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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   [after 11 October 1861]1


run on to you in a most unreasonable way.— I am so glad that you will look to some of your Rubiaceæ, & I hope that may find time to make a few experiments.— Thanks for notes about your Hollies, & I hope you will look a little to them.2 There is to me incomparably more interest in observing than in writing; but I feel quite guilty in trespassing on these subjects, & not sticking to varieties of the confounded cocks, Hens & Ducks.—3 I hear that Lyell is savage at me.— I shall never resist Linum next summer.—4

What you say about our keeping in our intrenchments & firing long shots about Design has made me laugh.—5 I suspect I am more cowardly than you, as I ought to be, as I do not feel sure of my ground.— Here is my answering long shot about the cream-jug-nose:6 I should believe it to have been designed (as I did formerly each part of each animal) until I saw a way of its being formed without design, & at the same time saw in its whole structure (as in homologies, embryology, rudimentary organs, distribution &c) evidence, of its having been produced in a quite distinct manner, ie by descent from another cream-jug whose nose subserved, perhaps, some quite distinct use. When I think of my beloved orchids, with rudiments of five anthers, with one pistil converted into a rostellum, with all the cohesion of parts, it really seems to me incredibly monstrous to look at an orchid as created as we now see it. Every part reveals modification on modification.7 But enough & more than enough.—

Farewell, my dear Gray, with cordial thanks for your never ending kindness.— Yours most sincerely | C. Darwin

Of course I will send you my Orchid opusculus.—


See letter from Asa Gray, 11 October 1861, and letter to Asa Gray, 17 September [1861]. CD made use of this and many of the other cases cited in Gray’s letter when he came to write up a full account of his study of dimorphic plant species (see Forms of flowers).
CD had been working intermittently since January 1860 on preparing a treatise discussing variation in domesticated animals and plants (Variation). Since July 1861, however, he had halted this work in order to write up the results of his studies of orchid pollination and dimorphism in Primula (see ‘Journal’; Appendix II).
Having already examined Linum plants grown in the summer of 1861, CD carried out further experiments in 1862 and his paper on dimorphism in Linum was read before the Linnean Society of London on 5 February 1863 (see Collected papers 2: 93–105). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 September [1861].
This discussion was apparently included in the part of the letter from Asa Gray, 11 October 1861, that is now missing.
CD discussed in the final chapter of Orchids the range of modification of particular species from the archetypal plan of orchids.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Thanks AG for notes on hollies.

Replies to an argument for design. Feels it monstrous to consider orchids created as they are now seen, since every part reveals modification on modification.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (51a)
Physical description
3pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3283,” accessed on 23 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9