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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   15 March [1870]1

Down. | Beckenham. | Kent. S.E.

March 15th

My dear Gray

You & Mrs. Gray have been very good, & I thank you for your letters & enclosures.—2 If Mrs Gray ever learns anything authentic about the nursing of her dog, I am sure she will inform me.— Two days ago my wife read a passage to me from Miss Mitfords life, minutely describing a dog, which had been nursed by a cat & which licked its paws! But as this is a second-hand account, it will not do to quote; & the description of the cat-like habits of this dog was too much even for my capacious gullet.3

Whenever you have any communication with Agassiz, pray give him my cordial thanks for his kind message & for his information, which I much feared would prove negative.4 I wish with all my heart that I could feel that I deserved what Alex. A. says of me.5

We have just returned from a week in London, where we went for a rest to me, as I was pretty well worn out.6 I find the man-essay very interesting but very difficult; & the difficulties of the Moral sense has caused me much labour.7 But as Hooker disrespectfully says of me, “oh you will wriggle out of anything”.8 But as I tell him, he has become quite as good a wriggler as I am.— He is awfully busy & we did not see him, which was a great loss.

I suppose you will have seen some notice of Round Isld. off Mauritius: the diavolo himself would not be able to explain how the plants & animals got distributed on these 2 islands.—9 I have just moved your Droseras into the Greenhouse; but we do not know whether they are dead or alive.—10

Your’s ever affectionately | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from Asa and J. L. Gray, 14 February 1870.
See letters from Asa and J. L. Gray, 14 February 1870.
CD refers to Mary Russell Mitford and Mitford 1870. Mitford had been told of a King Charles spaniel that had been nursed by a cat (Mitford 1870, 2: 276–7): He is as afraid of rain as his foster-mother; will never, if possible to avoid it, set his paw in a wet place; licks his feet two or three times a day, for the purpose of washing his face, which operation he performs in the true cattish position, sitting up on his tail; will watch a mousehole for hours together; and has, in short, all the ways, manners, habits, and disposition of his wet-nurse, the cat.
CD refers to Alexander Agassiz, whom he had met in 1869 (see letter to Fritz Müller, 1 December [1869]). It is not known what Agassiz had been saying about CD.
The Darwins had been in London from 5 to 12 March 1870 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
CD had been working on the second and third chapter of Descent, ‘Comparison of the mental powers of man and the lower animals’.
Joseph Dalton Hooker and CD had long joked about CD’s ability to ‘wriggle’ out of difficulties; see for example Correspondence vol. 9, letter from J. D. Hooker, 7 November [1861].
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 February [1870] and n. 2. Diavolo: devil.
Gray had sent CD specimens of Drosera filiformis, the thread-leaved sundew, in 1869; see letter from Asa Gray, 20 October 1869 and n. 1.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.

Mitford, Mary Russell. 1870. The life of Mary Russell Mitford, authoress of ‘Our village’, etc., related in a selection from her letters to her friends. Edited by Alfred Guy Kingham L’estrange. 2d edition. 3 vols. London: Richard Bentley.


The "man-essay" [Descent] is "very interesting but very difficult".

Cat-like behaviour in dogs.

Thanks for information from Louis Agassiz;

wishes he could feel he deserves what Alexander Agassiz says of him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (91)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7132,” accessed on 16 August 2022,

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