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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   29 October [1864]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Oct 29th

My dear Gray

Thanks for your interesting little note of Oct. 3d.— you allude to a previous one which I never received, & am sorry for.—2 I have little or nothing to say & it is no wonder, as I live so uniform a life.— It is a horrid shame, busy & overworked as you are, but I write chiefly to ask you to get from any ornithologist or Oologist answers to enclosed questions,3 as far as may be possible.— I know that there is some good man at Cambridge or Boston, whose name I have at present forgotten.—4

Do read in last Nat. Hist. Review Huxley on Kölliker & Flourens;5 you, yourself could not have done it better.— I had a letter a little time ago from a good believer in change of species, viz B. Walsh of Illinois.—6 There are good philosophical remarks in his papers, & for some odd cause, philosophy is rarely found in entomological works7

I am able now to work on my good days for about 2 hours.— I think Phosphate of iron, which I hear is often used with you, has done me good.8 Lady Lyell9 was giving me a wonderful account of the benefit a dyspeptic lady had received from a Philadelphia medicine, which is imported into England & is called “Syrup of Phosphates”.10 Did you ever hear of it? I am tempted to try it, if I knew of what it was composed.—

I am plodding on with little success on “Laws of Variation”;11 & have succeeded only in making a disjointed skeleton on which to hang a multitude of queer facts. But I have not been able to resist doing a little more at your God-child my Climbing paper12 or rather in size little Book, which by Jove I will have copied out, else I shall never stop. This has been new sort of work for me & I have been pleased to find what a capital guide for observation, a full conviction of the change of species is.—

We always like to hear your opinion on public news; my wife in indignation has changed the Times for the Daily News,13 which I find rather dull, but it does not much concern me, for I read but little & live on endless foolish novels which are read aloud to me by my dear womenkind.

Farewell my good friend, do not write as long as you are a slave to your work | Farewell.— C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Asa Gray, 3 October 1864.
See letter from Asa Gray, 3 October 1864. The other letter has not been found.
The enclosure has not been found; for an indication of the questions that the enclosure contained, see the first enclosure to the letter from Asa Gray, 5 December 1864 and nn. 4 and 22.
CD may have been thinking of the anatomist Jeffries Wyman, who was a colleague of Gray’s at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (see letter from Asa Gray, 5 December 1864).
CD refers to [T. H. Huxley] 1864a, in which Thomas Henry Huxley answered the criticisms of CD’s views by Rudolf Albert von Kölliker and Marie Jean Pierre Flourens. See letter to T. H. Huxley, 3 October [1864] and nn. 2 and 4, and letter from T. H. Huxley, 5 October 1864.
CD had been disappointed by the reception of his theory among entomologists (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Charles Lyell, 17 March [1863] and n. 16, and letter to Ernst Haeckel, 21 May [1867] (Calendar no. 5544)).
CD had been taking phosphate of iron since 21 August 1864 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)), as part of his regime for treating his stomach illness (see also letter from William Jenner, 15 October 1864 and n. 2).
Mary Elizabeth Lyell was at Down from 15 to 17 October 1864 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
CD was writing ‘Laws of Variation’ between 14 September and 16 November 1864 (‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix II)). See Variation 2: 293–356.
According to CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix II), the manuscript of ‘Climbing plants’ was finished on 13 September 1864; however, CD continued making observations on the subject after mid-September (see, for example, letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 December [1864], and CD’s notes on species of Clematis, Maurandia, and Bignonia, dated between 8 September and 27 October [1864], in DAR 157.1: 66–9, 97–8, 124, and 137). CD’s study of climbing plants had originally been inspired by Gray’s work (Gray 1858) on the movements of the tendrils of cucurbitaceous plants (see ‘Climbing plants’, p. 1, and Autobiography, p. 129).
CD and Emma had long been dissatisfied with the coverage of the American Civil War in The Times (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 16 October [1862], Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Asa Gray, 23 February [1863], and this volume, letter to Asa Gray, 13 September [1864]). The Daily News was a liberal paper, published in London, with a reputation for campaigning in favour of free trade and parliamentary, financial, and administrative reform (Newspaper press directory 1864).


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

Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

‘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.

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

Newspaper press directory: The newspaper press directory and advertiser’s guide. The newspaper press directory … A directory of the class papers and periodicals. London: C. Michell. 1856–1900.

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


Sends question [missing] for an ornithologist.

Is plodding on at Variation.

Has added to Climbing plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (88)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4647,” accessed on 21 May 2024,

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