From Asa Gray 23 January 1860
Jany. 23, 1860
My Dear Darwin
You have my hurried letter telling you of the arrival of the remainder of the sheets of the reprint, and of the stir I had made for a reprint in Boston.1 Well, all looked pretty well, when, lo, we found that a 2d New York publishing house had announced a reprint also! I wrote, then to both N.Y. publishers, asking them to give way to the author & his reprint of a revised edition. I got answer from the Harpers’ that they withdrew,—from the Appletons that they had got the book out—(and the next day I saw a copy); but that “if the work should have any considerable sale we certainly shall be disposed to pay the author reasonably & liberally”.2
The Appletons being thus out with their reprint, the Boston house declined to go on.— So I wrote to the Appletons.—taking them at their word—offering to aid their reprint,—to give them the use of the alterations in the London reprint, as soon as I find out what they are &c And I sent them the 1ry leaf, and asked them to insert, in their future issue the additional motto, from Butler—which tells just right.3
So there the matter stands. If you furnish any new matter in advance of London 3d edition, I will make them pay for it.— 4 I may get something for you—all got is clear gain—but it will not be very much, I suppose.
Such little notices in the papers here as have yet appeared are quite handsome and considerate.
I hope next week to get printed sheets of my review from New Haven and send to you,5 and will ask you to pass them on to Dr. Hooker.
To fulfil your request I ought to tell you what I “think the weakest, & what the best parts of your book. But this is not easy, nor to be done in a word or two. The best part, I think, is the whole, i.e. its plan & treatment,—the vast amount of facts and acute inferences handled as if you had a perfect mastery of them. I do not think 20 years too much time to produce such a book in.
Style clear & good, but now & then wants revision for little matters. (p. 97, self-fertilises itself—&c)
Then your candor is worth everything to your cause. It is refreshing to find a person with a new theory who frankly confesses that he finds difficulties—insurmountable, at least for the present. I know some people who never have any difficulties, to speak of.
The moment I understood your premises, I felt sure you had a real foundation, to build on. Well, if one admits your premises, I do not see how he is to stop short of your conclusions, as a probable hypothesis, at least.
It naturally happens that my review of your book does not exhibit any thing like the full force of the impression the book has made upon me. Under the circumstances I suppose I do your theory more good here, by bespeaking for it a fair and favorable consideration, and by standing non-committal as to its full conclusions, than I should if I announced myself a convert,—nor could I say the latter, with truth.
Well, what seems to me the weakest point in the book is the attempt to account for the formation of organs,—the making of eyes, &c by natural selection. Some of this reads quite Lamarckian.
The Chapter on Hybridism is not a weak, but a strong chapter. You have done wonders, there. But still you have not accounted as you may be held to account, for divergence up to a certain extent producing increased fertility of the crosses—but carried one short, almost imperceptible step more, giving rise to sterility, or reversing the tendency Very likely you are on the right track; but you have something to do yet in that department.
Enough for the present.
By the way, Wyman—the person best prepared to criticise your book of any one in America—for all matters of embryology, zoology, anatomy &c—and as cautious as possible—could give you many interesting facts & hints.6 He promised me he would write to you; but he has gone to Florida for winter vacation—to be absent till March.
He says it is all gammon about Agassiz, not knowing to what class an unticketed embryo belonged.7 Agassiz denies that he ever said so, only that he could not tell whether bird or reptile. Pray send me a reference to the authority of the statement on p. 439, line 13, &c. I dare say you have it complete.8 A. often says too much and the reporters take it down.
Wyman can give you plenty of cases of barred or striped horses, &c—and other interesting facts picked up on your own ground in S. America, &c—
Hooker was quite right in letting me know frankly your opinion & Lyell’s about warmer period after glacial; and you quite wrong in wishing he had not.9
I relied wholly on Dana for all this,10—and it still seems to me that the facts look that way moderately It is hard to believe that elephants, ever so woolly could live in our present Arctic regions—or the Mastodon in New England and New York with such winters as we have. I see well enough that the difference could not have been very great,—but, in spite of the musk-ox—which is a stumper—I should expect something of a case to be made out. But this is all out of my line. I do not pretend to have any right to speak or think about it. Dana, unfortunately is ill—quite broken down & in Italy. Next spring when I hope he will be well again, and in England, you must see him; and I shall write him that he must give you good grounds for his opinion, or give it up.11 He is a capital fellow, generally very sober-minded, a good investigator—but as a reasoner apt to be seduced by fallacious analogies.—
I know from you that the Forbesian doctrine about alpine plants &c, &c originated with you, and have always put your name forward in relation to it.12
I am not insensible to your compliments—the very high compliment which you pay me in valuing my opinion. You evidently think more of it than I do—tho‘ from the way I write you, and especially Hooker, this might not be inferred from the reading of my letters.
I am free to say that I never learned so much from one book as I have from yours. There remain 1000 things I long to say about it.—
Ever Yours | Asa Gray.
American edition of Origin. AG’s assessment of the book’s weak and strong points. Suggests Jeffries Wyman would be a useful source of facts and hints for CD.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2663,” accessed on 14 February 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2663