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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   11 July 1864

Cambridge, [Mass.]

July 11th, 1864

My Dear Darwin

Though I am not quite done with my awful amount of College-work I am so nearly so that I begin to enjoy the luxury of rest,—and I have set upon the heap of letters which have accumulated. I know not why I have let yours, of May 28, remain unattended to.1 I was thinking, before it came, how much I lost by the ill health which interrupted your letters. I felt the want of an accustomed stimulus:—for there is no use in my trying to write to you, except as you draw me out. And even for that, I am now quite out of harness, having lived in a perfect turmoil of avocations this spring and summer. I hope for better times soon. But to-night I can do little more than to tell you how heartily rejoiced I am to hear from you that you are nearly as well as ever. I am most thankful to hear it! Your photograph, with the venerable beard gives the look of your having suffered, and, perhaps from the beard, of having grown older.2

I hope there is still much work in you,—but take it quietly and gently! You will be glad to hear that Mrs. Gray, with whom you sympathise so kindly, is getting to have a very reasonable stomach again, and is gaining strength apace, in spite of very sultry weather.3 She takes the greatest interest in you and in your letters, and desires to be particularly remembered, as well as to congratulate you upon your restored health.

It is too late to send messages to C. Wright in Cuba. I weekly expect him here.4 But he is to return to Cuba in the autumn. So meanwhile, just send notes to me of any thing you want him to observe. He is a fair and faithful observer in a rough way.

I wish I could get Bignonia capreolata alive: I saw it growing once in the mountains of N. Carolina & Tennessee, and think it might stand our winter.5 ⁠⟨⁠It⁠⟩⁠ was climbing trees overhang⁠⟨⁠ing a⁠⟩⁠ river, in moist and shady ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠—trees which sometimes were ⁠⟨⁠covered⁠⟩⁠ over at the base with Polyp⁠⟨⁠odium⁠⟩⁠ incanum. I don’t doubt that ⁠⟨⁠the⁠⟩⁠ trunks above were well furnish⁠⟨⁠ed with⁠⟩⁠ Lichens and Mosses. Of cou⁠⟨⁠rse I⁠⟩⁠ never noticed the peculiarity ⁠⟨⁠of the⁠⟩⁠ tendrils. Up there is no Tilland⁠⟨⁠sia⁠⟩⁠ but it grows also in the low coun⁠⟨⁠try⁠⟩⁠ where Tillandsia abounds. It is ⁠⟨⁠pretty⁠⟩⁠ to see the little disks with the capill⁠⟨⁠ary⁠⟩⁠ fibres imbedded!

I did not know that I had ever said anything about Voandzeiia!6 I think Torrey7 has somewhere spoken of it, but his knowledge of the plant must all have come from Bentham. See his paper in Linn. Trans, vol. 18, p. 157,—where he says Voandzeia has “sterile perfect flowers”.8 Of course he does not know that they may not be fertilized. Amphicarpica, which I used to see much of, I am confident has some of the petaliferous flowers occasionally fertile.9 I have seen legumes far above-ground. I must look to the plant this autumn, when I meet with it.

I will try to look after the Hollies, &c— None but Prinos verticillatus are quite at hand here.10

⁠⟨⁠The art⁠⟩⁠icle of Wallace (which he so ⁠⟨⁠kindly⁠⟩⁠ sent me) on Nat. Sel. as ap⁠⟨⁠plied to⁠⟩⁠ man is as neat a thing as ⁠⟨⁠I hav⁠⟩⁠e read in a long while.11 He ⁠⟨⁠is a⁠⟩⁠ most clear and admirable writer.

⁠⟨⁠The⁠⟩⁠ fund I demanded for support ⁠⟨⁠of my⁠⟩⁠ herbm. is nearly all raised. ⁠⟨⁠It sh⁠⟩⁠ould have been—and may be ⁠⟨⁠herea⁠⟩⁠fter larger. The building gets ⁠⟨⁠on⁠⟩⁠ rather slowly of late. But ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ donor, Mr Thayer, behaves ⁠⟨⁠li⁠⟩⁠ke a perfect trump.12 The details still cost me much time and thought. I have done nothing but attend to this, to College work &c—since last March. I fear I shall accomplish little before winter.

Be sure that, as the end, Slavery will perish, and that the cost is not too dear.13 The determination of the North is as decided as ever, and we think our progress is not small. Pray write again, and expect better response than now, from Your attached friend | Asa Gray

CD annotations14

5.1 I did not] after opening square bracket, ink
6.1 I will try … hand here. 6.2] crossed ink
8.4 still … friend 9.4] crossed ink


In his letter of 28 May [1864], CD enclosed a new photograph taken by his son William Erasmus (see frontispiece to this volume and letter from W. E. Darwin, [19 May 1864]).
CD had enquired about the health of Jane Loring Gray in his letter of 28 May [1864]. See also letter from Asa Gray, 16 February 1864 and n. 3.
See letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864] and n. 4. Charles Wright corresponded regularly with Gray, who helped to support Wright’s plant collecting in Cuba (see letter from Charles Wright to Asa Gray, 20, 25, and 26 March and 1 April 1864 and nn. 2 and 11).
See letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864] and nn. 9 and 10. CD’s observations on the genus Bignonia were made at intervals between January 1863 and November 1864 (DAR 157.1: 114–47).
See letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864] and n. 12. The correct spelling is ‘Voandzeia’, a genus in the family Leguminosae.
Gray refers to George Bentham and to Bentham 1838, p. 157.
See letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864] and n. 14. The Amphicarpeae are described in Torrey and Gray 1838–43, 1: 291, as having flowers of two kinds: perfect and petaliferous but seldom fertile, and imperfect but often fertile.
CD had enquired about dimorphism in hollies in his letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864]. He described several species of Ilex in Forms of flowers, pp. 297–8.
Wallace 1864b. The paper was read before the Anthropological Society of London on 1 March 1864. It was published, together with a verbatim account of the ensuing discussion, in the 1864 volume of the Anthropological Review, pp. clviii–clxxvii. Alfred Russel Wallace sent CD the paper in May, and CD recommended it to Gray (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 May 1864, and letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864]).
Construction of the new herbarium at Harvard began in early spring, 1864. The new building was largely funded by the Boston financier Nathaniel Thayer (see letter from Asa Gray, 16 February 1864 and nn. 8 and 9).
See letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864] and n. 22. Gray refers to the American Civil War.
CD cut off the bottom half of the second sheet, now in DAR 111: A82, in order to retain para. 5 for reference. Para. 6, also on the clipped portion, and the end of the letter, from ‘still cost me’, on the reverse of the clipped portion, are crossed through.


Bentham, George. 1838. On the structure and affinities of Arachis and Voandzeia. [Read 1 May 1838.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 18 (1841): 155–62.

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


Discusses CD’s and Mrs Gray’s health.

Comments on some climbing plants.

Praises Wallace’s article applying natural selection to man ["The origin of human races", J. Anthropol. Soc. Lond. 2 (1864): clviii–clxxxvi].

Discusses the reported sterility of the flowers of Voandzeia and Amphicarpaea.

Feels the ending of slavery is worth the cost of the Civil War.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 143, DAR 111: A82
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4558,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12