Charles Darwin is Grateful For Additional Information Relating to His New Book, “The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species”

He thanks the recipient, who was quite likely William Whitman Bailey, botanist at Brown University

In July 1877, Charles Darwin’s book “The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species” was published by John Murray of London. It was dedicated to botanist Asa Gray of Harvard University, considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century. Darwin described the book as consisting “chiefly of...

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Charles Darwin is Grateful For Additional Information Relating to His New Book, “The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species”

He thanks the recipient, who was quite likely William Whitman Bailey, botanist at Brown University

In July 1877, Charles Darwin’s book “The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species” was published by John Murray of London. It was dedicated to botanist Asa Gray of Harvard University, considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century. Darwin described the book as consisting “chiefly of the several papers on heterostyled [having styles – the female reproductive part of a flower – of different forms or lengths] flowers, originally published by the Linnean Society, corrected, with much new matter added, together with observations on some other cases in which the same plant bears two kinds of flowers. Showing his deep love of the subject matter, Darwin added, “No little discovery of mine ever gave me so much pleasure as the making out the meaning of heterostyled flowers.” Copies of the book were disseminated worldwide, and were eagerly read by botanists and scientists generally.

A perusal of the letters to Darwin published by the Darwin Correspondence Project at Cambridge University shows that number of them wrote Darwin thanking him for the book, with a few making corrections or adding additional information on the subject. For example, Asa Gray wrote, thanking him for the book’s dedication, and German zoologist and comparative anatomist Julius Victor Carus found a mistake and brought it to Darwin’s attention, and received a thank you letter for his trouble.

Letter signed, on his Down letterhead, October 10, 1877. “I write merely a line to thank you for your kind note with various pieces of information, which will be useful should I ever bring out a corrected edition of my book.” We would like to thank the Darwin Correspondence Project for identifying “The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species” as the book about which Darwin wrote here.

Although the recipient is not specified, after reviewing Darwin’s received correspondence, and considering the timing of the letters and the times in transit between letter posting and delivery, we would conjecture that the recipient was William Whitman Bailey. Bailey was a friend of Asa Gray and a botanist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He wrote Darwin on September 28 adding some notes on fertilization and forms of flowers, and the transit time from the U.S. to England would have been about ten days. This is consistent with Darwin’s letter here.

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