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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hensleigh Wedgwood [1867–72]1

1 Cumberland Place, | Regent’s Park. N.W.

My dear Charles

I am afraid I can throw no light on any of your queries A brown study sounds like a modern expression. It has an odd coincidence with the old French embruns or embrun, which signifies exactly the same thing, absorbed in thought.2 I should think that shaking hands is not so much a rudimentary embrace as a remnant of giving the hand in token of good faith, “Theres my hand upon it”. A bet according to boys tradition requires the sanction of shaking hands. This explains handfestning (in Old Swedish) the promise of fidelity which a subject makes to her prince, or an engagement of marriage with the hand given in token of fidelity

Old Norse handa band, the joining of hands as solemn confirmation of a concluded agreement; handfesta, to confirm in such a manner, to assure by joining hands.

I do not know the paper to which you refer and am much obliged for the reference

Ever yours | HW.


The date range is established from the fact that the content of the letter relates to CD’s work on expression (see n. 2, below). CD was working on expression with a view to publishing between 1867 and 1872.
CD used the phrase ‘in a brown study’ for abstraction and meditation in Expression, p. 228. See also second letter from Hensleigh Wedgwood, [1867–72].


On origin of hand-shaking.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hensleigh Wedgwood
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Cumberland Place, 1
Source of text
DAR 181: 53
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7041,” accessed on 21 March 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20