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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   2 January [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan 2d.

My dear Gray

I have been rather extra unwell of late2 & overburdened with letters, but I cannot rest without thanking you for your two notes of Nov. 24th & Dec. 9th (the former with answers to several queries)3 & especially I must thank you for Box with plants (I wrote & thanked Capt. Anderson)4 which arrived in first-rate order & are planted. Positively the Mitchella looked as fresh, as if dug up the day before! What a pretty little creeper it is with its scarlet berries.5 Miss Cooper, I remember, mentions it.—6 I hope the Cypripediums will flower & I have this evening been thinking how I will try them, viz by putting live insects in & stopping up end of slipper & catching them as they come out of lateral orifices, & then, if they are smeared with pollen, I will put them in again & so make them go the round & then examine stigma.—7

I have just finished paper for Linn. Soc. on dimorphism of Linum,—much better case than Primula:8 I see Planchon says that L. Lewisii (var. of perenne as he calls it, I doubt not falsely) bears on same plant flowers with long, & short & equal (to anthers) pistils;9 I wish I could get seed of this arctic plant; I shd like to see this new case.—10 I have Amsinckia growing well in my greenhouse & your Mitchellas; so I shall have as much as I want in these two Families.11 I hear Cinchona is dimorphic & have written to Thwaites in Ceylon to try the pollen.—12 I will send my Linum paper whenever published.—13

I was heartily glad to receive a note a week or so ago from Dana, giving a moderately good account of himself.—14

I thank you most heartily for all your extraordinary kindness in helping Leonard so much in his passion for stamps.15 He has just exchanged one of Blood’s for, I believe 9 rare stamps!16 I, also, of late troubled you with an extra number of questions &c.— It seems quite strange that I have only one trifle to ask you tonight, if you can remember it, viz to weigh in grains one of your wild Fragaria virginiana.—17

Have you ever attended much to garden plants; if you have ever noticed any what some gardeners call sports & what I shall call “bud-variations”, I shd be glad of case to add to my large collection of facts, which seem to me of value in regard to theory of variability.18 Hooker is in great spirits at having finished Welwitschia19 & is going to Paris.—20 Good night my good & very kind friend, I am tired. I fear the last has been a dreadful battle & defeat.21 When will peace come! But then Slavery, I know not what to wish. I wish to Heaven the north did not hate us so, I, for one, could wish more heartily for you then; even though I doubt the war being now justifiable. But thank Heaven wishes make no difference. Dr. Boott seems in despair & hates to hear of all the bloodshed.22 We in north England seem tiding over our difficulty far better than anyone ever ventured to hope. The subscriptions have been gigantic.23 Good night again. I cannot help still wondering that you or anyone in U. States can care for science at present.—

I am building a small Hot-House, so that if I have strength I shall have better means for my little experiments.24

Ever yours very truly | C. Darwin

If flowers of an Oak or Beech tree had fine grand well-colored corolla & calyx, would they be still classed as low in Vegetable Kingdom? This query, I daresay, shows my profound ignorance.—


