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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Murie   2 March 1871

Bethnall House, | Cambridge Road, E.

2nd. March 1871

Dear Sir

I have written to the College inquiring if your volume had been left there or returned to Murray.1 As yet no answer has come to hand. Doubtless it is all right, as Mr. Ford2 the Hall Porter is attentive to me in such matters.

I smile when you mention any volume of yours giving me trouble.3 Far from that, it is a source of intense pleasure that you should think me worthy of remembrance.

Some two years ago, I know you were studying the physiology of the facial muscles as exponent of physiognomy, and very likely you have much to say of this and kindred subjects in your “Descent of Man”.4 I shall peruse it thoughtfully and not fail to communicate my impressions.

I do not know whether I have mentioned to you that in Cetaceous animals, certainly void of expression or much change of countenance, the facial muscles are greatly developed. These however, I have homologised with the same in man, especially noting great development of those of the nose and upper lip. Though mobility of the skin and superficial parts is reduced to a minimum, functionally as respects the apparatus of the blow hole action must be frequent and great.

Extra copies for distribution have not yet come to hand but in the last No. of the Linn. Journ. X.V. I have illustrated in part what I above speak of—which may interest you.5

Driven from my post and literally left to starve for the last 6 months by those the outer world believes my friends, it is no wonder that for the moment I cannot recall to memory what I formerly stated to you concerning the Macaques.6 I am not inclined, however, to put much faith in Sutton’s judgement where critical acumen as to species is at stake.7

Having but lately, so to speak taken refuge, here, with my old and true friend Dr. Millar8 my notes and memoranda are not handily got at but I will take an early opportunity of rummaging out what facts I have got in reply to your question.

With many thanks for your Volume, | I am with Sincere respect | truly yours | James Murie


Murie refers to the Royal College of Surgeons, where he had formerly been an assistant in the museum (Nature 129 (1932): 752), and to the publisher John Murray. Murie’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Descent (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix IV).
George Jacques Ford.
No letter to Murie discussing Descent has been found, but CD may have met Murie during his visit to London from 23 February to 2 March 1871 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
In 1869 CD still intended to include material on expression in Descent; a notice announcing the forthcoming publication of Descent described the book as consisting of three parts, descent of man, sexual selection, and expression of the emotions (see Academy 1 (1869–70): 15–16). Expression was published in 1872.
Murie refers to his article ‘Notes on the white-beaked bottlenose, Lagenorhynchus albirostris’, in which he described the facial muscles around the blowhole in detail (Murie 1870, pp. 146–9).
In undated notes discussing gorillas and macaques made for Descent (DAR 80: A2), CD refers to information from Murie on the os coccyx (tailbone). Murie was prosector to the Zoological Society of London from 1865 to 1870. He resigned on grounds of ill health, having fallen out with colleagues at the society. For more on the circumstances of Murie’s resignation, see Mitchell 1929, pp. 269–71.
Seth Sutton was a keeper at the zoological gardens, London; CD cited him for information on chimpanzees and orang-utans in Expression.
John Millar was physician at Bethnal House Lunatic Asylum, Cambridge Road, London (Post Office London directory 1870). Murie was medical officer at the asylum from 1871 to 1874 (Medical directory).


Thanks for Descent.

He is "driven" from his post.

He has homologised the face muscles of cetaceans and man. Although the former do not show expression, the nose and upper lip muscles are highly developed.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Murie
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Cambridge Rd
Source of text
DAR 171: 321
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7531,” accessed on 21 July 2019,

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