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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Bowman   [before 26] January [1871]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.


Dear Bowman.—

Will you kindly read over the enclosed slip, copied from a long & very valuable letter received some time ago from Donders.—2 Have you seen any nearly or closely analogous cases? If so, I shd. much like to add a statement to this effect in the above words, as the case is rather important for me.—

From the manner in which Donders expresses himself, I presume that the secretion of tears stands in some very close relation with the spasmodic action of the orbicular muscles; for I presume that the inflamed state of the eye would not come on so suddenly & cease so suddenly.— I suppose, however, that the inflamed state might give a stronger tendency to the secretion: how is this?

The quasi spasmodic contraction of the orbiculars in violent yawning (which does not commence with expiration) is generally accompanied by secretion of tears, even occasionally to overflowing.

I know that you are so kind that you will forgive me for troubling you.—

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. When a point tickles badly & is scratched violently, I observe that most persons close their orbiculars forcibly— why Heaven only knows, unless it be that nearly all the muscles of the body are at same time contracted & rigid. Whether tears are at same time secreted I know not.—3 Do you know any medical man likely to see patients suffering from an agony of tickling & scratching themselves, so that I could ask. But it appears so ludicrous a question, that I cd. write only to some one to whom I could mention your name, adding that you believed that the recipient wd. forgive so very absurd & trifling a question.—

When I began writing I did not intend to bother you with this.


J’ai observé quelques cas d’une affection bien curieuse: après une attouchement, qui ne produisait ni plaie ni contusion, par exemple, la friction d’un habit, il a produisit un spasme du muscle orbiculaire et un larmoisement très profus, qui ne duraient qu’une heure peut-être. Mais plus tard, il y avait de temps en temps, quelquefois avec de grands intervalles, de quelques semaines p.e., des accès violents de spasme du muscle orbiculaire et de sécretion de larmes, avec rougeur soit primaire soit secondaire de l’oeil.4


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from William Bowman, 26 January 1871.
CD refers to Frans Cornelis Donders. The extract is from the letter from F. C. Donders, 28 May 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18).
CD discussed this point in Expression, pp. 165–6.
CD quoted this passage in translation in Expression, p. 166: I have observed some cases of a very curious affection when, after a slight rub (attouchement), for example, from the friction of a coat, which caused neither a wound nor a contusion, spasms of the orbicular muscles occurred, with a very profuse flow of tears, lasting about an hour. Subsequently, sometimes after an interval of several weeks, violent spasms of the same muscles re-occurred, accompanied by the secretion of tears, together with primary or secondary redness of the eye.


Sends enclosure copied from letter of F. C. Donders [7207?] dealing with orbicular muscle. Asks about secretion of tears resulting from spasmodic action of orbicular muscle.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Bowman
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (B/D25.301)
Physical description
4pp, encl 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7452,” accessed on 14 November 2018,

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