To Asa Gray 16 October 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Gray
I have not indulged myself for some little time in writing to you, though I have to thank you for two very pleasant notes, & for some pages of Silliman with several notices which I was glad to see.2 Lythrum salicaria is coming out so clear (though all seed not counted) that I do not care much for other species; but I shall be very glad of seed of Nesæa.3 My geese are always at first Swans; but I cannot help going on marvelling at Lythrum. It is a consolation to me for I am utterly routed, beaten, “whipped” by those odious Melastomatads; yet I feel sure there is something very curious to be made out about them.4
On getting your last note, I looked at Rothrock’s observations on Houstonia;5 they are capital on the structure; but when I began to think how I could put the case for Gard. Chron, I failed; for the observations are not sufficient about reciprocal fertilisation.6 It would be a pity to spoil a good case; by aid a few experiments, if your seed will grow, I could make a paper & give all his facts.7
Now that we are at home again, I have begun dull steady work on “Variation under Domestication”; but alas & alas pottering over plants is much better sport.—8
By the way at Bournemouth, for the want of something else to do, I worked a bit at my old friend Drosera: I took to testing all sorts of fluids, which are not corrosive & do not, I believe, act on ordinary organic compounds, but do act on the nervous system of animals; & I declare I am coming to the conclusion that plants or at least Drosera, must have something closely analogous to nervous matter.9 It was pretty to see effect of acetate of strychnine, how it stopped all movement; & how acetate of morphia greatly dulled & retarted movement. I think I shall some day pursue this subject.—10
Another little point has interested me, viz finding such a number of natural hybrids between two species of Verbascum; & linking V. thapsus & lychnitis closely together. They are all utterly sterile. This fact has given Hooker, to whom I told it, a fit of the horrors.—11
So we are all come to you next summer! Alas my days for moving anywhere are come to an end.12
Many thanks for sending the article in Daily News, which we read aloud in Family conclave.13 Our verdict was, that the N. was fully justified in going to war with the S.; but that as soon as it was plain that there was no majority in the S. for ReUnion, you ought, after your victories in Kentucky & Tennessee, to have made peace & agreed to a divorce. How curious it is that you all seem to believe that you can annex the South; whilst on this side of the Atlantic, it is the almost universal opinion that this is utterly impossible. If I could believe that your Presidents proclamation would have any effect, it would make a great alteration in my wishes;14 I would then run the risk of your seizing on Canada (I wish with all my heart it was an independent country) & declaring war against us. But slavery seems to me to grow a more hopeless curse. How detestably the special correspondent of the Times writes on the subject; the man has not a shade of feeling against slavery.15 This war of yours, however it may end, is a fearful evil to the whole world; & its evil effect will, I must think, be felt for years.— I can see already it has produced wide spread feeling in favour of aristocracy & Monarchism: no one in England will speak for years in favour of the people governing themselves.
Well good night.— Do not be indignant with me & do not let Mrs Gray be more indignant than she can help.—16 Good Night & farewell | Yours cordially | Ch. Darwin
N.B | Do you chance know anything of Mr Floy of N. York17 who sent in 1846 Hort. Soc. Journal vol I to Lindley ears of wild maize & says he cultivated it & saw Bracts decreasing.18 De Candolle doubts story.19 Is he trustworthy ie Mr Floy?)
Lythrum salicaria is coming out clear.
Would be glad of Nesaea seed.
Is disappointed with Melastoma, but is sure there is something curious to be made out.
His experiments with poisons on Drosera lead him to conclude that it possesses something analogous to nervous matter.
Comments on natural hybrids of Verbascum.
Deplores the Civil War and the feelings it has fostered in Britain.