skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Erasmus Wilson   [26 January – 3 February 1871]1

Dear Sir.—

I hope that you will forgive the liberty which I take in addressing you.— I want to ask you a question which will appear ludicrously insignificant but which has indirectly considerable interest for me   My friend Mr Bowman believes that you will excuse me, that you are the most likely person to have observed the point or to be able to observe it.—2 When any point of the body tickles much & this part is violently scratched I observe that person almost always strongly contract the orbicular muscles round the eyes.— Why they do so, I know not unless it be that everyone, as I feel myself, contract almost all the muscles of the body at the same time.—3 I have read that in some skin complaints, the itching amounts almost to agony, & what I want to know is in such cases, if the person scratch the part violently & for a [illeg] whether, supposing as I believe the orbicular muscle to be strongly contracted tears ever or generally come into the eyes or even roll down the face. I presuppose that there is no mental distress causing weeping in the ordinary sense. I may mention as a [somewhat analogous case], that when a person is badly choked & coughs violently, the orbiculars are strongly contracted & tears often run down the face.

I presume there wd be difficulty in observing as the affected person wd not be likely to scratch the part in the presence of any medical attendant.

If you can, at any time when at leisure give me information on this very troubling point, I shd be grateful & in any case I hope that you will excuse me for troubling you.— I remain with much respect, Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | C. D.—


The date range is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter from William Bowman, 26 January 1871, and the letter from Erasmus Wilson, 3 February 1871.
CD discussed this point in Expression, pp. 165–6.


Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


Seeks information and observations on the contraction of the orbicular muscles as a consequence of skin irritation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William James Erasmus (Erasmus) Wilson
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 96: 91
Physical description
AdraftS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7459,” accessed on 17 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19