skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project


From James Crichton-Browne   16 February 1871

West Riding Asylum, | Wakefield.

Feb. 16th. 1871.

My dear Sir,

I was greatly pleased to receive your letter of the 8th. Inst.1 and to know that I have been of some little service to you in the important researches in which you have been engaged. It is no mere form of courtesy when I say that I value your approbation more than that of any one else now living. I have often been ashamed of the insignificance of the help which I have been able to afford you—and of the inadequacy of my answers to your searching questions.2 The fact is however that the duties of my position leave me very little time for congenial studies. The exigencies of the public service have already ruined my health, & curtailed my capacities. They now threaten to shorten my life.3 Pardon so much personal detail and accept my warm thanks for the promise of a copy of your new book which will be a genuine solace to me in this house of bondage.4 Along with this I send you hurried and disconnected answers to your questions. I have written them on foolscap as they were too long to embody in a letter. Let me know if they meet your wishes? I can furnish you with cases in illustration of every point. I trust to send you some interesting photographs in about a fortnight.5

Do not hesitate to ask me any questions connected with my own specialty which require elucidation. It is a sincere pleasure & relief to me to work in your vein.

Are you interested in morbid pigmentation. I have made what I consider some very curious observations on bronzing of the skin of Europeans in Addisons disease which are quite at your service if they bear upon your present investigations.6

Maudsley writes excellently and brilliantly.7 What he requires is more extensive observations. Would you like to have a photograph of the ears of a late patient of mine which were covered, not with down, but with long strong bristles, or of the breast of a woman with two distinct milk-giving niples?

With profound respect | Believe me | Yours most faithfully | J. Crichton Browne

Charles Darwin Esq | &c &c


1. Nothing is more characteristic of simple melancholia than a tendency to weep on the slightest occasion or on no occasion, and to weep disproportionately on the occurrence of any real cause of grief. One of the most frequent entries in our Case Books with reference to this class of patients is “Intensely emotional, cries when spoken to.” I could any day point out to you in this Asylum a number of melancholics, who sit rocking themselves rhythmically backwards and forwards and who whenever you address them, stop this motion, purse up their eyes, pull down the corners of their lips more determinately and shed tears. The readiness and copiousness of the lachrymal secretion under such circumstances is sometimes remarkable. To illustrate the reasons given by melancholics for excessive manifestations of sorrow I may mention the case of a girl lately under my care, who wept a whole day and then confessed to me that she was crying because she remembered she had once shaved off her eyebrows to promote their growth.8 My observations lead me to believe, that the ideas connected with emotional displays such as I have been describing in melancholics, are generally egotistic. Any remark connected with their own state, or anticipations, ‘a kind word’ or an admonition is especially apt to plunge them into an unrestrained outburst of feeling. I believe I have read of some distinguished men (Poets?) who were very prone to tears—and I believe I have noted that in them it was the sentiment of pity that excited the weeping.

Acute maniacs have paroxysms of violent weeping “blubbering” in the midst of their ravings9

All patients affected by hemiplegia (paralysis of one half of the body) whether insane or not in the ordinary acceptation of that term, manifest extreme emotional susceptibility. Such is also the case with many patients in whom “brain-wasting” is taking place or who are passing into premature dotage and senile decay. The form of emotional exhibition in such cases is most commonly weeping. An ordinary greeting or a simple question, produces—quivering of the features and a flow of tears. The greeting is responded to, or the question is answered, directly enough, in the midst of this exhibition of grief—and then perhaps, some painful notion suggests itself. It has seemed to me under such circumstances that the effort at expression was misdirected or too widely diffused that the consequent signs of grief suggested some painful impression, and that this was then referred to, as an explanation of the display of feeling. In many cases however this theory will not hold good, as no sorrowful or distressing idea comes up at all and the incongruity of the weeping seems never to be recognised. I have watched many cases in which the emotional manifestation continued into a state of complete fatuity, in which the power of speech had been altogether lost. Looking at the patient or addressing them would still induce movements of the features and an effusion of tears.

If desirable I can send quotations from standard authorities corroborating the proneness of hemiplegic patients to emotional manifestations. The fact is indeed well recognised by the whole medical profession.

