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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Alexander Bain   9 October 1873

Down Beckenham

Oct. 9. 1873

My dear Sir

I am particularly obliged to you for having sent me your essay.1 Your criticisms are all written in a quite fair spirit, and indeed no one who knows you or your works would expect anything else.2 What you say about the vagueness of what I hav〈e〉 called the direct action of the nervous system, is perfectly just: I felt it so at the time, and even more of late.3 I confess that I have never been able f〈ully〉 to grasp your principle of spontaneity,4 as well as some other of your points, so as to apply them to special cases. But as we look at every thing from different points of view, it is not likely that we should agree closely.

I have been greatly pleased by what you say about the crying expression and about blushing.5 Did you read a review in a late Edin.? It was magnificently contemptuous towards myself and many others.6

I retain a very pleasant recollection of our sojourn together at that delightful place Moor Park.7

With my renewed thanks, I remain my dear Sir | Yours sincerely Ch. Darwin


There is a copy of Bain’s Review of ‘Darwin on expression’ (Bain 1873), inscribed, ‘With the author’s respects and regards’, and annotated by both CD and Francis Darwin, in DAR 53.1: B51–61.
CD had cited Bain in Descent and Expression.
In Bain 1873, p. 698, Bain had commented that CD’s principle of the direct action of the nervous system (the third of CD’s principles underlying the expression of emotion) was what he had called the law of diffusion. He wrote, ‘Mr Darwin quotes the statement I have given of the law, and remarks that it “seems too general to throw much light upon special expression;” which is quite true; nevertheless, he himself employs, for that very purpose, a mode of stating it that I believe to be still more vague.’ In his copy of Bain’s review, CD wrote in the margin, ‘quite true’. See also Expression, pp. 8–9.
In Bain 1873, p. 699, Bain wrote, ‘By Spontaneity, I understand the readiness to pass into movement, in the absence of all stimulation whatever; the essential requisite being that the nerve centres and the muscles shall be fresh and vigorous.’
Bain wrote that CD’s account of the expression of crying was ‘bold and original’ and had ‘the appearance of being adequate to the facts’, and that his theory of blushing was ‘one of the happiest suggestions in the book’ (Bain 1873, p. 712).
[Baynes] 1873 criticised CD, Thomas Henry Huxley, John Tyndall, and Herbert Spencer. See also letter to George Cupples, 28 April [1873].
CD stayed at the hydropathic establishment at Moor Park in Farnham, Surrey, on numerous occasions between 1857 and 1859 (see Correspondence vols. 6 and 7 and Browne 2002, pp. 63–72). For Bain’s meeting CD there, see Bain 1904, pp. 249–50.


Bain, Alexander. 1873. Review of ‘Darwin on expression:’ being a postscript to The senses and the intellect. London: Longmans, Green, & Co.

Bain, Alexander. 1904. Autobiography. London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co.

[Baynes, Thomas Spencer.] 1873. [Review of Expression.] Edinburgh Review 137: 492–528.

Browne, Janet. 2002. Charles Darwin. The power of place. Volume II of a biography. London: Pimlico.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

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


Thanks AB for his review of Expression [May 1873, in The senses and the intellect, 3d ed. (1874), pp. 697–714]. Admits vagueness of some points. Has never grasped AB’s principle of spontaneity. But, as they look at everything so differently, it is not likely that they should agree closely.

A recent review by T. S. Baynes, [Edinburgh Rev. 137 (1873): 492–528] is "magnificently contemptuous" toward CD and many others.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alexander Bain
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 27
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9092,” accessed on 14 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21