A Person of Action
1838 On this day, the botanist Asa Gray resigned from the Wilkes Expedition.
Gray was frustrated by all of the delays, he was a person of action, and he also disliked Captain Charles Wilkes.
Gray disagreed with Wilkes about the Latin descriptions of the new taxa, and he also disagreed with Wilkes's staffing rules. Wilkes wanted to work with Americans only. But, Gray knew the work of the expedition would suffer without the help of European experts.
So, Gray decided to pivot, and he left the expedition to accept a position at the University of Michigan. But, before he could officially start that job, Harvard wooed him away.
At Harvard, Gray established the science of botany in America, and he guided the country into the international botany arena and made it competitive. And, that was due, in large part, to all of the great relationships Gray had established with European botanists.
And, Gray was also terrific friends with Charles Darwin. So, it's no surprise to learn that it was Asa Gray who said,
“Natural selection is not the wind which propels the vessel, but the rudder which, by friction, now on this side and now on that, shapes the course.”