2. There are undoubtedly many idiots and lunatics who laugh inordinately and without occasion   In my specialty we have a term Euphoria—insane joyousness—which is meant to designate the condition in which this occurs. Only yesterday (Feby 15) an idiot boy who cannot speak, described to me very graphically by signs, amidst explosions of laughter and with his face c〈o〉vered, with the broadest smil〈es how〉 anoth〈er〉 inmate of the Asylum had 〈    〉 him a black eye.10 〈    〉 I wo〈ul〉d be c〈  〉t〈  〉 〈    〉 tha〈  〉 〈  〉igh〈  〉 〈    〉 and frequent 〈    〉 me〈  〉 on〈  〉 〈    〉 amongst idiots an〈d〉〈    〉 are of course many 〈    〉 give evidence of no emotion or 〈    〉 who do not rise above reflex acts—, who are stolid or simpl〈y〉 restless.11 There are others who constantl〈y〉 moan & cry and evince painful mental states. There are others who are only destructive and passionate   But above these in the highest class of idiots and [also] imbeciles, the pleasurable emotions are I believe the most general. There are many idiots and imbeciles, who are constantly smiling and laughing, who are ‘pleas〈ed〉 with a rattle, tickled by a straw’12   I shall endeavour to procure and forward photographs of some of these ‘good tempered idiots’ as we call them who are now under my care.13 In some of them the expression of the face is a stereotyped smile. They are persistently joyous & benign   No ideas can possibly be connected with such an emotional state. Such creatures have 〈no〉 〈se〉nse of the ludicrous. They 〈laugh〉 〈    〉 because “it is their 〈nature〉 〈    〉 They 〈    〉 chuckle or 〈    〉 a〈  〉 〈    〉 food as ple〈as〉ed 〈    〉 they are stroked 〈    〉 caressed, when b〈  〉 〈  〉[illeg]〈  〉 are presented to them 〈    〉 when they hear music. Some of them laug〈h〉 more than usual when they walk or attempt any muscular exertion14   In imbeciles and the weak minded where joyousness & laughter become connected with ideas, those appertaining to personal vanity are first found to be operative. Next come those associated with the approbation of others and the love of display.

Amongst lunatics as distinguished from idiots the placid or tremulous smile of the general paralytic is of course well known. In woman labouring under erotomania, nymphomania, or any disorder of the sexual propensities, I have observed that hilarity is predominant   I can supply a photograph very characteristic of the combination of mirthfulness and lu〈st〉.15 In certain chronic maniacs cachma〈  〉 are frequent, as 〈    〉 acute maniacs. In these 〈    〉 however pretend to 〈    〉 in any pre chol〈  〉 〈    〉 whi〈  〉 〈    〉

3. In those lunatics in whom brisling of the hairs is extreme, the disease is generally permanent or mortal. I have however seen cases in which there was a moderate degree of bristling & in which restoration of health and of the ordinary smoothness of the hair subsequently took place.16

4. Large photographs of the insane are not to be purchased anywhere   I shall do my best to supply the desiderata.17

J. Crichton Browne M.D. F.P.〈S.〉 | Wakefield.

CD annotations

1.1 1. Nothing … growth. 1.13] crossed pencil
1.6 rocking themselves … shed tears. 1.8] ‘rocking | Whenever | spoken to | shed tears’ in margin, pencil
1.8 copiousness] underl red crayon
1.9 lachrymal secretion] underl red crayon
1.9 remarkable.] underl red crayon
1.15 egotistic.] underl red crayon
1.15 connected with their] underl red crayon
1.16 ‘a kind word’] underl red crayon
1.16 ‘a kind … feeling. 1.17] ‘sympathy’ in margin, red crayon
1.17 I believe … display. 5.26] crossed pencil
2.1 Acute maniacs] scored red crayon; ‘Acute’ pencil
3.1 (paralysis of one half] underl red crayon
3.3 “brain-wasting”] underl red crayon
3.4 senile decay.] underl red crayon
3.5 commonly weeping.] underl red crayon
3.10 signs of grief … display of feeling. 3.12] ‘signs of grief come on. & suggest painful notion’ in margin, pencil
3.13 no sorrowful] ‘no’ added above ‘no’, pencil; ‘no sorrow’ in margin, pencil
5.1 2.... mental states. 5.11] ‘Laughter’ blue crayon
5.1 idiots] underl red crayon
5.1 lunatics] underl red crayon
5.1 laugh inordinately] underl red crayon
5.4 described … black eye. 5.6] scored red crayon
5.7 and frequent … course many 5.8] scored red crayon
5.9 who do not rise above reflex acts] ‘other crying [illeg]in margin, red crayon
5.13 pleasurable … constantly 5.14] double scored red crayon
5.14 smiling … straw’ 5.15] double scored blue crayon; two crosses in margin, red crayon
5.17 In some … benign 5.18] scored red crayon
5.18 No ideas … emotional state 5.19] scored blue crayon; cross in margin, pencil
5.21 food … music. 5.22] scored blue crayon
5.24 In imbeciles … love of display. 5.26] double scored blue crayon; three crosses in margin, red crayon
6.1 from idiots the placid or tremulous] ‘Lunatics’ blue crayon
6.1 from idiots … desiderata 8.2] crossed blue crayon
7.1 3. In those … took place. 7.4] ‘Bristling of Hair’ in margin, blue crayon; ‘Feb 20—1871’ in margin, pencil
7.2 mortal.] ‘mortal’ blue crayon
8.1 4. Large … Wakefield. 9.1] crossed blue crayon
Top of enclosure: ‘Weeping Feb. 20 1871—C. Browne’ pencil


