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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   17 January 1865

Cambridge, Mass.

Jany, 17th. 1865.

Dear Darwin

Yours of 26th Dec. just received—long en route— must have crossed one from me,1—yet I am not sure.

Only the separate copy of your Lythrum paper came by the post,2 (& that I have not yet read), so I suppose I have lost Scott’s & Cruger’s papers.3 I am sorry that the Cuckoos are not more satisfactory.4 I wonder that my letter to Dr. Brewer has brought no response5

You are mistaken in thinking the Fish-men here (in U.S.) are all Agassizian. 6 I understand there is a perfect hatred between all of them, (Gill, Girard of Washington, & Ayres of California) and Agassiz.7 But I know nothing of the calibre of these people.

The new Herbm. building is finished & in occupation (costing Mr.  Thayer $12250—in depreciated money, to be sure), and perfectly satisfactory. 8 But the supporting fund—small at best—lacks $1000 or so of being filled.— will come in time, and I hope more.— for I want a curator.9

People have much & many things to give for now. At present we are feeding Savannah—while the rebels are starving our men (prisoners) in the interior of the country.10

Do you not begin to believe that we shall put down the rebellion, restore the Union, and do away with Slavery?11

Heartily do I wish you a prosperous year, and continually improving health—& power to work—and less discomfort— Also—tho’ a small matter—I give you joy over the Copley Medal, which R.S. honors itself in giving to you.12

Ever | A. Gray

CD annotations

7.1 Heartily … year,] ‘(Herbarium)’ added pencil


The letter to Gray has not been found. Gray last wrote to CD on 5 December 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12).
‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’ was published in the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. Author’s offprints of the paper were ready in December; Gray’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for the paper (see Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix III).
Gray may refer to Scott 1864a and Scott 1864c; he also refers to Crüger 1864. These papers were communicated to the Linnean Society by CD, and published with CD’s ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’ in the 1865 volume of the society’s journal. CD had already sent Gray a copy of Scott 1864b (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 13 September [1864]). CD had expressed his interest in Crüger 1864 in his letter to Asa Gray, 25 February [1864] (Correspondence vol. 12).
CD had requested information about cuckoos in an enclosure to his letter to Asa Gray of 29 October [1864] (Correspondence vol. 12). The enclosure has not been found. CD’s query was evidently prompted by an article in the 8 October 1864 issue of the Spectator, which discussed the instinct of cuckoos (Cuculus canorus) to lay their eggs in other birds’ nests as evidence of God’s design in nature. For CD’s views on the parasitic behaviour of cuckoos, see Origin, pp. 216–18, Origin 4th ed., pp. 260–62, and Natural selection, pp. 506–8. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Asa Gray, 5 December 1864, which includes a note from Henry Bryant on the habits of American cuckoos.
Gray had also written to Thomas Mayo Brewer for information about cuckoos (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Asa Gray, 5 December 1864).
In his letter of 7 November 1864 (Correspondence vol. 12), Benjamin Dann Walsh had remarked on Louis Agassiz’s popularity and influence in the United States. See also letter to B. D. Walsh, 4 December [1864]. Agassiz’s extensive work in ichthyology is discussed in Lurie 1960. Agassiz was one of the leading opponents of Darwin’s transmutation theory in America (see Lurie 1960, Winsor 1979, Morris 1997, and Correspondence vols. 8 and 9). Beginning in 1863, he began to use the resources of the museum of comparative zoology at Harvard to collect fish specimens from throughout the world, and in 1865 he led an expedition to the Amazon River with the object of gathering evidence against CD’s transmutation theory (see Lurie 1960, pp. 336–7, and Winsor 1991, pp. 66–76).
Gray refers to Theodore Nicholas Gill, Charles Frédéric Girard, and William Orville Ayres. Agassiz’s controversial professional style and deteriorating relations with his students in the 1860s are discussed in Winsor 1991, pp. 27–42, 44–65.
Construction of the new herbarium at Harvard University was largely funded by the Boston financier Nathaniel Thayer (see Dupree 1959, pp. 327–8). The building of the herbarium is discussed in the letters from Asa Gray, 16 February 1864 and 11 July 1864 (Correspondence vol. 12).
Gray eventually appointed Horace Mann as curator in 1866 (see Dupree 1959, p. 337).
Savannah, Georgia, had fallen to the Union army on 21 December 1864 (Denney 1992, pp. 506–7). Prison conditions are discussed in McPherson 1988, pp. 800–2; the suffering of Union prisoners is attributed largely to the shortage of resources and deteriorating economy in the South.
CD and Gray corresponded at length on the American Civil War (see Correspondence vols. 9–12). CD had long been opposed to slavery. See Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 499–500, Colp 1978, and Browne 1995, pp. 196–9, 213–14, 244–6. For CD’s discussions with Gray on slavery, see Correspondence vols. 9–11 and this volume, letter to Asa Gray, 19 April [1865].
CD was presented with the Copley Medal of the Royal Society on 30 November 1864 (see Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 13 (1863–4): 505, and Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix IV).


New herbarium is finished.

Congratulations on Copley Medal.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 146
Physical description
2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4747,” accessed on 22 August 2019,

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