The year is established by the relationship of this letter to the letters from Asa Gray, 24 November 1862 and 9 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10).
CD reported feeling unwell in late December 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [21 December 1862], and letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 27 [December 1862]). In a letter to William Erasmus Darwin of [13 December 1862] (DAR 219.1: 69), Emma Darwin commented: ‘Your father is constantly plagued with slight attacks of exema which make him very uncomf—’.
See Correspondence vol. 10, letters from Asa Gray, 24 November 1862 and 9 December 1862.
Gray had sent CD a box containing specimens of Mitchella and Cypripedium via James Anderson, captain of the transatlantic steamer Africa (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 9 December 1862, and letter to James Anderson, 23 December [1862]).
In his letter of 11 October 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9), Gray suggested that Mitchella repens would be a good case of flower dimorphism for CD to experiment upon; he sent CD specimens of the plant with his letter of 15 July [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10). CD’s experimental notes on M. repens, made in 1864 and 1865, are in DAR 110: B84–93; his results are given in Forms of flowers, pp. 125–7.
CD had read Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper’s Journal of a naturalist in the United States (Cooper 1855) the previous year (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 6 November [1862]). Cooper referred to Mitchella as the ‘partridge-plant’ (Cooper 1855, 2: 9).
CD intended to test Gray’s hypothesis that pollination in Cypripedium (the lady’s slipper orchid) was effected by small flies and bees crawling through the flower (A. Gray 1862a, pp. 427–8), rather than by a larger insect inserting its proboscis as CD had suggested in Orchids, pp. 274–5. See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 17 November 1862, letter to Asa Gray, 26[–7] November [1862], and CD’s experimental note dated 19 April [1863] in DAR 70: 112–13. See also letter to Asa Gray, 20 April [1863], ‘Fertilization of orchids’, pp. 155–7 (Collected papers 2: 152–3), and Orchids 2d ed., pp. 229–31.
CD’s paper, ‘Two forms in species of Linum, was read before the Linnean Society of London on 5 February 1863, and was subsequently published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1863): 69–83 (Collected papers 2: 93–105). CD also refers to his paper ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, which was read in 1861 and published in the same journal in 1862.
Jules Emile Planchon described the different forms of flowers in Linum lewisii, a flax from western North America, in Planchon 1847–8, p. 175; CD discussed Planchon’s observations in ‘Two forms in species of Linum, pp. 82–3 (Collected papers 2: 104–5). CD had been studying dimorphism in different plants of the same species, rather than two different forms found on the same plant (see ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, and n. 8, above). Gray thought that L. lewisii was the same species as L. perenne (see letter from Asa Gray, 27 January 1863). See also Baker 1965, pp. 147–50.
Although CD did not acquire seed of Linum lewisii, John Scott, who was head of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, offered to conduct experiments on the species on CD’s behalf (see letter from John Scott, [3 June 1863], and letter to John Scott, 6 June [1863]). See also Forms of flowers, p. 101.
Following Gray’s suggestion that Amsinckia spectabilis might be dimorphic, CD had been experimenting with the plant since March 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from Asa Gray, 9 November 1861, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [December 1861], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 15 March [1862]). His results are given in Forms of flowers, pp. 110–11. CD’s references to ‘families’ were either to groups that were then more often called ‘orders’ (EB), or to a sub-family or tribe. Elsewhere, he referred to A. spectabilis as a member of the Boraginaceae (DAR 110: B2), and to Mitchella as a member of the Rubiaceae (madders) (Forms of flowers, pp. 284–5).
CD was investigating the possible occurrence of dimorphism in a number of plants, including Cinchona, a member of the Rubiaceae (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters to G. H. K. Thwaites, 15 June [1862] and 29 December [1862]). See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter from Asa Gray, [27 and 29 August] and 2 September [1861]. George Henry Kendrick Thwaites was superintendent of the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, Ceylon; Cinchona trees were cultivated for the medicinal qualities of quinine produced by the bark (EB).
‘Two forms in species of Linum was published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) issued on 13 May 1863 (General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society, p. vi). However, CD obtained a number of offprints of the paper in mid-April for distribution; Gray’s name appears on CD’s presentation list (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix IV).
Letter from J. D. Dana, 4 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10). In 1859, James Dwight Dana had suffered a nervous breakdown from which he never fully recovered (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Charles Lyell, 29 [December 1859], and letter to J. D. Dana, 30 December [1859]).
CD refers to his twelve-year-old son, Leonard Darwin. At CD’s request, Gray had, since the summer of 1862, sent United States postage stamps for Leonard’s collection (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 10–20 June [1862], and letter from Asa Gray, 2–3 July 1862). Gray’s letter of 24 November 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10) had been sent using a ‘peculiar stamp … for Leonard’s collection’.
CD refers to stamps issued by the Philadelphia carriers D. O. Blood & Co. (see Sutton 1966, p. 41).
CD was seeking information about cultivated plants for a chapter of Variation (Variation 1: 332–72). Since beginning work on this chapter in October 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), he had twice asked Gray about the size difference between Fragaria vesca, a wild European and North American strawberry, and F. virginiana, a wild North American strawberry from which considerably larger fruits had been cultivated (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters to Asa Gray, 23 November [1862] and 26[–7] November [1862]). Gray replied to CD’s queries in the missing section of his letter of 29 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10), which CD received later in January. CD mentioned Gray’s comments in Variation 1: 351 n. 100. See also letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 25 November 1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), and the annotated articles on strawberries in CD’s issues of the Gardeners’ Chronicle (8 November 1862, p. 1053, and 22 November 1862, p. 1101), which are in the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden.
CD defined bud-variation as ‘all those sudden changes in structure or appearance which occasionally occur in full-grown plants in their flower-buds or leaf-buds’ (Variation 1: 373). He began writing a draft of the chapter of Variation dealing with ‘bud-variation’ on 21 December 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), soliciting examples from several of his correspondents, including Thwaites, George Maw, John Scott, Thomas Rivers, and Hugh Falconer (see Correspondence vols. 9 and 10).
Joseph Dalton Hooker had been working on Welwitschia since as early as October 1861 (see, for instance, Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 October [1861] and n. 4, and Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 August 1862). He read his account of this unusual plant from the south-west coast of Africa before the Linnean Society over the course of two meetings on 16 January and 18 December 1862  (J. D. Hooker 1862d). See Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [21 December 1862].
On 17 January 1863, Hooker travelled to Paris with George Bentham for ten days (Jackson 1906, p. 193).
CD refers to the battle of Fredericksburg, fought on 13 December 1862; the Union army suffered one of its worst defeats of the American Civil War, with nearly 13,000 casualties (see McPherson 1988, pp. 571–4).
Gray had been sending copies of American newspapers to CD, and had requested that they afterwards be sent to the American-born physician and botanist, Francis Boott (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 24 November 1862). However, in his letter of 26 December 1862 (ibid.), Boott asked that CD stop sending them since he could not endure the ‘details of hopeless bloodshed’.
The scarcity of raw cotton from the Confederate States of America caused widespread unemployment in the textile industry of Lancashire, in northern England, and several charities had successfully been raising money for relief of distress in affected areas; between June and December 1862, the Cotton Districts Relief Fund had raised £593,000 (Longmate 1978, pp. 79–80 and 146–8). According to his Classed account book (Down House MS), during the height of the ‘cotton famine’ CD gave £32 to relief funds for the Lancashire cotton workers, making contributions on 14 July, 19 September, and 23 November 1862.
At the end of 1862, CD planned to build a hothouse in the garden at Down House (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 December [1862]). The construction was undertaken in 1863, supervised by John Horwood, the gardener to CD’s neighbour, George Henry Turnbull (see letter to G. H. Turnbull, [16? February 1863], and Appendix VI). The hothouse was built behind Down House, in the kitchen garden beyond the lawn (LL 1: 321).


