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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   6 October 1872

Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Mass.

Oct. 6 1872

My Dear Mr. Darwin

Having been at home now 4 weeks, it is full time I wrote to you,—but we are hardly settled yet, and many arrears of correspondence and affairs are to be brought up1

Your kind favor of July 8 (my last from you) reached San Francisco just after we left it, and, being consigned to the care of a friend who was then also away, found its way to me here only 3 weeks ago.2

You write most kindly of my little book, so little worthy of your notice.3 Do not mistake—as I fear you may, my remark about publishing more fully about Plant-movements, etc. I meant only that—when I bring out a new & much needed edition of my “Structural & Physiological Botany”,—(for which I wrote two chapters 2 years ago, & there was stopped) I mean of course to treat of this topic in its place—I hope rather fully.4 I alluded to it as I did in my little preface as apology or explanation of the absence of all allusion to those whose ideas and discoveries I was making free use of without acknowledgement. But as you are the only person almost to whom I am so indebted, and whose ideas I was appropriating, I might have simply explained to you by letter.

You delight me by your promise to take up Dionæa & Drosera now; and I imagine you as now about it.5 Good. And I am so glad you will take that opportunity to collect your botanical & quasi-botanical papers. These, with the Dionæa &c—will make a nice and most welcome volume.6

In answer to your query—I think I can “support the idea”, or the probability of it, “that tendrils become spiral after clasping an object from the stimulus from contact running down them”. For tho’ some “tendrils do become spiral when they have clasped nothing”, others do not.7 The adjustment of the unstable equilibrium is more delicate in the former, so that it starts under some inappreciable cause or stimulus. That the stimulus may be so propagated downward is clear in the Sensitive Plant, where the closing of the leaflets in succession will follow the closing of the ultimate pair under slight & local irritation.— And in the tendril the coiling below is just a continuation of the same movement or same change as that which incurved the tip in clasping, i.e. a relative shortening of concave or lengthening of the convex side of the tendril. Would you not infer that the action was propagated downward?

I posted to you a copy of my little Dubuque discourse.8 That in Youmans Pop. Sci. Rev. was reprinted from newspaper, & full of slips and blunders. Had I thought he or any one cared to reprint it, I would have revised it for the purpose, as I did for the Amer. Naturalist.9

The Braces are returned,10 I believe, but we have not yet heard from them.

So you were astonished at Mrs. Gray’s audacity,— well, “toujours l’audace”—she is all the better for it.11 She was miserable enough when we set off for California, and she has not for years been so well as now. I did not count upon the rail-road transit being very trying. Perhaps it was as much so as any part of the journey, although she slept well in the car births. Some horse back work in getting to and into Yosemite Valley was severe, but she bore it so well that I ventured, when we made our detour into the Colorado Rocky Mountains, to take her up to the summit of Gray’s Peak—14300 feet, or thereabouts, where she acquitted herself nobly.12 The day was perfect, the success complete, and the memory of it one of the most delightful of the many pleasant memories of the whole journey. The only drawback to the whole thing was that Hooker13 was not with us, according to our original programme.

We had a day at Niagara, another in burnt-out Chicago,14—then after 3 nights and days of interesting rail-road travel a day and two nights at Salt Lake. Two more such landed us in San Francisco,—whence our great trip was the round from S. F. to Mariposa Grove, Yosemite Valley, entering over Glacier Point, from which (tell your sons)15 is a new trail down the 4000 feet into the Valley,—made excursions from the Valley during several days,—and returned by a long sweep thru. the little Tuolumne grove, round foot-hills to Murphy’s and the Calaveras Grove, and so back to San Fr.

Afterwards Mrs. Gray & I went to Santa Cruz & up the San Lorenzo Valley among noble Redwoods, rivalling the Sequoia gigantea.16 On return we made one stretch to the E. base of the Rocky Mountains, then down to Denver, & up into the Mts. to 8400 feet, where we had a pleasant week or more—just the climate to give strength to an invalid—whence I climbed a high mountain or two, among them Gray’s Peak, the highest, as already mentioned. Thence we came down to Dubuque & hot weather on the Missisippi, stayed 8 or 9 days, then took a steamer up the Missisippi to St. Paul & St. Anthony &c—& then home by rail—having been 12 busy weeks away.

Well, we are longing to do it again, and more! But I am settling down to my work as well as I may,—well content with the summer’s holiday.

My wife sends kind regards & joins in those to Mrs. Darwin &c from | Yours sincerely | Asa Gray

CD annotations

5.8 And in the … downward? 5.11] scored pencil
Foot of 4th page: ‘Gray’ pencil


Gray travelled overland to California at the end of June 1872 (J. L. Gray 1893, 2: 625–31).
Gray sent CD a copy of Botany for young people (A. Gray 1872) through Charles Loring Brace (see letter from Asa Gray, 31 May 1872).
See letter to Asa Gray, 8 July 1872 and n. 2. The last edition of Gray’s textbook on structural botany and vegetable physiology had appeared in 1858. The next edition appeared in 1879 (A. Gray 1879), but it covered only structural botany and was described as the first part of a projected four-volume work (see A. Gray 1879, pp. iii–iv). Only one further volume was published.
See letter to Asa Gray, 8 July [1872]. CD did not publish his earlier botanical papers in a collection; his book Insectivorous plants was published in 1875.
Gray made his presidential address, about Sequoia, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Dubuque, Iowa, in August 1872. CD’s annotated copy of a published version (A. Gray 1872b) is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Gray’s address had been printed in Popular Science Monthly, a journal founded in May 1872 by Edward Livingston Youmans (Gray 1872c). Aside from minor typographical errors, the text appears to be complete. The address also appeared in the October 1872 issue of American Naturalist (Gray 1872d).
Charles Loring Brace had visited Down with his wife, Letitia Brace, on 11 July 1872 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Jane Loring Gray had accompanied Gray on the trip to California. See letter to Asa Gray, 8 July [1872] and n. 6. Toujours l’audace: always audacity (French).
Grays Peak, named for Asa Gray, is the highest mountain in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
Gray alludes to the great Chicago fire of October 1871 (for more on the fire, see Bales 2002).
George Howard Darwin and Francis Darwin had probably visited Yosemite Valley, California, during their American tour in 1871 (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter to S. R. S. Norton, 23 November [1871]).
Sequoia gigantea is a synonym of Sequoiadendron giganteum, the giant sequoia.


Bales, Richard F. 2002. The great Chicago fire and the myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gray, Asa. 1879. Gray’s botanical text-book. Vol. I. Structural botany or organography on the basis of morphology. To which is added the principles of taxonomy and phytography, and a glossary of botanical terms. 6th edition. New York and Chicago: Ivison, Blakeman, and Company.

Gray, Jane Loring, ed. 1893. Letters of Asa Gray. 2 vols. London: Macmillan and Co.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.


Discusses the coiling of tendrils of climbing plants.

AG’s recent tour of the U. S.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 181
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8545,” accessed on 28 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20