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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   7 August 1866


Aug. 7, 1866

My Dear Darwin

When I received yours of July 15,1 I had just returned from a week of sailing on our New England coast, I have now had a week of pottering at home, and next week I go into the country for 10 days. When I return I must set down to a new ed. of my Manual of Botany, and other stuff.2

I will soon send you a brief note on a complete, symmetrical, regular, but 2–merous Orchid flower,—in Cypripedium.3

Brace’s full name is Charles Loring Brace. Curious that Dr. Wells should have first propounded Nat. selection.4 But a man far-seeing in one line is likely to be so in others.5

Appleton has, at my request, returned the sheets I had sent him, as he persisted in the idea of making what he called the essential alterations on his old stereotype plates, I thought for any petty pecuniary advantage, even connive at such doings.6 I wish your publisher would arrange with some American bookseller to supply the market here at a rate which would make the English edition generally available.7

When your Variation-book is ready, we will see what can be done with that, & perhaps at the same time may then get a satisfactory reprint of Origin8

I shall take your sheets with me for rail-way reading. I have now got all the sheets.— Intending to amuse hours of travel with them, I had not till this moment read the passage, on Owen in the Hist. Sketch. Owen’s proceedings are characteristic. And your note is the prettiest piece of work of the kind I ever had the pleasure to see.9 I never read a more telling page. Owen must be mad enough at being “knocked into a cocked hat”—as we say,— But I see not how he can complain.

I wait with interest the result about Rhamnus. I enclose fls of R. lanceolatus.10

Clarke was of the greatest use to Agassiz and I cannot but think that A. used him very unfairly as soon as he no longer wanted him or found it difficult to pay for his services.11 C. is a capital observer; but a man of a lumbering sort of mind. His book was founded on a small course of lectures,—of which I heard only one, and found then—and in conversation with him too—that he was quite incapable of understanding what Natural Selection meant—as much so as Agassiz himself—only the former would like to understand it, and the latter wilfully would not.12

You should study Wyman’s observations in his own papers. He is always careful to keep his inferences close to his facts, & is as good an experimenter, I judge, as he is an observer. He has a new series of observations to publish. I think, that he has not at all pronounced in favor of spontaneous generation—but I will bet on his experiments against Pasteur, any day.13

I am so glad you are so well: pray keep so,

Ever Yours affectionately | Asa Gray


CD’s letter to Gray of 15 July 1866 has not been found.
The fifth edition of Gray’s Manual of the botany of the northern United States was published in 1867 (A. Gray 1867).
Dimerous: i.e.: with two members in each part or whorl. Flowers of Cypridedium normally have three sepals and petals. In Orchids 2d ed., p. 235 n., CD referred to the description of a ‘monstrous flower of Cypripedium candidum’ that Gray published in the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1866). CD and Gray had corresponded extensively on the pollination mechanism of Cypripedium (see Correspondence vols. 10 and 11).
Brace was a nephew of Gray’s wife, Jane Loring Gray. He had informed CD of an article by William Charles Wells, ‘An account of a white female, part of whose skin resembles that of a Negro; with some observations on the causes of the differences in colour and form between the white and negro races of men’; the paper was published together with two other essays in W. C. Wells 1818. In the historical sketch of Origin 4th ed., p. xv, CD quoted Wells’s remark that nature had formed varieties of humans fitted to their environment in a similar way to that in which agriculturalists improved domestic animals by selection, though more slowly. CD also cited Brace for calling his attention to the article. For a discussion of Wells’s paper, see K. D. Wells 1973.
Wells had received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society of London for An essay on dew, and several appearances connected with it (W. C. Wells 1814; see DNB).
Gray refers to the sheets of the fourth edition of Origin. On the process of stereotyping used by the publisher D. Appleton & Co. to produce the American edition of Origin, see the letter to Asa Gray, 16 April [1866] and n. 11. Apparently William Henry Appleton, the head of the firm, had proposed making small changes to individual stereotype plates, as any substantial revision would alter the pagination of the volume and entail a recasting of all the stereotypes. Gray had enclosed a letter from Appleton with his letter of 3 July 1866, but this enclosure has not been found.
The first American edition of Variation was published by Orange Judd & Co. in 1868. A revised American edition of Origin was published by D. Appleton & Co. in 1870.
CD had considerably revised his account of Richard Owen’s work in the historical sketch to Origin 4th ed., pp. xvii–viii (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 May [1866] and n. 11; see also letter to B. D. Walsh, [19] April [1866]).
CD and his son William Erasmus Darwin were investigating the different flower forms of Rhamnus cathartica. CD had become interested in Rhamnus in 1861, when Gray informed him that R. lanceolatus was dimorphic. See also letter to W. E. Darwin, 22 June [1866] and n. 10.
On the dispute between Henry James Clark and his former teacher, Louis Agassiz, see the letter from B. D. Walsh, 17 July 1866 and n. 15.
Clark’s book, Mind in nature, was based on a series of lectures given at the Lowell Institute in Boston in 1864 (see H. J. Clark 1865, iii). For more on Clark’s book, see the letter from B. D. Walsh, 17 July 1866 and n. 14.
Gray alludes to experiments performed by his colleague at Harvard University, Jeffries Wyman, in order to test the claims of Louis Pasteur to have disproved the theory of spontaneous generation (see Wyman 1862 and 1867). Gray had previously defended Wyman as an accurate observer in the context of debates over spontaneous generation (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863, and letter from Asa Gray, 21 July 1863). On the role of Wyman’s work in these debates, see Strick 2000.


Clark, Henry James. 1865. Mind in nature; or the origin of life, and the mode of development of animals. New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Gray, Asa. 1866. Note on a regular dimerous flower of Cypripedium candidum. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 42: 195.

Gray, Asa. 1867. Manual of the botany of the northern United States: including the district east of the Mississippi and north of North Carolina and Tennessee, arranged according to the natural system. 5th edition. New York: Ivison, Phinney, Blakeman & Co.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.

Strick, James. 2000. Sparks of life: Darwinism and the Victorian debates over spontaneous generation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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

Wells, Kentwood D. 1973. William Charles Wells and the races of man. Isis 64: 215–25.

Wells, William Charles. 1814. An essay on dew, and several appearances connected with it. London: Taylor and Hessey.

Wells, William Charles. 1818. Two essays: one upon single vision with two eyes; the other on dew. A letter to the Right Hon. Lloyd, Lord Kenyon and an account of a female of the white race of mankind, part of whose skin resembles that of a negro; with some observations on the causes of the differences in colour and form between the white and negro races of men. London: Archibald Constable and Co. [and others].

Wyman, Jeffries. 1862. Experiments on the formation of Infusoria in boiled solutions of organic matter, enclosed in hermetically sealed vessels, and supplied with pure air. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 34: 79–87.


Appleton’s will not print a new edition of Origin.

AG has read sheets of new English edition [4th] and is much pleased by the passage on Richard Owen in the historical sketch.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 153
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5184,” accessed on 7 December 2021,

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