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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   16 April [1866]1

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

April. 16th

My dear Gray

I have been a scandalously ungrateful, & idle dog for not having thanked you very long ago for the second article on climbing plants, which pleased me greatly. 2 But, as I have before said, now that I work a little, I seldom feel inclined to write to anyone,3 but this evening the spirit has moved me to do so, though I have little to say, & my dear amanuensis is poorly with influenza, which has likewise knocked me up for a week.—4

Hooker paid us a visit of a day about a fortnight ago & I was delighted to see him looking well & in good spirits:5 he hopes before long not to be so terribly overworked & is going soon to write a paper on the St. Helena Flora from Burchell’s collections.6 I have lately had a letter from Fritz Müller in S. Brazil, full of curious observations.7 One case, which he is going to publish in Germany, is of a Rubiaceous plant with very long tubular corolla & with stigma in the middle: when an insect or any object touches the filament of the stamens, these suddenly & violently bend & eject the pollen, which had been previously shed & collected into a ball between the anthers, against the intruding object. But the curious point is that this same movement closes the tube of the corolla, so that the insect cannot then fertilise the flower; but in about 8 hours the tube opens & then an insect dusted with the ejected pollen from a distinct flower can do the work of fertilisation.8

I was well at work on my new Book, when in beginning of March, Murray required new Edit. of Origin, & I have been correcting & adding matter of some importance ever since.9 It almost broke my heart to give up so much time, but I have been comforted by finding that it will likewise serve for a new German Edition, which is wanted.10

All this has makes me regret extremely that the American edition was stereotyped; for the book is now considerably improved from what it was in the 2d. edition, which is the one reprinted in America.— I suppose nothing can be done: the corrections are far too numerous & minute for alteration in stereotypes.11 I presume the sale has stopped; & even if it had not quite stopped, it would, I fear, be useless to ask Publishers, either the same or any others, to bring out an amended edition.— I will send you a copy whenever it is published, for the chance of your liking to have one.—12

I will just ask on bare chance, whether you have any new facts on the direct influence of pollen on the fruit borne by the mother-plant; for this subject has come to interest me greatly:13 also whether you know of any cases of bud with blended character produced at junction of stock & graft: I have been reading a paper by Caspary on this subject.14

I hope all the Fenian row in your country, will not be the cause of more trouble & hatred between our two countries.15 It seems blowing over at present; as I hope are your troubles about your President & the South.—16 I declare I can hardly yet realise the grand, magnificent fact that Slavery is at end in your country.17 Farewell my good & kind friend—

