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Letter 7134

Crichton-Browne, James to Darwin, C. R.

15 Mar 1870


Thanks CD for copy of Origin.

Encloses extensive, but incomplete, notes on expression among the insane, dealing specifically with blushing and the actions of the platysma and grief muscles.


West Riding Asylum, | Wakefield.

15th. March. 1870

My dear Sir

I am ashamed to write to you, having delayed so long to thankyou for your kind present— a copy of your incomparable book onthe origin of species, & to send you the information which Ipromised upon several subjects. I trust however that you willhold my offence extenuated if not excused when I explain to youthat since I last wrote I have been prostrated by serious &protracted illness from which I am only now recovering & havesuffered two family afflictions of a most distressing character.f1My time & attention have been absorbed by my infirmities &sorrows together with my very onerous routine duties, so that I havekept postponing— all unimperative occupations from week toweek & month to month. I hope you will pardon my apparentnegligence after this apology & receive me once more into thenumber of your correspondents. I promise to be more prompt &punctual in future & to do my best to aid you in your importantresearches.

Along with this I send you some notes on ‘blushing, on the Platysmamyoides, & on the ‘grief muscle.’ Tell me if they meet your wishes &if not direct my observations into the proper channel.

On friday next I shall despatch by rail carefully packedDuchennes Plates respecting which I have made a few notes thatshall be sent along with them.f2

Is there any other way in which I can be of service to you? Iam most anxious to make amends for the past & to show mygratitude for your present which it would be an impertenence evento eulogise.

With profound respect | I am | Yours most faithfully &obediently | J. Crichton Browne

Charles Darwin Esq | &c. &c.


third of a page excised⟩ The second case was that ofE. ⟨B⟩. P. aet. 18. Single … from Leeds a girl of hystericaltendencies, who had suffered from Epilepsy from the period of puberty,when she was terribly frightened by a fight which took place in herpresence, & whose mind had become gradually enfeebled & unhinged, sothat she had lost much of her acquired knowledge, & had attemptedsuicide & violence against her relatives. The change to the Asylumseemed to interrupt her mental lethargy. When examined she wastolerably intelligent & answered questions correctly, the whole of herface being of a dull purplish red hue. On uncovering her chest it wasthought at first that she was suffering from Scarlet fever, as overthe breasts & sternum there was a purplish red appearance similar tothat on the face, the true character of which was only recognised whenit suddently vanished in the course of a few minutes & as suddenlyagain presented itself in a few minutes more. The blushing seemed todepend upon internal conditions or emotions, as there was nothing inexternal circumstances to account for its evanesence & reappearance.This girl improved greatly under treatment & was ultimatelydischarged.

In several other cases, all epileptics, I have noticed, scatteredblotches of blushing & red mottling over the chest & breasts, & in allof these cases I have also noticed the cerebral maculæ of Trousseau.In all of them when gentle markings were made with a pencil or thefinger nail, on the thorax or abdomen, the portion of skin touched, inless than half a minute, became suffused with a bright red colour,which spread to some distance on each side & persisted for severalminutes perhaps ten or fifteen. This condition which undoubtedlyindicates a deep modification of the vascularity of the skin, isproduced in severe cases by the slightest touch so that the pressureof a finger may produce a diffused blush. Trousseau hasrecorded cases in which blushing occurred under such circumstances onthe thighs as well as the abdomen & chest.

Sir Charles Bell says that blushing extends on to the breasts.

A lady friend tells me that when ashamed or agitated she blushes onher face neck, wrists & hands.— the exposed portions of theskin.

I have sometimes thought that I could trace, in the progressivedevelopment of blushing over the cheeks neck &c, the propagation of aninfluence, inhibitory or otherwise to the three cervical ganglia ofthe sympathetic system the relative diffusion of the blush dependingupon the number of these involved. The number of my observations donot however justify me in calling this anything but a speculation.

I possess a large mass of details as to blushing in morbidconditions, after injury & galvanization of the sympathetic &c. whichcan be forwarded, if desired.

