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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   6 November 1865

Cambridge. Mass.

Nov. 6. 1865.

My Dear Darwin

I am very glad to hear from you, and to see half your letter of the 19th Oct. in your own handwriting is a good sign.1 I do hope you may get a comfortable winter, and bring out your next volume without breaking down.2

I am pleased that you approve my abstract of your Climber paper.—but observe it was only of the 1st part of your elaborate article—3 But as to praise you speak of, I am sure you pay me back, with interest.4

I lately sent to Silliman as much more—a large part, indeed, extracts, which I could not shorten—on the tendril-bearing part of your paper. But Dana sent me the proof, with all my long extracts omitted for want of room.5 This reduced my article to incoherence, so I begged all to be laid over for the January number, when I hope to have room. I entertained our Social Scientific Club here with your article, and all were greatly interested.6 As to Climbing Roses, they are the strong summer shoots, growing after flowering, which I find frequently running their heads into dark corners of the porch over my door, &c—7

That is very curious—but quite what I looked for—that dimorphous species self-fertilized, should act like hybrids (sterile or dwarfs, &c—)

You must publish these facts in some brief article—8

“Stephens” ==== Stevens, was a New Yorker—is dead, years ago.—9 wrote most amusing & popular travels—in Egypt, as well— Central America was his first & freshest book.10 But only amusing, as far as I recollect.

So Palmerston is gone—a fine specimen of a John Bull he was—a very typical specimen. The Yankees can’t help admirng & liking him.—tho’ not for any good he ever did us.11 But as for his successor, he is a prig,—a juiceless stick.12

Don’t you think Adams pays him back nicely for propo〈sing〉 that they should sit down and rejoice together over the abolition of slavery.13 Just to see how the world has moved, turn back to Russell’s letter/lecture to be read to Mr. Lincoln, on occasion of his proclamation of emancipation!14

Good Bye, my dear good fellow, and recover health as fast as ever you can.

Yours affectionately | A. Gray


The second half of CD’s last letter to Asa Gray, 19 October [1865], was written by Emma Darwin.
In his letter of 19 October [1865], CD had told Gray that although his health was somewhat improved, he could still do ‘no regular work’. CD had stopped work on Variation in April 1865 because of poor health (see letter to John Murray, 2 June [1865], n. 1, and ‘Journal’, Appendix II; see also Appendix IV).
Gray’s abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ appeared in two parts (A. Gray 1865–6). The first part, covering the sections of the paper on twiners and leaf-climbers, appeared in the September 1865 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts. The second part, covering tendril-bearers and the paper’s concluding remarks, appeared in the January 1866 issue. CD’s lightly annotated copy of A. Gray 1865–6 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Benjamin Silliman Jr and James Dwight Dana were co-editors of the American Journal of Science and Arts.
Gray had helped to found the Cambridge Scientific Club in the 1840s. The group was composed largely of Harvard faculty, and met twice a month at a different member’s house for a meal, and the presentation and discussion of a paper. Louis Agassiz was also a member of the club, and some of the meetings were occasions of debate between him and Gray. See Dupree 1959, pp. 121–2, 258, 285.
John Lloyd Stephens had died in 1852 (DAB). See letter to Asa Gray, 19 October [1865].
Stephens’s first book was Incidents of travel in Egypt, Arabia, Petaea, and the Holy Land (Stephens 1837). Gray also refers to Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (Stephens 1841).
Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, died on 18 October 1865; he had been prime minister since 1859 (DNB). Palmerston’s policy of neutrality in the American Civil War is discussed in E. D. Adams 1925, 2: 37–74, and Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 66 and 167.
John Russell was foreign secretary under Palmerston and succeeded him as prime minister (DNB).
In his capacity as United States minister to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams, was involved in negotiations with the British government to obtain compensation for commercial losses inflicted by Confederate vessels that had been built or given shelter in British ports during the American Civil War. On 26 October 1865, the New York Times printed the diplomatic correspondence between Adams and Russell concerning the US claims. In his letter of 30 August 1865, Russell maintained that the British government had acted honourably as a neutral power, and could not be held responsible for damages caused by the southern vessels; he concluded by congratulating the US government for having resolved to abolish slavery, a practice for which the British had always held ‘the deepest abhorrence’: ‘The efforts by which the United States Government and Congress have shaken off slavery have, therefore, the warmest sympathies of the people of these kingdoms’. In his reply, Adams reiterated the US claims and remarked that it had been his misfortune ‘to observe in the process of so wonderful a revolution, a degree of coldness and apathy prevailing in many quarters’ of the British public; he hoped, however, that ‘the result arrived at [would] ultimately correct the hasty and harsh judgments that flowed from lack of faith and of confidence in [the US government’s] fidelity to a righteous cause’. The correspondence between Adams and Russell also appeared in the London Gazette (supplement), 11 October 1865, pp. 4833–60.
The ‘letter’ or ‘lecture’ has not been identified; however, Russell issued several statements following the decree made by the US president, Abraham Lincoln, on 22 September 1862, which gave freedom, effective from 1 January 1863, to slaves in the states that were currently at war with the Union. In a memorandum published by the Foreign Office and circulated to Cabinet ministers on 13 October 1862, Russell criticised the decree for ‘want of consistency’, and described it as ‘an act of punishment and retaliation inflicted by a belligerent upon a hostile community’, rather than an attempt to satisfy the ‘claims of humanity’ (see Bourne and Watt eds. 1986–7, 6: 94–5). See also Earl Russell to Earl Cowley, ‘Despatch respecting the Civil War in North America’, Parliamentary Papers, 72 (1863): 3–4, and Earl Russell to Lord Lyons, 17 January 1863, ibid., pp. 51–2. Russell’s response to the ‘emancipation proclamation’ is discussed in Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 174–5.


Discusses "Climbing plants" and his own abstract of it.

CD should publish results of self-fertilising dimorphic plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 149
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4930,” accessed on 25 August 2019,

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