See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 8 February 1871.
Since they first corresponded in 1869, Crichton-Browne had provided CD with several sets of notes in response to queries. In particular, see Correspondence vol. 17, second enclosure to letter from Henry Maudsley, 20 May 1869, and letter from James Crichton-Browne, 1 June 1869, and Correspondence vol. 18, letter from James Crichton-Browne, 15 March 1870, and memorandum from James Crichton-Browne, [6 June 1870].
Crichton-Browne had been medical director of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Wakefield, Yorkshire, since 1867, and was lecturer on mental diseases at the Leeds School of Medicine (ODNB); on his health, see Correspondence vol. 18, letter from James Crichton-Browne, 15 March 1870.
Crichton-Browne refers to Descent. See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 8 February 1871.
There are more than thirty photographs surviving in CD’s collection that can be identified as having come from James Crichton-Browne (Prodger 1999 and 2009).
Addison’s disease is a chronic condition of the adrenal gland in which overproduction of melanin can lead to darkening of the skin (Butterworth’s medical dictionary).
Crichton-Browne refers to Henry Maudsley, and to Maudsley 1870 (see letter to James Crichton-Browne, 8 February 1871 and n. 7).
CD cited Crichton-Browne for information contained in this paragraph in Expression, p. 155, paraphrasing the account of this patient and quoting, with some emendations, the passage ‘stop this motion … tears’.
CD cited Crichton-Browne for this information in Expression, p. 156.
CD cited Crichton-Browne for this information in Expression, p. 199.
This passage is probably that drawn on in Expression, p. 199: ‘Dr. Crichton Browne … informs me that with idiots laughter is the most prevalent and frequent of all the emotional expressions. Many idiots are morose, passionate, restless, in a painful state of mind, or utterly stolid, and these never laugh.’
Crichton-Browne quotes from Alexander Pope’s poem, An essay on man (A. Pope 1733–4): Behold the child, by nature’s kindly law, Pleas’d with a rattle, tickled with a straw
There are two photographs of West Riding Asylum patients suffering from ‘hilarious mania’ in the Darwin Archive–CUL (DAR 53.1: A26, A39).
The damaged passage appears to be cited in Expression, p. 199: Their countenances often exhibit a stereotyped smile; their joyousness is increased, and they grin, chuckle, or giggle, whenever food is placed before them, or when they are caressed, are shown bright colours, or hear music. Some of them laugh more than usual when they walk about, or attempt any muscular exertion. The joyousness of most of these idiots cannot possibly be associated, as Dr. Browne remarks, with any distinct ideas: they simply feel pleasure, and express it by laughter or smiles. With imbeciles rather higher in the scale, personal vanity seems to be the commonest cause of laughter, and next to this, pleasure arising from the approbation of their conduct.
There are two photographs of West Riding Asylum patients suffering from ‘erotomania’ in the Darwin Archive–CUL (DAR 53.1: A28, A38).
CD quoted this passage in Expression, p. 297.
In the Darwin Archive–CUL, there are three large photographs of people suffering from ‘General paralysis’ that may have been sent to CD by Crichton-Browne (DAR 53.1: C134–6).


Values CD’s approbation more than that of anyone else now living.

CD’s "searching questions". Sends answers separately.

Offers his observation on morbid pigmentation of skin.

Offers photographs of abnormal features in patients – ears with bristles, women with two sets of nipples.

Encloses notes on weeping and laughter in the insane.

Letter details

Letter no.
Crichton-Browne, James
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
West Riding Asylum, Wakefield
Source of text
DAR 161: 312
Physical description
8pp, encl 7pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7484,” accessed on 23 July 2016,