Baker, Herbert G. 1965. Charles Darwin and the perennial flax—a controversy and its implications. Huntia 2: 141–61.

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

Cooper, Susan Fenimore. 1855. Journal of a naturalist in the United States. 2 vols. London: R. Bentley.

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

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

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

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

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

General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society: General index to the first twenty volumes of the Journal (Botany), and the botanical portion of the Proceedings, November 1838 to June 1886, of the Linnean Society. London: Linnean Society of London. 1888.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1862d. On Welwitschia, a new genus of Gnetaceæ. [Read 16 January and 18 December 1862.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 24 (1863–4): 1–48.

Jackson, Benjamin Daydon. 1906. George Bentham. London: J. M. Dent. New York: E. P. Dutton.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Longmate, Norman. 1978. The hungry mills. The story of the Lancashire cotton famine, 1861–5. London: Temple Smith. [Vols. 10,11]

McPherson, James M. 1988. Battle cry of freedom: the Civil War era. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. 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.

Planchon, Jules Emile. 1847–8. Sur la famille des Linnes. London Journal of Botany 6 (1847): 588–603; 7 (1848): 165–86, 473–501, 507–28.

Sutton, R. J. 1966. The stamp collector’s encyclopaedia. 7th edition. 6th edition revised by K. W. Anthony. London: Stanley Paul. [Vols. 10,11]

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]

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


Thanks AG for Cypripedium and Mitchella.

Plans to investigate pollination of Cypripedium.

Has finished Linum paper [Collected papers 2: 93–105].

Would welcome facts on "bud-variations".

Hears that Cinchona is dimorphic.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (56)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3897,” accessed on 18 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11