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Darwin Correspondence Project

From R. H. Blair   9 November 1872

St. Martin’s Rectory | Worcester

Nov 9. ’72

My dear Sir,

I have to thank y〈o〉u very much for the hands〈o〉me work you have sent me. As 〈I〉 feel somewhat ashamed to have done so little to help your enquiries to a solution I should like to explain to you how it happened—whilst thanking you for courteously mentioning me notwithstanding my shortcomings.1

When you asked me questions respecting the expression of the Blind, I replied that my ignorance of facial anatomy placed almost insuperable difficulties in my way. You then recommended me to read Sir Charles Bell’s work, which I accordingly did with great pleasure & interest.2 After th〈at〉 I prepared for you a careful account of various peculiarities of the Born-Blind, so far as expression is concerned. The most startling conclusion I came to, of all the rest was that Born-Blind have no command over the muscle corrugator-supercilii.3 I tested it in various ways. But alas! one evening in Evening-Chapel, I observed two youths, both born Blind, one about 14 the other over 20, decidedly frowning at the same moment, and I put my paper in the fire as worthless. I am sorry for it, for it contained a good deal that was true & perhaps curious.

I am convinc〈e〉d now that the Born Blind, at least those that we have, cannot command that muscle. They use it however (that is one or two of them—two at least) involuntarily, and just when in deep thought. But whilst able to smile, or to look serious at the word of command, they can no more frown at command than I could move my ears.4 (I think I have seen one man or boy move his ears voluntarily)

We have now several good cases for experimenting, and if it will interest you, I shall be glad when there is a little more chemical activity in the light to have photograms5 taken of all the expressions I can get at.

One Born Blind, aged about 20, with an enor〈m〉ous head & thick hair, turns ashy pale when in a scrape, & moves the skin of the forehead up & down quickly in thick wrinkles.


He cannot & does not frown so far as I can make out. But in all cases the expression of the mouth is perfect and often very lively.

If you still care for it I will feel much pleasure in dotting down observations. I did not expect your work out so soon, & was procrastinating through press of other work. I am studying yr valuable & masterly work carefully.

yrs faithfully | R. H. Blair

C. Darwin Esqre F.R.S. &c.

CD annotations

2.7 one … worthless. 2.10] scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Is all expression [illeg] then with the Blind’ red crayon


Blair’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Expression (Appendix V); CD had cited him for information on the expressions of the blind. Blair was principal of the Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen.
See Correspondence vol. 19, letter to R. H. Blair, [before 16 March 1871], and letters from R. H. Blair, 16 March 1871 and 11 July 1871. CD had recommended Bell’s Anatomy and philosophy of expression, the latest edition of which was the fifth (Bell 1865), although his letter has not been found.
The corrugator supercilii muscles are muscles of the forehead that draw the eyebrows down; they are involved in frowning.
This information was included in the second edition of Expression, p. 237 n. 6. The second edition was edited by Francis Darwin and published after CD’s death.
The word photogram now refers to images made by placing objects directly on photographic paper and exposing them to light, but in the nineteenth century it was also used for images produced using a camera (OED).


Bell, Charles. 1865. The anatomy and philosophy of expression: as connected with the fine arts. 5th edition. London: Henry G. Bohn.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Thanks for copy [of Expression].

Has now read Charles Bell’s book [Anatomy and philosophy of expression, 3d ed. (1844)].

Reports instance of person, blind from birth, frowning, when supposedly the blind cannot control the muscle required.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Hugh Blair
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 197
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8615,” accessed on 10 December 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20