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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   14 April 1871

Botanic Garden, | Cambridge, Mass.

14. April 1871

My Dear Darwin.

You have such a way of putting things, and you write in such a captivating way. One can only say.

Almost thou persuadest me to have been “a hairy quadruped, of arboreal habits, furnished with a tail and pointed ears” &c.1

But I have read only the first part of the book, and the closing chapters—have left all the sexual selection till I can read it leisurely next summer, and have lent it to a judicious friend who has just returned it.

I have been besought to write notices of the book, But I decline. You don’t know how distracted I am in these days—doing the work of Professor, gardener, builder, financier, & what not all at once—2

But I must not let this mail pass without sending you the little I could get as to Laura Bridgman3

Thro’ Dr. Jarvis—a medical man &c—I got the queries put to the woman who has now the personal charge of Laura, & he brought me the enclosed,—which I think I should not much rely on.4

When Dr. Howe is on hand, some day, I will see if I can get anything authentic & particular,—not, I fear in time for you.5

My wife6 joins in kindest regards— In great haste, Ever Yours sincerely | Asa Gray

P.S. My wife asks—Have you read “The Innocents Abroad’, by your favorite author—i.e. the author of The Jumping Frog.’7 Apropos to Californian literature—& science, she sends you—by this post—Bret Harte’s poems—which she admires, & thinks will amuse you.8 | A.G.


After observing the expression of Laura Bridgman’s face, on conversing with her at different times, I can only give the following information.

Query first— The eyebrows were invariably raised

Query thirteenth. The shoulders were shrugged, the elbows drawn inwards, also the hands were drawn inwards and the eyebrows raised.9

CD annotations

2.1 Query … raised] double scored pencil; ‘—As [some others]
3.1 Query … raised. 3.2] crossed ink
Top of encl.: ‘Laura Bridgeman | Through D⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ | Dr ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ reason to doub⁠⟨⁠t⁠⟩⁠’ pencil


Gray quotes Descent 2: 389.
In 1871, Gray supervised the construction of a new botanical lecture room and laboratory for the Botanic Garden at Harvard University, and found a private donor willing to finance the building (Dupree 1959, p. 345).
Gray probably refers to Edward Jarvis, a psychiatrist in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The woman who answered the queries was probably Maria Moulton (see Gitter 2001, p. 261). CD enclosed a copy of his expression queries with his letter to Gray of 5 February [1871] (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix VII).
Samuel Gridley Howe was in Santo Domingo in April 1871 (see letter from Asa Gray, 10 and 14 March [1871] and n. 5.
Gray refers to Mark Twain, The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County, and other sketches (Twain 1867), and The innocents abroad, or, The new pilgrims’ progress (Twain 1869). The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County was evidently a particular favourite of CD (see Higginson 1898, pp. 284–5).
See n. 4, above. Question 1 was about the role of the eyes, mouth, and eyebrows in expressing astonishment. Question 13 was about the motion of the arms and hands in expressing helplessness. CD cited these observations in Expression, p. 280.


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.

Dupree, Anderson Hunter. 1959. Asa Gray, 1810–1888. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Gitter, Elisabeth. 2001. The imprisoned guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the original deaf-blind girl. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Harte, Bret. 1871. Poems. Boston: Osgood.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. 1898. Cheerful yesterdays. Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside Press.

Twain, Mark. 1867. The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County, and other sketches. New York: C. H. Webb.

Twain, Mark. 1869. The innocents abroad, or, The new pilgrims’ progress. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company.


Is reading Descent.

Encloses some answers to CD’s queries about expressions of Laura Bridgman.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 175, 175/2
Physical description
ALS 4pp, encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7683,” accessed on 23 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19