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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   15 and 17 May 1865

Cambridge, Mass.

May 15, 1865—

My Dear Darwin

Your kind letter of the 19th ult. crossed a brief note from me.1 I am too much distracted with work at this season to write letters on our affairs, and if I once begin, I should not know where to stop. You have always been sympathising and just, and I appreciate your hearty congratulations on the success of our just endeavors.2 You have since had much more to rejoice over, as well as to sorrow with us. But the noble manner in which our country has borne itself should give you real satisfaction. We appreciate too the good feeling of England in its hearty grief at the murder of Lincoln.3

Don’t talk about our “hating” you,—nor suppose that we want to rob you of Canada—for which nobody cares.4

We think we have been ill-used by you, when you thought us weak and broken.— & when we expected better things.5 We have learned that we must be strong to live in peace & comfort with England,—otherwise we should have to eat much dirt. But now that we are on our feet again, all will go well, and hatred will disappear. Indeed, I see little of that. We do not even hate the Rebels, and may not even execute so much of justice as to convict of treason & hang their President, whom we have just caught,—but I hope we shall,—hang the leader & spare the subordinates.6 We are now feeding the south, who starved our men taken prisoners.7

Slavery is thoroughly dead. We have a deal to do, but shall do it, I trust, and deserve your continued approbation. We have a load to carry—heavy, no doubt, but a young & re-invigorated country, with a future before it can do and bear, & prosper under what might stagger a full-grown, mature country of the Old world

I must look to the Plantago dimorphism: for, as you say, these plants, fertilised by wind, could gain nothing by being dimorphic. No dimorphic species grows very near here,—nor can I now get seeds of P. Virginica.8 Perhaps a good look at even dried specimens, under your hints, may settle the matter.

I was exceedingly interested with the Lythrum paper (but had no time to write a notice of it.),9 & I wait expectingly for your Climbing plants.10 You are the very prince of investigators.

We hope presently to make Mrs. Wedgwood’s acquaintance.11

In great haste, dear Darwin, | Your affectionate | A. Gray

My wife’s cousin, Brace is in England, & hoping to see you.12 I told him he must not take up your time, nor worry you with questions and talk. He is a good soul, but you will get nothing Scientific out of him. Social matters are in his way13


P.S. 17th. May | I missed the post. I have since had the pleasure to meet Mrs. Wedgwood, and to talk with her of You and Yours. A. G.

Thanks for the Times.—apparently from you.14


See letter to Asa Gray, 19 April [1865]. Gray’s letter has not been found.
See letter to Asa Gray, 19 April [1865]. With the fall of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, on 2 and 3 April, and the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on 9 April 1865, the American Civil War effectively came to an end (see McPherson 1988, pp. 844–52, and Denney 1992, pp. 553–4, 557).
Abraham Lincoln was shot on 14 April 1865 and died of his wounds the following day (DAB, Denney 1992, p. 559). News of his death reached London on 26 April, and on 27 April The Times carried the official report of the murder and details of the shocked reaction from around the country; it also recorded that the House of Commons had signed an address of sympathy to the resident American minister (The Times, 27 April 1865, p. 7). An editorial said that the news would arouse sincere and profound sorrow throughout Europe (ibid., p. 7).
See letter to Asa Gray, 19 April [1865] and n. 6. The United States and Britain had been involved in several disputes concerning Canada’s borders with the United States (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Asa Gray, 23 February [1863] and n. 19). On relations between Britain and the United States in respect of Canada after the end of the American Civil War, see Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 381–92; on the movement for the annexation of Canada by the United States, see Warner 1960, pp. 46–59.
On the relations between Britain and the United States during the American Civil War, see Jenkins 1974–80. Gray may be referring in particular to relations between the two countries in 1861, after Britain’s declaration of neutrality in May, which opened the way for the Confederacy to contract loans and purchase war materials (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from Asa Gray, 31 December 1861, n. 12). Other incidents included the Trent affair in September 1861, and the Alabama affair in 1862 and 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Asa Gray, 11 December [1861], n. 3, and Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Asa Gray, 23 November 1863 and nn. 8 and 9). The Union Army suffered a major defeat at the first battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July 1861 (see McPherson 1988, pp. 342–6).
Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate states during the American Civil War. Following the war, he was captured and held as a military prisoner for two years, then transferred to civilian custody after it was determined that he would be charged not in connection with the assassination of Lincoln but with treason. He was released on bail from civilian prison within a few days, on 13 May 1867, and on 5 December 1868 the indictment against him was dismissed. A universal amnesty was issued at Christmas 1868, but Davis declined ever to apply for a full pardon (see Davis 1991, pp. 651–63).
In his letter to Gray of 19 April [1865], CD had asked for dimorphic species of Plantago.
‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria was read before the Linnean Society on 16 June 1864 and copies of the paper were issued to members of the society on 12 December 1864 (General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society). Gray’s name appears on the presentation list for the paper (see Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix III). For CD’s earlier discussions with Gray on Lythrum, see Correspondence vols. 10–12. Gray reviewed ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria in the May 1865 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts, pp. 360–1, referring to CD as a ‘prince of biological inquirers’.
An abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 2 February 1865, and CD had begun distributing offprints of the paper by June 1865 (see letter to Asa Gray, 19 April [1865] and n. 16). Gray reviewed ‘Climbing plants’ in two issues of the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1865–6). In the first part of his review, p. 273, Gray remarked that CD’s papers on dimorphic and trimorphic plants, and his work on Orchids and ‘Climbing plants’, showed ‘a genius for biological investigation’.
The reference is to Frances Wedgwood, wife of Francis Wedgwood, owner of the Wedgwood potteries; she made a number of visits to the United States following her first visit in 1859 (see B. Wedgwood and Wedgwood 1980, pp. 267–9, 291, 296).
The reference is to Charles Loring Brace. In fact, Brace was a nephew of Gray’s wife, Jane Loring Gray (Dupree 1959, p. 192). Brace did not visit CD (see letter from Asa Gray, 24 July 1865).
Brace was a philanthropist who worked with the underprivileged children of New York City (Dupree 1959, p. 361). He sent CD a copy of his book, The races of the old world. A manual of ethnology in 1863 (Brace 1863; see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to C. L. Brace, 24 June [1863] and n. 2).
This may have been the issue of 27 April 1865. See n. 3, above.


Brace, Charles Loring. 1863. The races of the old world. A manual of ethnology. London: John Murray.

‘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. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DAB: Dictionary of American biography. Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 20 vols., index, and 10 supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Simon & Schuster Macmillan. London: Oxford University Press; Humphrey Milford. 1928–95.

Davis, William C. 1991. Jefferson Davis. The man and his hour. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

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.

General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society: General index to the first twenty volumes of the Journal (Botany), and the botanical portion of the Proceedings, November 1838 to June 1886, of the Linnean Society. London: Linnean Society of London. 1888.

Gray, Asa. 1865–6. On the movements and habits of climbing plants; by Charles Darwin. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 40: 273–82, 41: 125–30.

Jenkins, Brian. 1974–80. Britain & the war for the Union. 2 vols. Montreal, Quebec, and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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

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.

‘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.]

Warner, Donald Frederick. 1960. The idea of continental union: agitation for the annexation of Canada to the United States, 1849–1893. Lexington, Ky.: Mississippi Valley Historical Association; University of Kentucky Press.

Wedgwood, Barbara and Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1980. The Wedgwood circle, 1730–1897: four generations of a family and their friends. London: Studio Vista.


Reports Lincoln’s murder.

The end of Civil War is in sight.

Must look at dimorphism in Plantago.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 147
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4833,” accessed on 28 January 2021,

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