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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Crichton-Browne   8 February 1871


Feb. 8, 1871.

My dear Sir

I am now writing my essay on expression, having finished the “Descent of Man”, which will be published in about a fortnight. I will send you a copy, but I fear that only parts of it will be of any interest to you.1 I have been studying your MS. on the expression of the insane, and your observations are invaluable to me. Almost every sentence is of use, and I shall quote considerable portions.2 I know how hard worked you are, and that it is a shame to trouble you; but I am very anxious for information on one or two little points, which I think cannot entail a long letter.

(1) I find that savages, even the men, weep for very small causes:3 is it common for insane, melancholic men to weep copiously? Can unrestrained weeping be said to be characteristic of the insane of this class? or any class?

(2) I have met with one account of idiots, when pleased, laughing much.4 Is this at all common? Do even the extremely idiotic laugh, when in any way pleased, and in whose minds ludicrous ideas cannot occur. With idiots is it a sign merely of happiness?

(3) You were so kind as to send me 2 small photographs of insane women, with their hair extraordinarily rough, almost like mulattress. Is it credible that their hair ever was, or could again become, smooth?5

(4) Are the large photographs of the insane which you lent me, and others which you said were to be made, to be purchased in London? or could I purchase them through you at the Asylum? I should like to get one or two with the corners of the mouth depressed, in order to be engraved as woodcuts. Possibly others might be of service to me for the same end, if I could see them. Lastly, you told me that photographs had been taken of patients suffering from “general paralysis of the insane”, in which a smiling benevolent expression occurs. Your account of this form of insanity comes in excellently for me to quote.6 My questions have run out to a greater length than I expected. I have just finished Dr. Maudsley’s new book, and it has interested me to an extraordinary degree.7 How vigorously and well he writes, or rather thinks! If you read the lst chap. of my book, pray observe what I have said about reversion, and the little points to the ears.8 From Dr. Maudsley’s incidental statement about the ears of the insane, it would be curious to note whether vestiges of pointed ears often occur in them.9 I hope this letter will not give you much trouble.

Yours very sincerely obliged | Ch. Darwin


Descent was published on 24 February 1871 (Freeman 1977). Crichton-Browne’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Descent (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix IV). CD also refers to Expression.
See Correspondence vol. 17, second enclosure to letter from Henry Maudsley, 20 May 1869, and nn. 4–7, 9, 10, 15, 16, 18, and 19.
See Expression, p. 155; CD cited Lubbock 1870 for information on this point.
See Expression, p. 199.
For the photographs, see Correspondence vol. 17, second enclosure to letter from Henry Maudsley, 20 May 1869, and Correspondence vol. 18, letter from James Crichton-Browne, 6 June 1870 and n. 3. On photographs in relation to CD’s work on Expression, see Prodger 1999 and 2009.
See Correspondence vol. 18, memorandum from James Crichton-Browne, [6 June 1870] and n. 12. CD cited this passage in Expression, p. 205.
CD refers to Henry Maudsley and his Body and mind (Maudsley 1870); CD’s annotated copy of Maudsley 1870 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 571–3).
See Descent 1: 22–3.
Maudsley referred to ‘malformations of the external ear’ as possible marks of an insane temperament (Maudsley 1870, pp. 62–3).


Will send copy of Descent.

Comments on JC-B’s MS on expression among insane. Asks about weeping in insane men. Do idiots laugh when pleased?

Thanks for photographs of insane. Asks for additional photographs.

Comments on Henry Maudsley [Body and mind (1870)].

Pointed ears in the insane.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Crichton-Browne
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 333
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7478,” accessed on 23 August 2017,

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