skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   3 April [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 3d. —

My dear Gray

Although I have nothing particular to say I must thank you for your pleasant letter of March 19th.—2 But let me say—I know what a busy man you are, & pray do not waste more time over me. My book, your Review, & letters &c &c must have consumed an awful amount. In one sense the time spent on Review has not been wasted; for I feel sure (& I have again (3d time) read it all consecutively) that it will produce great effect, in leading people to think, & that is all I wish. Hooker indeed tells me he knows cases where your article has had this effect & has greatly mollified opposition to my Book.—   I agree largely to what you say about “vera causa” “theory”; “hypothesis”; indeed on reading your whole review in one read I saw that some of my remarks were rather superfluous.3

It is curious that I remember well time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, & now small trifling particulars of structure often make me very uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick! Under this point of view your story of the Black Pigs in the Everglades delights me,4 & supports other cases, which though founded on very good evidence I could hardly digest.—

Pray keep Prof. Wyman up to the mark about writing to me; I shd, also, look at it a great honour & favour, If you possibly can find out name positively of the red nuts.—5

I shall be very curious to see Agassiz’s remarks:6 I met a few days ago Prof Cooke of your Cambridge7 & he brought me direct from Agassiz all sorts of very civil speeches. What can this mean? I hope to God A. is a sincere man; I had always fancied that he was so.—

You may like to hear about Reviews on my Book. Sedgwick (as I & Lyell feel certain from internal evidence) has reviewed me savagely & unfairly in the Spectator.8 The notice includes much abuse & is hardly fair in several respects. He would actually lead anyone, who was ignorant of geology, to suppose that I had invented the great gaps between successive geological formations; instead of its being an almost universally admitted dogma. But my dear old friend Sedgwick with his noble heart is old & is rabid with indignation.—   It is hard to please everyone; you may remember that in my last letter I asked you to leave out about the Weald denudation:9 I told Jukes this (who is head man of Irish geological survey) & he blamed me much for he believed every word of it, & thought it not at all exaggerated!10 In fact geologists have no means of gauging the infinitude of past time. There has been one prodigy of a Review, namely an opposed one by Pictet the palæontologist in the Bib. Univers. of Geneva,11 which is perfectly fair & just & I agree to every word he says; our only difference being that he attaches less weight to argument in favour & more to argument opposed, than I do. Of all the opposed reviews I think this the only quite fair one, & I never expected to see one. Please observe that I do not class your Review by any means as opposed, though you think so yourself! it has done me much too good service ever to appear in that rank in my eyes. But I fear I shall weary you with so much about my Book. I shd rather think there was a good chance of my becoming the most egotistical man in all Europe.! What a proud preeminence!—   Well you have helped to make me so, & therefore you must forgive me if you can.—

My dear Gray | Ever yours most gratefully | C. Darwin

I posted letter to Vilmorin.12


The year is given by the references to [Gray] 1860a.
The letter has not been found.
CD refers to [Gray] 1860a. See letter to Asa Gray, 24 February [1860].
Apparently Gray included in his now-missing letter of 19 March 1860 an example, given him by Jeffries Wyman, of the correlation between an animal’s colour and its immunity to poison (see letter from Jeffries Wyman, [c. 15] September 1860). The black pigs were the only varieties that could eat the paint-root, ‘which caused the hoofs of all but the black varieties to fall off’. CD added the account to Origin 3d ed., p. 12.
See letter from Jeffries Wyman, [c. 15] September 1860.
CD may be referring either to Louis Agassiz’s review of Origin (Agassiz 1860), which appeared in June 1860, or to Agassiz’s contribution to special meetings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in March and April, which focused on discussions of CD’s views on evolution by natural selection. A report of these meetings appeared in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1860): 410–16, 424–31. CD’s annotated copy of this volume is in the Cambridge University Library. See also Dupree 1959, pp. 285–8.
Josiah Parsons Cooke was professor of chemistry at Harvard University.
[Sedgwick] 1860.
See the enclosure with the letter to Asa Gray, 1 February [1860] and n. 16. In Origin, pp. 285–7, CD had estimated that erosion of the Weald formations would require 306,667,400 years. The estimate was halved in the second edition, and in the third edition the discussion was omitted entirely. CD had been convinced by a criticism in the Saturday Review, 24 December 1859, that his reckoning was erroneous on several counts.
Joseph Beete Jukes. The figures on which CD based his calculations had come from Jukes’s friend and colleague on the Geological Survey, Andrew Crombie Ramsay (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter from A. C. Ramsay, 29 December 1858).
Pierre Louis François Léveque de Vilmorin published works on economic botany and plant breeding. He died in Paris on 21 March 1860.


Thinks AG’s review [of Origin] will aid much in making people think about subject.

Has been savagely and unfairly reviewed by Adam Sedgwick in the Spectator [24 Mar 1860],

but thinks F. J. Pictet’s review in opposition ["Sur l’origine de l’espèce", Arch. Sci. Phys. & Nat. n.s. 7 (1860): 231–55] a very fair one.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (47)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2743,” accessed on 27 June 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8