skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   23 November 1863

Cambridge, Mass.

Nov. 23/63

My Dear Darwin

I wish to thank Mrs. Darwin most heartily for her kind note of the 29th. ult.1

I feared you had been ill, and I think I had long ago some intimation to that effect, in some indirect way, but I hardly believed it, as just before I had received one of your usual bright letters.2 Hooker not having written since the death of his daughter,3 and Boott having been very ill,4 all my sources of intelligence were cut off.

It is sad to hear that you are obliged to suspend all your work for half a year. Pray disappoint the physicians and get all right again sooner. For there is a deal for you to do. But after all, we must be patient. It is far more important that you get well surely than speedily. And pray, somehow, continue to let me know how you are getting on.

I have no scientific news for you. I have been busy at very humdrum botanical work. I read lately, with gusto, Wallace’s exposé of the Dublin man (Haughton) on Bee-cells, &c—5

The next-best thing, of late, is the exposé of Lindsay & Geo. Saunders (the Confederates) by Historicus.6

I trust Historicus’ previous letters, in which he shows—about the same time my father-in-law’s articles on the subject reached England7—that it is the duty of a country to see that armed or war vessels are not fitted out, quite irrespective of all municipal law, have produced their proper effect.8 Something has produced a great effect, and a great change in the idea of what it was incumbent on the government to do; and nothing can be more satisfactory than the views now taken:9 and the effect here is excellent. For we are sure that when the right notions once get a lodgement, as they have, England will faithfully carry them through.

Lawyers whom I know here were confident how the law would ultimately be laid down by your courts,10—but we greatly feared it would be done only after a few more such vessels had got to sea. All will go well now.

The newspaper I occasionally send you is a fair specimen of the influential part of the press here.

Such articles as the Times likes to cite have far less effect here than you suppose in the determination of events.11

The result of the autumn elections will let you know12—what has all along been clear to me—that the North has no notion whatever of l〈e〉aving its work till it is done.

Thanks for the article in the Reader13—true enough, no doubt, sensible & dull.

The best thing I have read of late was the showing up of that consummate humbug (as for many years I have regarded him) Brougham, in the Spectator.14

The confidence that every month’s prolongation of the contest makes the destruction of slavery surer, quite reconciles to the cost, the loss of life even, and even to the blunders and shortcomings!

Agassiz reports that a letter he has from Faraday pronounces that “Darwinism” has about had its day in England.15 But when, at length, A. showed me Faraday’s note, I could not see that it said or implied anything of the sort. It is amusing to see how worried Agassiz is.

By the way, now that you are in for “reading of the very lightest sort” let some one read to you Agassiz on Glaciers in the Atlantic Mag. for November.16 It will not strain your brain, tho’ it may your diaphragm to read how the hairy elephants and the bears &c were luxuriating in a tropical climate, with their thick coats on to keep them comfortable, when, all of a sudden it changed to bitter winter,—so suddenly that they could not run away, nor even rot, but were frozen up before there was time for either!

Pray set Wallace17 upon these articles, and upon A’s book just issued, made up of an earlier series of such articles: “Method of Study” (forsooth), and which A. has sent over to European savans as an important Contribution to Science.18 It is announced, you may see in the preface, that this little book completely does away with all “Darwinism19

Thanks for the little paper on Disa.20

These stamps—of a sort now outlawed here—being clean, may please Master Darwin, or be useful for his exchanges.21

