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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Erasmus Wilson   3 February 1871

17. Henrietta Street | Cavendish Square

Feby 〈3〉 71.1

Dear Sir.

I am sufficient of a philosopher to regard nothing as small which belongs to Biology.2 Now that you mention the contraction of the orbicular muscles of the eyelids, in consonance with scratching for the relief of pruritus, I remember to have seen it often but without taking any particular note of it. The wonder is, that in the state of irritation that, in pruritus, occupies so large an extent of the c〈u〉taneous nervous plexuse〈s〉, so little reflex excitement should be set up in the motor and in the organic system. And looking to the close relation between the sensory nerves of the skin and the special muscles of the skin, e.g. the occipito-frontalis,3 the platysma myoides4 of the neck, and the cutaneous sphincters, such a sympathy as you refer to might almost necessarily be expected. In the c〈a〉se of the elimination of tears, y〈o〉u no doubt infer that pressure against the lachrymal glands would excite function, just as would a particle of sand in contact with the conjunctiva and without any emotional interference.

I am sorry I cannot give you the precise information you desire;—but I will bear your question in mind, f〈o〉r future observation,5

I am, Dear Sir; | very faithfully yours | Erasmus Wilson

Charles Darwin Esqr


The ‘3’ has been destroyed on the original manuscript but survives on a microfilm copy.
CD wrote to Wilson following the suggestion of William Bowman (see letter from William Bowman, 26 January 1871, and letter to Erasmus Wilson, [26 January – 3 February 1871]).
The occipito-frontalis is a muscle of the scalp (Butterworth’s medical dictionary).
The platysma myoides is a thin sheet of muscle in the neck, running from the upper two intercostal spaces to the muscles around the mouth (Butterworth’s medical dictionary).
CD wanted to know whether persons scratching a bad itch closed their eyes so tightly that tears came (letter to Erasmus Wilson, [26 January – 3 February 1871].


On irritation of cutaneous nerves exciting responses in unconnected skin muscles.

Letter details

Letter no.
William James Erasmus (Erasmus) Wilson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Henrietta St, 17
Source of text
DAR 181: 130
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7475,” accessed on 18 October 2019,

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