Yours most sincerely | C. Darwin

I work daily now between 2 & 3 hours! & walk 3 or 4 miles daily!! yet never escape much discomfort.—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Asa Gray, 7 May 1866.
The second part of Gray’s review of ‘Climbing plants’ (A. Gray 1865–6) appeared in the January 1866 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts. CD had praised the first part of the review (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Asa Gray, 19 October [1865]). CD’s lightly annotated copy of Gray 1865–6 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In his letter to Gray of 28 May [1864] (Correspondence vol. 12), CD remarked that the pleasure of doing work on Lythrum, following many months of ‘inaction’, had ‘disinclined [him] for the exertion of writing letters’. CD’s health had been poor for much of 1864 and 1865; he began to report some improvement in September 1865 (see Correspondence vol. 12, and Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [or 28 September 1865]).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), she came down with influenza on 9 April. CD had contracted influenza the previous day, having gone to bed with a cold on 6 April. By 14 April, CD had recovered.
Joseph Dalton Hooker had visited Down from 24 to 26 March 1866 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
William John Burchell had collected plants while serving as botanist to the East India Company on St Helena from 1805 to 1810 (R. Desmond 1994). Hooker did not publish a paper on Burchell’s St Helena collections; however, he mentioned the collections in his paper on insular floras (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 27). See also Correspondence vol. 13, letter from J. D. Hooker, [19 April 1865] and n. 14.
In his letter to Charles Lyell, 22 February [1866], CD had complained of having to stop work on Variation in order to undertake revisions for the fourth edition of Origin as requested by his publisher, John Murray. See also letter from John Murray, 21 February [1866], and letter to John Murray, 22 February [1866].
On the publication of a third German edition of Origin, see the letter from E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 23 March 1866.
Gray had arranged for the publication of Origin in the United States by the New York firm D. Appleton and Co. in 1860. The firm had used the process of stereotyping, in which the type of each page of text was set into a solid plate. See Correspondence vol. 8, letter from Asa Gray, 23 January 1860 and n. 2. After the first three print-runs had nearly sold out, Appleton agreed to produce a revised edition (Origin US ed.), incorporating a historical sketch in the form of a preface, additional material added to the end of chapter 4 on natural selection, and a seven-page supplement containing other additions and alterations. On the differences between the American edition and the second English edition, see Correspondence vol. 8, Appendix VI.
The American edition of Origin was reprinted a further six times by D. Appleton and Co. between 1861 and 1870, when a new edition was issued (Freeman 1977). Gray’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for the fourth edition of Origin (see Correspondence vol. 14, Appendix IV).
In Variation 1: 397–403, CD discussed cases in which the pollen of one plant, when applied to another species or variety, affected the shape, colour, or flavour of its fruit. Such modifications, CD argued, were not due to the effect of the pollen on the ‘germ’. CD returned to the subject in his chapter on pangenesis; on the direct action of the male element on the female, he wrote, ‘We are thus brought half-way towards a graft-hybrid, in which the cellular tissue of one form, instead of its pollen, is believed to hybridise the tissues of a distinct form’ (ibid., 2: 365). See letter to J. D. Hooker, [5 April 1866] and n. 2.
The reference is to Caspary 1865a. On CD’s interest in graft-hybrids, see the letter to Robert Caspary, 21 February [1866] and n. 3, and the letter from Robert Caspary, 25 February 1866 and nn. 4 and 9.
From 1864, Canadian and British government officials had expressed concern about the possible invasion of Canada by Fenian forces (Winks 1960, pp. 323–6; B. Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 391–2). Fenian troops, composed largely of Union Army veterans, made several raids across the US border into Canadian territory in 1866 (Senior 1991). The Fenian Brotherhood was established in 1859 as the North American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The Fenians sought political independence for Ireland. The movement had substantial support within Irish American communities in the United States, although the actual membership of the brotherhood was small. On the history of the Fenians, see Rafferty 1999.
The president of the United States, Andrew Johnson, had clashed with Congress over the policy of reconstruction in the southern states following the American Civil War. Johnson had vetoed congressional bills concerning the readmission of former Confederate states into the Union, on the grounds that they contravened powers of the individual states as guaranteed by the Constitution. For a discussion of Johnson’s policy and congressional debates on reconstruction, see McKitrick 1988, pp. 258–9, 274–325.
Slavery was outlawed in the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment had been passed by the House of Representatives in January 1865; by December it had received the required vote from two-thirds of the state legislatures to be made into law. See EB and McKitrick 1988, p. 169. For CD’s opposition to slavery and his extensive correspondence with Gray on slavery and the American Civil War, see Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 499–500, Correspondence vols. 1, 9–13, Colp 1978, and Browne 1995, pp. 196–9, 213–14, 244–6.


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

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

McKitrick, Eric. 1988. Andrew Johnson and reconstruction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Origin US ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. A new edition, revised and augmented by the author. By Charles Darwin. New York: D. Appleton. 1860.

Rafferty, Oliver P. 1999. The church, the state and the Fenian threat, 1861–75. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Senior, Hereward. 1991. The last invasion of Canada: the Fenian raids, 1866–1870. Toronto and Oxford: Dundurn Press.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Winks, Robin. 1960. Canada and the United States: the Civil War years. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.


AG’s second article on Climbing plants [Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 41 (1866): 125–30].

Fritz Müller’s observations on Rubiaceae.

New edition [4th] of Origin.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (96)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5057,” accessed on 24 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14