The Platysma Myoides

I have had an opportunity lately of watching the action of thePlatysma Myoides in the case of a patient— T. B. a labourer fromSheffield, labouring under General Paralysis. Whenever this manattempted to speak the whole of the muscles of his face were throwninto a state of violent agitation. The eyebrows were twitchedupwards with amazing rapidity, the eyelids were quickly approximated &separated the nostrils & cheeks trembled, the lips shook, & the wholeof the skin of the neck from the lower jaw to the clavicle, (as farback as a line drawn from the ear to the outter fourth of theclavicle,) was twitched, & thrown into folds mostly transverse but afew near the mesial line, & the external margin of the Platysma,longitudinal. It is impossible to describe in words the singulareffects produced by these contortions of the countenance, whichinvariably followed any effort at articulation, mastication or theprotrusion of the tongue. The skin of the neck, trembled, & quiveredstrongly & this quivering could be felt going on between the fingers,when the skin was lifted up from the subjacent muscles & structures ofthe neck. The transverse folds were short, few exceeding an inch & ahalf in length but numerous while the longitudinal furrows werelonger. So violent at times was the action in the skin of the neck,that I am satisfied that there must have been hypertrophy of the ofthe fibres of the platysma myoides. At times the outline of thePlatysma could be traced by the agitation of the skin   This man hassince died of organic disease of the brain. I find that one of myassistants, knowing nothing of my researches, has entered in the casebook.— “When he opens his mouth the platysma myoides is throwninto a state of violent spasm”.

In several old emaciated men, I have remarked slight twitching ortrembling of the skin of the neck, when the chest is exposed, & aperceptible drawing up of the skin over the clavicle, (from the chestto the neck) when the mouth is opened & the tongue put out. Thisseems to me to be effected by the outter fibres of the platysma,attached to the skin over the pectoralis major which are directlycontinuous with those attached to the angle of the mouth & lower lip,& which must be stretched by the movement referred to.

I have been quite unable to connect the action of the platysma withany emotional condition. In the old ematiated men alluded to abovethe general mental state when the muscle twitched was impatience &annoyance at my interference, & observations.

The grief muscle.

I have recorded persistent contraction of this muscle, in threecases during the past winter—all cases of hypochondriacalmelancholia, the most selfish, and to the uncultivated mindtherefore the most intense form of grief.

R. S. aet. 51. widow. Tadcaster. fancied that she had passed allher viscera by stool, & that her chest & belly were entirely empty.She was in constant mental agony.—worst in the morning—beat hersemi-closed hands rhythmically together for hours. & wore anexpression of great distress   The corrugators of the eyebrows werepermanently contracted, the eyes widely opened, the upper eyelid,having an angular bend about its middle from which its margin wasstraight to the inner angle of the eye, & having above it a roundedfullness. This condition continued for months but R. S. has now recovered; &her face has resumed its natural expression   the margin of the upperlid is now rounded & the fullness has disappeared

J. S. aet 61 from Huddersfield believes that her head is burnt &that there is not a drop of blood in her body. She has an agonizedexpression. There is marked elevation of the outter third of the lefteyebrow, the skin of the forehead over it being gathered into amultitude of minute wrinkles; the corresponding part of the righteyebrow depressed & overhanging. The corrugatores superciliorum,powerfully contracted   The eyeballs much exposed, the upper eyelidshaving an aprupt angular arch rather to the inside of their centralpoints; a rounded kite-shaped fullness over the upper lid: angles ofthe mouth pulled down; constant restless movements, rubbing & wringingof the hands, with twisting of the body from side to side, the neckbeing held rigid as if apprehensions were entertained as to anymovement of the head.

I have not had time to read over or correct what I have written |J. C. B. | West Riding Asylum | Wakefield. | 15th. March 70

DAR 161: 310, DAR 161: 323/2–5



CD had arranged for Crichton-Browne to be sent a copy of the fifthedition of Origin (see Correspondence vol. 17, letter to JamesCrichton-Browne, 22 May 1869). For CD and Crichton-Browne’s earliercorrespondence, see Correspondence vol. 17. Crichton-Browne’syoungest brother, Vincent de Paul Browne, died on 1 February 1870 (TheTimes, 5 February 1870, p. 1). Also in 1870, his father, WilliamAlexander Francis Browne, became blind as a result of injuriesreceived when he was thrown from his carriage (ODNB).
CD had lent Crichton-Browne his copy of the ‘Atlas’ to Duchenne 1862; he asked forit to be sent back in his letter of 31 January [1870].
CD recorded Crichton-Browne’s remarks on blotches and cerebralmaculae (also known as meningitic streaks: see Landau ed. 1986) inepileptics in Expression, p. 326. Crichton-Browne refers to ArmandTrousseau.
Trousseau 1868–72, 1: 459–61.
Bell 1844, p. 95.
CD cited Crichton-Browne for this information in Expression,p. 315.
CD cited Crichton-Browne’s observation in Expression, p. 300. ForCD’s discussion of the contraction of the platysma myoides muscle, seeExpression, pp. 298–303.
CD described this case in Expression, p. 185.
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