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Darwin Correspondence Project

DCP-LETT-7698

To James Crichton-Browne   18 April 1871

Down,

April 18, 1871.

My dear Sir

Your MS. is invaluable. I will correct my little discussion and give some of your evidence on the connection between the circulation of brain and skin.1 I have quite overlooked any statement to this effect, no doubt from not seeing that it concerned me, although I have read a good deal about the vaso-motor nerve-system. I daresay the relation betwen intense blushing and mental disturbance appears to you obvious; but I believe I have read everything published on the subject of blushing, yet have met with no allusion to this point.

Many thanks for the remarks by your sister in law.2 As she speaks about blushing when by herself, should you object to ask her whether she has ever felt a blush when by herself in the dark. I have long thought that Shakspear was in error (though this is high treason) when he makes Juliet say to Romeo “Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face, else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek”, &c.3 Will you ask her whether she agrees to the following statements;—that no one blushes for a fault committed when quite alone, and if not afterwards discovered or suspected by any one. Thus, I believe that if a truthful man had been led to tell an undetected falsehood, he would bitterly repent of it, but would not blush. I can however well imagine that if the thought suddenly occurred to him “had this or that happened, I should have been detected”, then he would probably have blushed, though at the time in solitude. When a person blushes at the thought of a past fault, is it not always at one committed in the presence of others, or afterwards known or suspected by others? Little breaches of etiquette, which perhaps cause more intense blushing than even grave faults, imply the presence of others. Perhaps your sister-in-law will not object to give you her opinion on these points in confirmation or opposition to your own. Please to glance over your enclosed MS., and return it, as I may wish to reconsult it.4 The single pencil line down the MS. is my mark that I have used it once. My query refers to your first case at the bottom of p. 1.5 At first I thought that the unfastening the chemise and examining the chest, actually caused the chest to blush; but on reflection I presume it is more probable that the previous blushing was thus rendered more intense and consequently spread further down the body. Can you enlighten me on this point?6

You offer to send me fragmentary notes on blushing; if you can get any one to copy them I shall be truly glad to read them, as all your remarks have been most useful to me. My chapter on blushing, however, is already rather too long, so I should read your observations more for the sake of corrections than for additions.7 When I think of all the trouble that I have caused you, my sole excuse is that I hope I may thus give to the public some scraps of your knowledge. Anything which I may publish from you would not, however, interfere with any more elaborate papers by yourself, should your health and leisure hereafter permit you to publish. You most kindly offer to look over my MS. or proof-sheets on blushing.8 This would be an enormous advantage to me, but my MS. will not, I believe, be ready for rather a long time, as I intend to refresh myself with some botanical work this summer.9 When I am ready I will enquire how your health and leisure are. Many thanks for the dreadful photo of the imbeciles and especially for your very curious paper on psychical intoxication, which I have been particularly glad to read.10

Yours very sincerely obliged | Ch. Darwin.

[Enclosure]

(Please return this)

As your sister-in-law speaks about blushing when by herself, will you ask her whether she has ever felt a blush when by herself in the dark.

I have long thought that Shakspear was in error when he makes it appear that Juliet did not blush in the dark. Will you ask your sister whether she agrees to the following statements;—that no one blushes for a fault committed when quite alone, & if not afterwards discovered or suspected by any one.

I believe that if a truthful man had been led to tell an undetected falsehood, he wd bitterly repent of it, but wd not blush. I can, however, well imagine that if the thought suddenly occurred to him, “had this or that happened, I shd have been detected”, or “if this or that person were to know of my fault,” then he wd blush, though at the time in solitude.

When a person blushes at the thought of a past fault, is it not always at one committed in the presence of others, or afterwards known or suspected by others? Little breaches of etiquette, which perhaps cause more intense blushing than even grave faults, imply the presence of others.

Footnotes

1
See enclosure to letter from James Crichton-Browne, 16 April 1871, and Expression, pp. 323–6; see also letters to James Crichton-Browne, 9 April [1871] and 12 April 1871. Crichton-Browne later published an account of this correspondence, including a complete transcription of this letter (see Crichton-Browne [1930], pp. 61–5).
2
See enclosure to letter from James Crichton-Browne, 16 April 1871. Crichton-Browne’s sister-in-law has not been identified.
3
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.
4
CD evidently sent back the notes on blushing that he had originally received as an enclosure to the letter from James Crichton-Browne, 15 March 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18).
5
CD refers to Crichton-Browne’s account of an asylum patient in whom redness of the face extended downwards when her chest was examined (Correspondence vol. 18, enclosure to letter from James Crichton-Browne, 15 March 1870).
6
No reply from Crichton-Browne has been found. However, in his later published account of this correspondence, Crichton-Browne wrote: ‘I explained to Darwin that the case which I described to him, and to which he refers … in which a woman, under medical examination, blushing, at first confined to the face and ears, immediately spread over the neck and breast when the chest was exposed—was illustrative of the rapid extension, under increased emotional perturbation, of the vaso-motor paralysis in which blushing really consists. That essentially human prerogative is not under voluntary control. Blushing can neither be induced nor checked by any effort of the will’ (Crichton-Browne [1930], p. 65).
7
No further such notes from Crichton-Browne have been found. CD published on blushing in chapter 13 of Expression.
8
See letter from James Crichton-Browne, 16 April 1871.
9
CD intended to continue work on the insectivorous plants Drosera and Drosophyllum (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 March [1871] and n. 4.
10
On the photograph, see the letter from James Crichton-Browne, 16 April 1871 and n. 1; CD also refers to Crichton-Browne 1860.

Summary

Comments on notes by JC-B on relation between blushing and mental disturbance. Asks for further information about blushing. "The single pencil line down this MS is my mark that I have used it once."

Thanks for "dreadful photo of the imbeciles".

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-7698
From
Darwin, C. R.
To
Crichton-Browne, James
Sent from
Down
Source of text
DAR 143: 339; DAR 185: 39
Physical description
4pp encl 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7698,” accessed on 26 September 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7698

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