skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   15 August [1865]1

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

Augt 15

My dear Gray

I was much pleased to get your letter of July 24th2 Now that I can do nothing, I maunder over old subjects & your approbation of my Climbing paper gives me very great satisfaction.3 I made my observations when I could do nothing else & much enjoyed it, but always doubted whether they were worth publishing.—

I demur to it not being necessary to explain in detail about the spires in caught tendrils running in opposite directions; for the fact for a long time confounded me & I have found it difficult enough to explain the cause to 2 or 3 persons.4 One botanist has published that he could detect a difference of structure in the tendrils at the points of reversal of the spire!5 Very many thanks for Specularia seed.6

We continue to be deeply interested on American affairs; indeed I care for nothing else in the Times.7 How egregiously wrong we English were in thinking that you could not hold the South after conquering it. How well I remember thinking that Slavery would flourish for centuries in your Southern States!8 My women read much aloud to me,9 & I have lately heard three Books, worth your attention—Lubbock Prehistoric Man— Tylor early History of Civilization, which is admirable; & Lecky’s Rationalism, which also strikes me as very well worth reading.—10

Mrs Wedgwood has enjoyed her American visit greatly, & has received the usual wonderful amount of American hospitality.—11 This is a longer note than I have written for many weeks, so farewell.

I am trying a starving system of cure; eating very little of anything, & that almost exclusively bread & meat.12

Yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Asa Gray, 24 July 1865.
CD refers to Gray’s praise of ‘Climbing plants’ (see letter from Asa Gray, 24 July 1865 and n. 5).
Gray had objected to the length of CD’s explanation of the bi-directionality of spirals in caught tendrils, suggesting that a simple explanation based on mechanical necessity would have been sufficient (see letter from Asa Gray, 24 July 1865; see also ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 95–8).
CD is probably referring to Isidore Léon. In an article on spiral motion in tendrils (Léon 1858), Léon wrote that he had observed under the microscope that, in a transverse section, cells of relatively greater diameter occurred on the outside edge of the tendril at those points where the spiral changed direction, whereas the larger cells would normally be towards the centre of the tendril (ibid., p. 681). Daniel Oliver had sent CD an abstract of Léon 1858 in 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Daniel Oliver, [1 April 1864]). CD cited Léon 1858 in ‘Climbing plants’, p. 96, but Léon’s observation on the structural changes in tendrils is not mentioned.
CD had earlier complained about the coverage of the American Civil War in The Times, which consistently adopted a hostile tone towards the Union cause (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Asa Gray, 23 February [1863] and nn. 22–3; for more on the bias of The Times in reporting the war, see Brogan ed. 1975 and Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 46–50). Emma Darwin cancelled their subscription to The Times at one point because of her indignation with the reporting of the war (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 29 October [1864] and n. 13).
For CD’s earlier doubts about whether the North could prevail and whether slavery could be stopped, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 13 September [1864] and n. 10. Reports in The Times had suggested that Southern independence was inevitable (Brogan ed. 1975, p. xvii;). For CD’s views on slavery and Gray’s comments on the defeat of the South, see the letter from Asa Gray, 24 July 1865 and nn. 13 and 14. See also Colp 1978.
CD refers to Emma Darwin, Henrietta Emma Darwin, and possibly Elizabeth Darwin. In a letter to J. D. Hooker of 1 June [1865], CD had mentioned that he could hardly read a page without his head being affected. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 29 October [1864]).
CD refers to Lubbock 1865, Tylor 1865, and Lecky 1865. CD and Joseph Dalton Hooker had already discussed these books (see letters to J. D. Hooker, [10 July 1865] and n. 5, and [29 July 1865] and nn. 13 and 15).
The reference is to Frances Wedgwood (see letter from Asa Gray, 24 July 1865 and n. 10).
CD had evidently abandoned John Chapman’s ice treatment (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [17 June 1865], and letter from Charles and Emma Darwin to J. D. Hooker, [10 July 1865]). He consulted Henry Bence Jones in July and August 1865, recording payments of £1 1s to Jones on 22 and 28 July 1865 and 13 and 30 August 1865 in his Account book–cash account (Down House MS). Jones recommended a strict diet (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [or 28 September 1865]). Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) records ‘began diet’ on 24 July 1865; ‘left off diet’ on 29 July; ‘began diet’ on 17 August, and ‘began regular diet’ (crossed out) on 27 August.


‘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–.

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

Lecky, William Edward Hartpole. 1865. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe. 2 vols. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green.

Léon, Isidore. 1858. Recherches nouvelles sur la cause du mouvement spiral des tiges volubiles. Bulletin de la Société Botanique de France 5: 351–6, 610–14, 624–9, 679–85.

Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1865. Researches into the early history of mankind and the development of civilization. London: John Murray.


Gratified by AG’s praise of "Climbing plants".

Thanks for Specularia seed.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (87)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4882,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

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