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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   14 February 1870

Cambridge, Mass.

Feb. 14. 70

My Dear Darwin

Being eve of post-day we respond at once to yours of the 27th January—which arrived this very morning—lest you should send us down to posterity with a fabulous dog-story.1

I well remember telling you of our “Max” and his habit of washing cat-fashion—which you suggested might have come from being brought up with a cat, and I think I told you that I had not been able to learn definitely whether that was the case or no. Here, you see, by some shuffling of memory, a suggestion of what might explain a fact has taken the place of the fact itself. I am curious to know if it be true,—for it is the only explanation I can think of.

As to your question which I brought home from you to Agassiz, I spoke to him of it the first time I saw him, and soon sent him your written mem. I fear it is too late now to get the answer from him,—unless he mends more decidedly than he is now doing.2 About a month ago A. had a serious and peculiar attack of trouble in the brain, which we fear betokens serious mischief, and has laid him up wholly. He is getting better slowly, but his state is critical & doubtful. I advise you to forward the query to Alexr. Agassiz. (letters will reach thro’ Baring Brothers, & Co. 8, Bishopgate St. within.); he can either inform you or find out.3 J. Wyman4 is now in Italy, or on the way, or I could learn from him.

So you have effected a treaty with Appleton of New York.5 The bait you offered—of a book sure to make a great stir, and sell hugely—was more than he could resist. He ought to have done it from a sense of propriety.

I trust you have some of the slender leaved Drosera, I sent thro’ Hooker.6

Well, our homeward voyage was not a nice one, especially for Mrs. Gray,7 and it now seems a long time ago. I dropped at once into a world of work—but am not killing myself. The main struggle for existence will come in spring, when my duties crowd on me dreadfully.

It gave us both very great pleasure to see again Mrs. Darwins well-known hand-writing, and your signature.

I knew you would be pleased with young Agassiz and his Yankee wife.8 I wish his health were better.—and I do hope your own will be such that you can next summer see and know my trump of a colleague J. Wyman.

Ever Yours truly, | A. Gray


CD’s letter to Gray of 27 January 1870 has not been found. See also letter from J. L. Gray, 14 February 1870.
Louis Agassiz suffered a severe breakdown after giving an address on 14 September 1869 and was ill for ten months (Marcou 1896, pp. 175, 177–8). The written memorandum has not been found. See also letter from Asa Gray, 27 February and 1 March 1870.
Louis Agassiz’s son Alexander was travelling in Europe (G. R. Agassiz ed. 1913, pp. 97–114). Bishopsgate Street within: i.e. within the walls of the City of London.
Jeffries Wyman.
D. Appleton & Co. had agreed to reprint the fifth edition of Origin and Descent (Correspondence vol. 17, letter from Charles Layton, 23 December 1869). The head of the firm was William Henry Appleton.
Drosera linearis, the slenderleaf sundew, is found in North America. Gray also refers to Joseph Dalton Hooker.
Jane Loring Gray.
Alexander and Anna Russell Agassiz visited Down on or shortly before 1 December 1869 (see Correspondence vol. 17, letter to Fritz Müller, 1 December [1869]).


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Marcou, Jules. 1896. Life, letters, and works of Louis Agassiz. 2 vols. London and New York: Macmillan and Co.

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.


Louis Agassiz’s ill health means AG will not get an answer to CD’s query from him. Suggests CD ask Agassiz’s son, Alexander.

Has no details about the origin of the cat-like behaviour of his dog.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 173
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7105,” accessed on 14 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18