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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Crichton-Browne   12 April 1871


April 12, 1871.

My dear Sir

The great confusion of mind often accompanying intense blushing seems to me surprising, and I try in the enclosed MS. to throw a little light on this point.1 But am I right in believing that the confusion, &c. is greater than the causes which induce the blushing can alone account for? I am inclined to think that this is so. If you think there is nothing strange about the degree of confusion, or if you think my suggestion false, I will strike the whole out.2 Is it a recognised view with medical men (as I know nothing about the science) that there is some close sympathy between the cutaneous circulation of the face or head and the state of the brain? Is erysipelas a good instance?3 Lastly, and most important of all, if I retain the little discussion, have I given a fair abstract of your observations? I have not as yet wasted time in improving the style of the whole.

With cordial thanks | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 9 April [1871] and n. 2; the manuscript has not been found.
CD’s suggestion was probably the argument, put forward in Expression, that blushing would act directly on the operation of the brain by interfering with its blood supply, causing mental confusion. The argument is qualified in CD’s published account by reference to the ‘true explanation’, which he thought lay in the ‘intimate sympathy which exists between the capillary circulation of the surface of the head and face, and that of the brain’ (Expression, p. 324); that is, that blushing and mental confusion are both symptoms of the dilation of the blood vessels in the head and face caused by strong emotion, rather than mental confusion being a secondary result of the dilation of the blood vessels caused by blushing.
In Expression, p. 325, CD mentioned erysipelas as a disease in which inflammation of the skin of the head was accompanied by delirium. CD had experience of erysipelas as Leonard Darwin had suffered a severe attack in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 23[–4] July [1862]), and CD’s father, Robert Waring Darwin, had also been seriously ill with erysipelas (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to W. D. Fox, [3 November 1829].


Discusses blushing. CD believes confusion of mind alone can account for it. Sends MS for JC-B’s comments and corrections.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Crichton-Browne, James
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 338
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7678,” accessed on 23 January 2017,