Ever, dear Darwin— Your sincere | A. Gray


Emma Darwin’s letter has not been found.
The most recent extant letter from CD is the letter to Asa Gray, 4 August [1863], but Gray responded to this with his letter to CD of 1 September 1863.
Maria Elizabeth, Joseph Dalton Hooker’s daughter, had died aged 6 on 28 September 1863 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 September 1863]).
Francis Boott, an American-born physician and botanist who lived in London, had been ill for some time (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [31 July 1863]).
The appendix of Samuel Haughton’s paper (S. Haughton 1862b), ‘On the form of the cells made by various wasps and by the honey bee; with an appendix on the origin of species’, was a slightly shorter version of Haughton’s earlier review of Origin ([S. Haughton] 1860b). A lightly annotated reprint of S. Haughton 1862b (S. Haughton 1863) is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Alfred Russel Wallace’s review of S. Haughton 1862b appeared in the October number of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Wallace 1863b). In his review, Wallace defended CD’s argument in Origin (3d ed., pp. 254–56) that the complex structure of hive cells, and the more economical use of wax by the hive bee in relation to the humblebee, provided evidence of the hive bee’s development through natural selection (Wallace 1863, pp. 305–7). Wallace noted that many of Haughton’s statements were ‘often so deficient in clearness as to suggest the idea that “The Origin of Species” has been but superficially studied by him’ (p. 304). See CD’s note on Wallace 1863b in DAR 205.11: 126. See also Hull 1973, pp. 216–228.
Under the pen-name Historicus, the lawyer William Vernon Harcourt published letters in The Times on the American Civil War and Britain’s neutrality policy (see letter to Asa Gray, 26 June [1863] and n. 14). In a series of letters and exchanges with George Nicholas Sanders and William Schaw Lindsay in October and November 1863, Historicus published and discussed correspondence revealing plans made with the American Confederacy for constructing six iron-clad ships in England. These letters exposed the role of the Confederate agent, Sanders, and the shipping magnate, Lindsay. Lindsay, a leading figure in the pro-Confederate lobby, and MP for Sunderland, also owned one of the two firms that were to build the ships. See, especially, The Times, 23 October 1863, p. 7, and 28 October 1863, p. 9. See also Loring 1864, and Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 202, 209–34.
Gray may be referring to the numbers of the Boston Daily Advertiser which included articles by his father-in-law, Charles Greely Loring; in August and September Gray had sent several newspapers containing Loring’s articles to CD (see letter from Asa Gray, 1 September 1863 and n. 12, and Loring 1863). These would have reached CD at about the same time as two letters from Historicus appeared in The Times discussing the actions Britain should take as a neutral country when its shipbuilders built vessels for the American Confederacy (see The Times, 11 September 1863, p. 7, and 18 September 1863, p. 7, and n. 6, above).
The legality of building, arming, and equipping ships to be used in warfare against a country with which Britain was at peace was in question during 1862 and 1863, particularly after depredations against the Union by the British-built ship Alabama (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [1 or 3 November 1863], n. 21). Historicus had become an authority on the technicalities of the Foreign Enlistment Act, which made illegal the equipping of a ship for war in the service of a foreign belligerant, and was listened to by the foreign secretary (see letter from Asa Gray, 26 May 1863 and n. 27, and Jenkins 1974–80, 2: 264). On 27 October 1863, the British authorities confiscated two iron-clad vessels as they neared completion at the Birkenhead shipyards; it was believed that these so-called ‘Laird’s rams’ were intended for the American Confederacy (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [1 or 3 November 1863] and n. 21, and The Times, 29 October 1863, p. 9). Gray may also be referring to newspaper reports of the detention of the Alexandra, another British-built Confederate ship (see, for example, The Times, 6 November 1863, p. 11, and 7 November 1863, p. 8).
The seizure of John Laird’s two ships (see n. 8, above) reflected the views of the British authorities on the illegality of selling ships to the Confederacy for warfare; editorials in The Times, in addition to Historicus’s views on the interpretation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, clearly supported this action (see The Times, 28 October 1863, p. 8, 4 November 1863, p. 6, 7 November 1863, p. 8).
See n. 9, above. Gray may also be referring to the Alexandra case (see n. 8, above).
One of the newspapers Gray sent to CD was the Boston Daily Advertiser (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Francis Boott, 26 December 1862 and n. 7, and n. 7, above). During the month of October 1863, The Times quoted newspapers from cities including New York, Baltimore, and Washington, but rarely Boston, near where Gray resided.
Several state elections took place on 13 October 1863, including gubernatorial contests in Ohio and Pennsylvania; the outcomes favoured the Republicans, and were regarded as a demonstration of growing support for Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation (McPherson pp. 684–8).
The article in the Reader had not been identified.
Gray refers to the article ‘Lord Brougham on America’, Spectator, 10 October 1863, pp. 2596–7. The article examined and dismissed Henry Peter Brougham’s arguments supporting the secession of the southern states from the Union; these arguments were advanced in his presidential address to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science in Edinburgh (Brougham 1863).
Gray refers to Louis Agassiz and Michael Faraday. Agassiz had long opposed CD’s theory of species transmutation (see Correspondence vol. 8, Dupree 1959, pp. 216–32, and n. 19, below). For an interpretation of Faraday’s views on Origin, see Cantor 1991, pp. 145–6.
Gray refers to Agassiz’s article in the November issue of the Atlantic Monthly (Agassiz 1863b).
Alfred Russel Wallace.
Gray refers to Methods of study in natural history (Agassiz 1863a), which comprised a series of articles on natural history, based on popular lectures, that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862 and 1863 (see letter from Asa Gray, 26 May 1863 and n. 12).
In the preface to Agassiz 1863a, dated 22 August 1863, Agassiz noted that his indirect intention in the volume was to enter his ‘earnest protest against the transmutation theory’ (ibid., p. iii).
Trimen 1863. For CD’s role in the publication of this paper, see letter to Roland Trimen, 23 May [1863].
Gray often sent stamps for Leonard Darwin’s collection (see letter to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863] and n. 15).


Brougham, Henry Peter. 1863. Opening address. Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Edinburgh, 1863, pp. 1–25.

Cantor, Geoffrey. 1991. Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and scientist. A study of science and religion in the nineteenth century. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

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

Dupree, Anderson Hunter. 1959. Asa Gray, 1810–1888. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Haughton, Samuel. 1863. On the form of the cells made by various wasps, and by the honey bee; with an appendix on the origin of species. Dublin: University Press.

Hull, David L. 1973. Darwin and his critics: the reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by the scientific community. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Jenkins, Brian. 1974–80. Britain & the war for the Union. 2 vols. Montreal, Quebec, and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Loring, Charles Greely. 1863. Neutral relations of England and the United States. Boston, Mass.: W. V. Spencer.

Loring, Charles Greely. 1864. England’s liability for indemnity: remarks on the letter of ‘Historicus’ [William Vernon Harcourt]dated November 4th, 1863; printed in the London ‘Times’, November 7th; and reprinted in the ‘Boston Daily Advertiser’, November 25th. Boston, Mass.: W. V. Spencer.

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.

Trimen, Roland. 1863. On the fertilization of Disa grandiflora, Linn.... drawn up from notes and drawings sent to C. Darwin, Esq., FLS, &c. [Read 4 June 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 144–7.


CD’s poor health.

Agassiz’s attempt to do away with Darwinism.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 141
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4346,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

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