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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   26 March 1867

Cambridge [Massachusetts]

26th March, 1867

Dear Darwin

This is to acknowledge yours of Feb, 28—1

You see I have printed your queries—privately—50 copies—as the best way of putting them where useful answers may be expected.2 Most of them will go into the hands of agents of the Freedmen’s bureau, etc—3 Others to persons I or Wyman may know & rely on   I wish I had them sooner. My crony Wyman has been 2 months in Florida4—but will be home again before I could send to him

I did not write the article in the Nation on Popular Lecturing—tho, it contains so many things I have said over and over—that it startled me.5 Then it hits so many nails square on the head that I should think it could be written only in Cambridge or hereabouts—

It is generally supposed to be written by a person in New York but I suspect a person near by here— —only suspect.

There is a short capital, quiet hit at Agassiz in a later number of the Nation6—which Hooker may have sent you.

Yes Magnolia-seeds hang out a-while, in autumn—finally stretch & break the threads of spiral-vessels. Whether birds eat them I dont know. They look enticing & have a pulpy coat— are bitter & spicy7

In haste ever yours | A Gray

Shall I send you more of these circulars?

I shall send to Indian-people too.8

CD annotations9

Top of letter: ‘Clean sheets not worth sending’ pencil
Between signature and postscript: ‘(German & Russian Edition)’ ink, del ink; ‘Experiments— — [illeg] published— exotic plants I suspect | Potato experiments— Proof sheets— Trübners | oxalis like Lythrum.’ ink


CD’s letter has not been found.
CD evidently enclosed a handwritten copy of his queries about expression with his letter to Gray of 28 February 1867; neither the questionnaire nor the letter have been found. A version of the questionnaire was published in 1868 in the Annual report of the Smithsonian Institution … for the year 1867, p. 324, under the title ‘Queries about expression for anthropological inquiry’; this version, which contains some American spellings, may be an edited version of the queries printed by Gray (see Freeman and Gautry 1975, pp. 259–60). This questionnaire is also published in Collected papers 2: 136–7.
The United States Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established by the US Congress in 1865 to provide medical and educational aid to the freed African-Americans following the Civil War (EB).
Jeffries Wyman was an ethnologist and comparative anatomist. Wyman travelled extensively for the sake of his health, and in order to expand his collections; he travelled to Florida eight times between 1852 and 1874 (ANB).
Joseph Dalton Hooker had forwarded the Nation article, ‘Popularizing science’ (Anon. 1867), to CD after it had been sent to him by Gray; CD praised the article and guessed that Gray had written it (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 February 1867, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1867]).
Gray probably refers to a paragraph in the Nation, 7 March 1867, p. 182, reporting on a lecture of Louis Agassiz’s that purported to refute CD’s theory. The Nation noted that Agassiz ‘treated his opponents like a gentleman, and would have treated them like a philosopher had he stated their position clearly, which he did not’.
CD was interested in whether the bright colour of some seeds attracted birds and so aided in seed dispersal (see Origin 4th ed., pp. 430–2). Fritz Müller had been sending information on this point; see Correspondence vol. 14, letters from Fritz Müller, 2 August 1866, and 1 and 3 October 1866. In his letter of 1 December 1866 (Correspondence vol. 14), Müller had told CD about the brightly-coloured seeds of Talauma, a genus closely related to Magnolia. See also letter from Thomas Belt, 12 January 1867 and n. 5.
See n. 2, above. Gray sent the queries on expression to Joseph Trimble Rothrock, who had recently been among native people of British Columbia; he also probably sent the queries to Spencer Fullerton Baird (see letter from J. T. Rothrock to Asa Gray, 31 March 1867 and n. 1, and letter from George Gibbs, 31 March 1867).
CD’s annotations are notes for his letter to Asa Gray, 15 April [1867].


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

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

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.


Has printed copies of CD’s queries [on expression] and will distribute them.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 157
Physical description
2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5462,” accessed on 19 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15