skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To H. E. Litchfield   2 December [1871]1


Dec. 2d

My dear Henrietta

I shall send off today or on Monday, registered, the M.S. on the use of the Voice for Expression.2 It is an extremely poor affair, but I must say something, & have nothing worth saying. I have no copy of the M.S. so please lock it up carefully, for I hate it to that extent that it wd. break my heart to write it again.— Keep it till we come to London, & very nice it will be then to see you.—3 No doubt style wants improving, but I am sick of altering it.— Pray ask Litchfield whether I have succeeded in giving what he means. I do not know whether he ever was thanked for his M.S. which I was very glad to read several times over,4 & shall keep for the Descent, in case I shd wish to correct the part about music.5 For the present work music comes in only quite subordinately. I agree with Litchfield, & had come to the conclusion before that Spencer does not really explain cause of change in pitch, intervals &c &c neither in emotional speech nor in music.6 But it seems to me very good to point out, as Spencer has done, that they are connected.— George has indoctrinated me a little & shown me passages in Helmholtz.7

If you find any sentences “the most horrid which you ever read in your life”—pray correct them; but do not bother yourself about corrections.8

Poor dear soul I have been very sorry that you have kept so poorly, & you seem to me wonderfully patient.9

Your affectionate Father | C. Darwin


The year is established by the reference to the manuscript of Expression, which was begun in January 1871 and published in November 1872 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II); Freeman 1977).
CD’s draft on the voice for Expression has not been found. See letter to H. E. Litchfield, [before 2 December 1871] and n. 3.
The Litchfields lived in lodgings at 54 Beaumont Street, London (R. B. Litchfield, Record, personal and domestic, vol. 1 (DAR 248/1)); CD stayed with his brother, Erasmus, in London between 14 and 22 December 1871 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
See memorandum from R. B. Litchfield, [before 2 December 1871].
In Descent 2: 330–7, CD had argued that music was developed for the purposes of courtship. He made minor revisions to this discussion in the second edition, but did not incorporate any of Litchfield’s comments (see Descent 2d ed., pp. 566–73).
Litchfield’s memorandum of [before 2 December 1871] commented on Herbert Spencer’s essay ‘The origin and function of music’ (Spencer 1858–74, 1: 359–84). CD had discussed Spencer’s theory briefly in Descent 2: 336; and he remarked further on the theory in Expression, pp. 86–7. He also included a lengthy quotation from Litchfield (Expression, pp. 89–90), the original of which has not been found; it appears to be a later elaboration of the memorandum of [before 2 December 1871].
CD’s son George Howard Darwin referred to the work of Hermann von Helmholtz on the physics of music in annotations he made to the memorandum from R. B. Litchfield, [before 2 December 1871]. He later sent CD ‘some sentences out of Helmholtz’, possibly the abstract of the French translation of Helmholtz 1863 now in DAR 89: 131–2 (Helmholtz 1868; see Correspondence vol. 20, letter from G. H. Darwin, 2 May 1872). CD discussed Helmholtz’s research, which linked the emotional impression of certain musical notes to the shape of the ear cavity, in Expression, p. 91.
Henrietta Litchfield was regarded as a stern critic by CD and his scientific colleagues (see letter to H. E. Litchfield, [after 5] November 1871 and n. 4).
Henrietta became ill during a European tour following her wedding in August 1871 (J. Browne 2002, p. 358).


Sends MS chapter on voice from Expression to HL for examination.

Agrees with R. B. Litchfield about Herbert Spencer’s views on speech and music.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henrietta Emma Litchfield Henrietta Emma Darwin (Henrietta Emma Darwin)
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 185: 35
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8089,” accessed on 21 August 2017,

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