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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   10 September [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Sept 10th

My dear Gray

On receipt (through Hooker) of your letter of Aug. 26th. ,2 I ordered my Bookseller to send you Hopkins’ 2d. article in Fraser; it was very stupid in me not to have thought of sending it & the Quarterly.3 But I presume the Quarterly will have long ago arrived in the States. I have ordered Murray to send the “Origin” to the American Acad. of Sciences, to your care, as I did not know proper address; I shall be grateful for volumes. Many thanks for the sheets replacing those sent to Athenæum.4 I sent the copy of this Athenæum at Lyell’s request to him in Germany (where he is fossil-man hunting) & he writes to me that he thinks the argument by you quite admirable.—5 I have not yet recived the papers mentioned in your letter sent to Hooker, for H. first lent them to Lady H.—6 You will have heard of Hooker’s astonishing expedition to Syria; if he ascends Lebanon, it may answer scientifically, but I cannot help thinking the expedition rather rash.7 His absence is so great a loss to me, that I am hardly fair judge of the wisdom of the Journey. I have got, nevertheless, your second article in Atlantic monthly;8 for a copy of whole number was sent to my Brother-in-law Hensleigh Wedgwood, on account of a Review of his Dictionary.9 Do you know who the writer is, as my Brother would like to know??

I have ordered another copy of this August number, as I shd. like (if I can get it in London) to send copy to Pictet;10 & I have been thinking & shall consult Huxley, whether I could not get it reprinted in some English Journal.—11 I have, also, ordered by anticipation two copies of October number; so do not trouble yourself to send it.12

By the way I am thinking of taking a very great liberty; but after much consideration I do not think you can object: you said that it was known that you were the author of the 1st. article;13 & as the best chance of getting it reprinted in England in a scientific Journal wd be to affix your name, I think of doing this & I hope to Heaven that you will not think this an unwarrantable liberty. I think most highly of this Article & I cannot bear to think it shd. not be known in England. You will be weary of my praise; but it does strike me as quite admirably argued; & so well & pleasantly written.— Your many metaphors are inimitably good. I said in a former letter that you were a Lawyer; but I made a gross mistake, I am sure that you are a poet. No by Jove I will tell you what you are, a hybrid, a complex cross of Lawyer, Poet, Naturalist, & Theologian!—   Was there ever such a monster seen before? I have just looked through the passages which I have marked as appearing to me extra good, but I see that they are too numerous to specify; & this is no exaggeration. My eye just alights on the happy comparison of colours of prism & our artificial groups.—14 I see one little error of fossil cattle in S. America.—15 It is curious how each one, I suppose weighs arguments in a different balance: embryology is to me by far strongest single class of facts in favour of change of form, & not one, I think, of my reviewers has alluded to this. Variations not coming on at a very early age, & being inherited at not very early corresponding period, explains, as it seems to me, the grandest of all facts in Nat. History, or rather in Zoology. viz the resemblance of Embryos.—16

Hensleigh Wedgwood, above alluded to, is a very strong Theist, & I put it to him, whether he thought that each time a fly was snapped up by a swallow, its death was designed; & he admitted he did not believe so, only that God ordered general laws & left the result to what may be so far called chance, that there was no design in the death of each individual Fly.—

Farewell my good Friend | Yours most truly | Charles Darwin

Never write to me when too much pressed by labour,—though I value much your letters.—


Dated by the reference to Gray’s articles on Origin (see n. 8, below).
Gray’s letter has not been found.
CD refers to Hopkins 1860 and [Wilberforce] 1860. Both articles reviewed Origin.
The reference is to Gray’s defence of Origin published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (1860): 411–16. See letters to Asa Gray, 22 July [1860], and to J. D. Hooker, 7 August [1860].
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 2 September [1860] and 6 September [1860]. Hooker and his party had travelled to Syria despite the danger of being caught up in the conflict between Christians and Muslims. They entered Damascus only a day after the Christian quarter of the city had been sacked. See L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 529.
[Gray] 1860b, pp. 229–39. There is an annotated copy of all three of Gray’s articles for the Atlantic Monthly in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
There was a review of the first volume of Hensleigh Wedgwood’s Dictionary of English etymology (Wedgwood 1859–65) in the Atlantic Monthly 6 (1860): 248–54.
In his second article for the Atlantic Monthly, Gray discussed the favourable opinion of CD’s theory expressed by François Jules Pictet de la Rive in his review of Origin (Pictet de la Rive 1860). Gray called the review ‘much the fairest and most admirable opposing one that has yet appeared’ ([Gray] 1860b, p. 230).
The October issue of the Atlantic Monthly carried Gray’s concluding article, entitled ‘Darwin and his reviewers’ ([Gray] 1860b, pp. 406–25).
[Gray] 1860b, pp. 109–16. All three of Gray’s articles in the Atlantic Monthly were published anonymously.
CD’s copy of [Gray] 1860b is heavily marked. The passage referred to is on p. 238: Our [classification] systems are nothing, if not definite. They are intended to express differences, and perhaps some of the coarser gradations. But this evinces, not their perfection, but their imperfection. Even the best of them are to the system of Nature what consecutive patches of the seven colors are to the rainbow.
Gray stated that both ‘wild horses and cattle’ had lived in America during former geological periods ([Gray] 1860b, p. 235). CD circled ‘and cattle’ and wrote ‘no’ in the margin of his copy in pencil.
For earlier remarks on this point, see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 December [1859], and, in this volume, letter to W. B. Carpenter, 6 January [1860]. See also Autobiography, p. 125.


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

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

[Gray, Asa.] 1860c. Darwin on the origin of species. Atlantic Monthly 6: 109–16, 229–39; Darwin and his reviewers. Atlantic Monthly 6: 406–25.

Hopkins, William. 1860. Physical theories of the phenomena of life. Fraser’s Magazine 61: 739–52; 62: 74–90.

Huxley, Leonard, ed. 1918. Life and letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, OM, GCSI. Based on materials collected and arranged by Lady Hooker. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Pictet de la Rive, François Jules. 1860. Sur l’origine de l’espèce par Charles Darwin. Bibliothèque universelle. Revue suisse et étrangère n.s. 7: 233–55.

Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1859–[67]. A dictionary of English etymology. 3 vols. London: Trübner & Co.

[Wilberforce, Samuel.] 1860. [Review of Origin.] Quarterly Review 108: 225–64.


Has received second part of AG’s Atlantic Monthly article ["Darwin on the origin of species", 6 (1860): 109–16, 229–39], and would like to have it reprinted in England with the first part.

Regrets no reviewer has touched upon embryology, which he feels provides one of his strongest arguments.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (34)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2910,” accessed on 21 April 2024,

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