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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   24 July 1865

Cambridge, Mass.

July 24, 1865.

My Dear Darwin

I had heard, thro’ Hooker, that you had been poorly again, and I think that a letter, signifying my sorrow was written and has crossed yours just received.1 I fancy you as now getting much better again. I am glad you did not see Brace (tho’ sorry you could not): he is a great talker, or rather questioner, and would have exhausted you terribly.2

Here, at length are some seeds of Specularia perfoliata,3 from Dr. Engelmann.4 I have sown half, and send you the rest. I am reading in snatches, your admirable paper on Climbing Plants—as yet only 88 pages of it,—and am watching, with great interest, all the climbers I have at hand. What a nice piece of work you have made of it!5

I see you explain & illustrate at length the double turn of a caught tendril. Is it not enough to say that, with both ends fixed, if it shortens say by the contraction of one side it must, by mechanical necessity turn its coil different ways, from a neutral point.6

I am vexed to have no Adlumia in the garden this year7—i.e. no seedlings came up last year—from the drought, I suppose. I may meet with it, in the country—the Western part of New York—where my wife and I are going—two days hence—to rusticate for 3 weeks—8 She needs it.—tho’ I hardly do. The first thing I do will be to write, for Sill. Journal an analysis of your great paper,9 And when I return, if not too late, I mean to give 2 or 3 lectures from it to my University Class.

Ere this Mrs. Wedgwood should be back from Canada, but I have not learned that she is so.10 She was to let me know, and we would have a day on the shore where Mr. Loring lives in summer—a pretty bit of country.11 But it is now too late.

I wish she could have been here on Friday, when we welcomed back our Harvard men who had been in the war, over 500 of them—and remembered those who had died for their country. What a day we had!

Jefferson Davis richly deserves to be hung.12 We are all willing to leave the case in the hands of the Government, who must take the responsibility. If I were responsible, I would have him tried for treason—the worst of crimes in a republic— convicted, sentenced to death,—and then I think I should commute the penalty, not out of any consideration for him, but from policy, and for his more complete humiliation. The only letters I have received expressing a desire to hang him, are from rebeldom itself—from Alabama. You see slavery is dead, dead,—an absolute unanimity as to this.13 The Revolted States will behave as badly as they can, but they are so thoroughly whipped that can’t stir, hand or foot,—and we are disbanding all our armies— a corporal’s guard is enough to hold South Carolina—14

Seriously, there are difficult questions before us,—but only one result is possible— the South must be renovated, and Yankeefied.

Well— take good care of yourself, and let me know that you are again in comfortable condition

Ever Your affectionate friend | A. Gray


Neither letter has been found. Gray refers to Joseph Dalton Hooker.
Gray had given his wife’s nephew, Charles Loring Brace, an introduction to CD (see letter from Asa Gray, 15 and 17 May 1865 and nn. 12 and 13).
Gray had sent CD seeds of Specularia perfoliata, which CD referred to as Campanula perfoliata, in 1863, but CD had inadvertently destroyed them and requested more seeds in 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864] and n. 16; see also Correspondence vols. 10 and 11 for correspondence between Gray and CD on Specularia). CD discussed the cleistogamic flowers of S. perfoliata in Forms of flowers, p. 330.
George Engelmann, a physician, plant collector, and botanist, had spent time working with Gray in 1856 at the Harvard Botanical Garden (ANB).
CD had been inspired to study climbing plants after reading a short paper on coiling tendrils by Gray (A. Gray 1858; see letter to Asa Gray, 19 April [1865] and n. 16).
Gray refers to ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 95–8.
Gray had sent CD specimens and seed of Adlumia cirrhosa in 1857. At the time, CD was interested in the species because it formed fruits without insect pollination, a fact noted in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 366. Gray had disagreed with CD about whether A. cirrhosa was ever pollinated by insects. See Correspondence vol. 6, letter from Asa Gray, [August 1857], and letter to Asa Gray, 29 November [1857]. CD’s observations on A. cirrhosa as a leaf-climber are in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 44, 111.
Jane Loring Gray and Asa Gray may have been going to Gray’s family home in Sauquoit, New York (Dupree 1959).
The American Journal of Science and Arts was commonly known as ‘Silliman’s journal’, after its founder, Benjamin Silliman. The first part of Gray’s review of ‘Climbing plants’ (A. Gray 1865–6) appeared in American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 40 (1865): 273–82.
Charles Greely Loring, Gray’s father-in-law, had a summer home in Beverly, Massachusetts (Dupree 1959).
Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate states during the American Civil War. See letter from Asa Gray, 15 and 17 May 1865 and n. 6.
Over the course of the American Civil War, Gray and CD frequently discussed their strong opposition to slavery (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Asa Gray, 1 September 1863, and this volume, letter to Asa Gray, 19 April [1865]). For CD’s opposition to slavery, see also Journal of researches, pp. 27–8, Colp 1978, and Browne 1995, pp. 196–9, 213–14, 244–6.
Gray refers to the fact that the Southern states had been crushed economically as well as militarily by the end of the war (McPherson 1988, pp. 818–19). South Carolina, generally viewed in the North as the origin of the rebellion, had been so totally devastated by General William Sherman’s campaign in early 1865 that only a token force was thought to be required to prevent further revolt (ibid., pp. 825–30).


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

Browne, Janet. 1995. Charles Darwin. Voyaging. Volume I of a biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

‘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.

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–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

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.

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.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

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


Is reading CD’s "Climbing plants".

The Civil War is ended; slavery is dead.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 148
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4877,” accessed on 26 September 2022,

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