letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 May [1864], and letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864]). See also CD’s experimental notes on thyme dated from 1861 to 1864 in DAR 157a: 72 and DAR 109: A21–2, 28, and 45–6 v. CD discussed Thymus and Plantago as examples of gyno-dioecious plants in Forms of flowers, pp. 298–307. CD presumably refers to the unlikelihood that pollen on the short stamens of one form of dimorphic Primula species could be carried by the wind to the short style of the other form; he had demonstrated that the dimorphic condition was an adaptation to ensure cross-pollination by insects (see ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula). CD noted that wind played no part in the pollination of dimorphic Linum species in ‘Two forms in species of Linum, pp. 77–8 (Collected papers 2: 100–1), and Forms of flowers, pp. 93–4.
CD refers to Louis Agassiz. In his letter to Asa Gray, 1 January [1857] (Correspondence vol. 6), CD wrote: ‘Lyell told me, that Agassiz having a theory about when Saurians were first created, on hearing some careful observations opposed to this, said he did not believe it, “for Nature never lied’”. See also ibid., letter to J. D. Hooker, [21 March 1857] and n. 4.
CD refers to Gray’s review of a translation of Mohl 1863 in the January 1865 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1865b). Hugo von Mohl had argued (Mohl 1863, pp. 309, 321) that the existence of small, imperfectly formed, closed, self-fertile flowers in Viola, Oxalis, and other genera was an argument against CD’s view that nature was arranged to prevent perpetual self-fertilisation and to promote intercrossing (see Origin, pp. 96–101, and Orchids, p. 359). In his review, Gray agreed with Mohl that these examples stood as exceptions to CD’s argument, but he did not consider Mohl to have overthrown the general principle. On CD’s answer to Mohl’s criticisms, see the letter from B. D. Walsh, 1 March 1865 and n. 12.
Gray acknowledged receiving a copy of ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria in his letter of 17 January 1865. For CD’s presentation list for this paper, see Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix III.
CD’s paper ‘On the movements and habits of climbing plants’ was published on 12 June 1865 in a double issue of the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) (‘Climbing plants’). CD had an author’s offprint separately printed by Taylor and Francis, and it was also published commercially in August 1865 by Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green and by Williams and Norgate (see Publishers’ Circular, 1 August 1865, p. 391, and Freeman 1977, pp. 116–18). CD apparently began sending out copies of the paper to correspondents in early June (see letter from Charles Kingsley, 14 June 1865). ‘Climbing plants’ begins with an acknowledgment of Gray’s study of the movements of the tendrils of cucurbitaceous plants (A. Gray 1858) for stimulating CD’s interest in the subject. CD had been regularly corresponding with Gray on this subject since 1863 (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 11, letters to Asa Gray, 26 June [1863] and 4 August [1863], and letter from Asa Gray, 1 September 1863, and Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864]). See also Autobiography, p. 129.


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

‘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.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Colp, Ralph, Jr. 1978. Charles Darwin: slavery and the American Civil War. Harvard Library Bulletin 26: 471–89.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Crook, David Paul. 1975. Diplomacy during the American Civil War. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

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

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

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

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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

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.

Mohl, Hugo von. 1863. Einige Beobachtungen über dimorphe Blüthen. Botanische Zeitung 21: 309–15, 321–8.

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.

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.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

‘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.]

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


Congratulates AG on the "grand news of Richmond".

Still interested in dimorphism and would welcome new cases.

Working on Variation

and correcting proofs of Climbing plants.

Would like seed of AG’s dimorphic Plantago.

Cannot understand how the wind could fertilise reciprocally dimorphic flowers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (77)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4467,” accessed on 16 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13