skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Crichton-Browne   1 June 1869

West Riding Asylum | Wakefield

June. 1st. | 1869.

Dear Sir

Permit me to thank you very sincerely for your gratifying letter of the 22nd ultimo, & to assure you that it gives me sincere pleasure to afford any little assistance in my power to so distinguished & revered a naturalist as yourself.1 I only wish that the numerous & harassing duties of my office here allowed me a little more leisure for such congenial pursuits so that I might collect & utilize the mass of interesting material which is as it were going to waste around me in this huge hospital for want of accurate observation & which might be of immense value if submitted to a judgement like yours. My limited opportunities however such as they are are diligently employed & the fruits of my researches are very much at your service, if you care to avail yourself of them. You will confer a real favour upon me by making me of use so that you need not hesitate to command my assistance.

Tomorrow I start for Scotland where I shall remain a few days, but immediately on my return home I shall send you some information upon the points adverted to in your letter & printed slip.2 Just touching upon one or two of these in the meantime I may say—

1st. With reference to the erection of the hair in acute melancholia & hypochondriasis. There is in both these conditions, a persistent state of painful emotion (either terror or anxiety) varied by paroxysms of more intense suffering. It is in these paroxysms that the bristling of the hair is most frequently noticed, although in the intervals it is also occasionally present. It is attributable, I think when seen in the intervals, partly to the sub-acute emotional perturbation then present & partly to that influence of habit to which you refer, (derived from the acute paroxysms), which creates a tendency to certain actions & modes of action, & which is operative I am satisfied even upon the hairs. The wife of a medical man, with whom, a patient of mine a lady suffering from acute melancholia, (characterized by convictions of unpardonable sin, fear of death for herself her husband & her children), said to me the other day, without the faintest suggestion on my part,—“I think Mrs. H. is going to begin to improve because her hair is beginning to get smoother. I always notice that our patients” (a considerable number of lunatics have resided with the speaker) “begin to get better whenever their hair ceases to be rough & untidy & unmanageable” This is a curious empirical observation.3 There can be no doubt that when convalescence sets in muscular spasm is relaxed, the balance of the capillary circulation is restored, while the cutaneous secretions are re-established.

2nd. With reference to the action of the platysma myoides I have frequently remarked transverse wrinkles on the neck, such as you mention, under excitement but under what sort of excitement, I am not just now prepared to say. The matter shall be carefully considered. The wrinkles to which I refer are very peculiar & quite different from the ordinary folds of the skin of the neck seen in stout people. They are small, parallel, close together, have a direction downwards & forwards & are restless or unstable having sometimes a sort of vibratory or vermicular movement. I am almost sure that I have seen them in terror. I remarked them last, in a man now under my care, labouring under General Paralysis, (in which there is imperfect co-ordination of muscular action, some feebleness, loss of all precision & a loss of all power of directing the diffusions of nervous energy). In this man, to whom I allude the action of the platysma myoides is singularly well marked. Whenever he is asked to show his tongue, & opens his mouth & protrudes that organ the platysma contracts & seems to rise as it were under the skin. It draws up the skin from the lower part of the neck & the upper part of the chest that from the latter situation being visibly drawn up over the clavicle, while the posterior edge or border of the muscle forms a prominent ridge— extending from the clavicle to the angle of the lower jaw. The skin over the neck anteriorly is puckered presenting numerous small transverse wrinkles & a few small longitudinal ones at the anterior & posterior margins of the muscle. The movements of the muscle are all distinctly upwards, it must be remembered however that the lower jaw is already depressed.

3rd. With reference to the grief muscles.4 They do act frequently & in a prolonged manner amongst the insane & I shall be able to send you many cases illustrative of this. I now return the photograph of the girl who could voluntarily induce the expression of grief which you were good enough to enclose in your letter.5 It is exceedngly good. Along with it I send 5 photographs of an idiot girl under my care who has many singular ways of expressing her emotions. When pleased she flaps her hands in front of her like little wings, & when displeased, throws the head back in the most extraordinary manner (shown in photograph 5) so that the occiput rests upon the dorsal vertebræ between the scapulæ. It is an anatomical puzzle to me how this is accomplished. May I beg your acceptance of these photographs of this little Yorkshire Cretin.6

Will you also look over another packet of photographs which I send you, & let me know if there are any that you would like to possess. I must ask you to return these as they are out of my album, but of most of them I believe I can procure copies. They are all patients of my own.

I have not seen Duchenne’s photographs & would much wish to have an opportunity of studying them. If you will be good enough to forward them by mail, as you suggest, I shall take great care of them & return them punctually.7

I shall thank you most cordially for the promised copy of the new edition of your book.8 It will be an old friend endeared by many new & excellent qualities.

Excuse this most hurried note & Believe me to be | With profound respect, | yours faithfully | J. Crichton Browne

Charles Darwin Esq | &c &c

CD annotations

1.1 Dear … say— 2.4] crossed blue crayon
3.1 1st.] ‘Dr J. Crichton Browne,— W. Riding Asylum Wakefield.— June 1st 1869.—’ top of page, ink
3.2 persistent] underl blue crayon
3.3 terror or anxiety] ‘terror or anxiety’ added above ink
3.3 intense] ‘intense’ added above ink
3.5 It is attributable … upon the hairs. 3.19] ‘The Hair erect chiefly in the paroxysm, but reduced almost permanent by habit & by a certain state of terror or anxiety being persistent.’ top of page, ink
3.6 partly … refer, 3.7] scored blue crayon
3.12 Mrs. H] ‘Mrs. H’ added above ink
3.13 her hair … observation. 3.16] ‘A curious empirical confirmation of less erection of Hair coincident with improvement of Health.’ ink
3.13 her hair … patients” 3.14] scored blue crayon
3.14 always] ‘alwaysadded above ink
3.15 (a considerable … unmanageable” 3.15] double scored blue crayon
4.1 2nd.... depressed. 4.21] ‘Platysma myoides.—ink
4.1 2nd.... depressed. 4.21] crossed pencil
4.3 just] ‘just’ added above ink
4.7 I am almost … terror. 4.8] underl ink
5.1 3rd.... Cretin. 5.11] “‘Grief Muscles’” blue crayon
5.1 3rd.... of this. 5.3] scored blue crayon
5.3 I now … good. 5.5] crossed blue crayon
5.5 Along] ‘Along’ added above ink
5.5 Along … Cretin. 5.11] crossed pencil
5.7 like little wings] ‘like little wings’ added above ink
5.8 (shown … Cretin. 5.11] crossed blue crayon


See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 22 May 1869.
Crichton-Browne had received a copy of CD’s printed Queries about expression (see first enclosure to letter from Henry Maudsley, 20 May 1869, and Appendix VI). CD’s initial letter of enquiry to Maudsley has not been found.
CD recounted Crichton-Browne’s observations about the erection of the hair in Expression, pp. 295–7; he quoted the remark about ‘Mrs H.’ Mrs H. and the ‘medical man’ and his wife have not been identified.
On ‘grief muscles’, see letter to James Crichton-Browne, 22 May 1869 and n. 9.
See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 22 May 1869 and n. 10.
These photographs have not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL; apparently CD returned them (see letter to James Crichton-Browne, 8 June 1869).
Crichton-Browne refers to Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne and the ‘Atlas’ of Duchenne 1862. See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 22 May 1869.
Origin 5th ed.


Discusses the bristling of hair in melancholics and the action of the platysma myoides muscle and the grief muscles in the insane.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Crichton-Browne
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
West Riding Asylum, Wakefield
Source of text
DAR 161: 309
Physical description
19pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6769,” accessed on 27 April 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17