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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. H. Patterson   24 April 1876

The hand blushing

“A curious little incident, illustrative of her extreme constitutional shyness, occurs to me at this moment. She had been persuaded one evening to play on the piano, and sing, which she did very sweetly to a small circle of very intimate friends; and as she rose to resume her gloves after her performance, an old gentleman with the rather demonstrative gallantry of his earlier day, took her hand saying “Ah do not put on that glove yet!” The hand, which was a particularly pretty, white, soft, dimpled hand, blushed to its taper finger-tips, as it was thus made an object of observation, and in spite of the kindly smile which the delicate little hand excited, I felt quite a painful sympathy with the confusion which overwhelmed its owner as she hastily drew it away and hid it in her glove”1

From a paper entitled “Old womans gossip,” by Frances Anne Kemble in the Atlantic Monthly for April 1876, p. 453.

Incident occured at Edinburgh, to a young lady name not given nor date but probably about 1830.

Wm. H. Patterson.


I have an old gray Tom cat which mews and purrs like other cats, but which has besides, another kind of speech which I have not noticed in others. It is a very short sound as nearly as possible like the sound that would be written MURR, and this seems to be in Cattish, “Thanks.”— It is only used however, so far as I know, when some member of the family opens the glass door in the porch and lets him in, he then says it when passing quickly along the hall, towards the kitchen.2

I happened to be in the town of Strabane, Co. Tyrone, 4 or 5 years ago and having an hour to spare walked along a poor suburb. The road was lined with cottages, and at the door of most of the cottages a cat sat, enjoying the evening sun. The curious thing was, that all the cats I noticed had the same colouring namely a mixture of light gray and white, and the fur was particularly long and coarse, I saw no cats with short glossy fur, nor any coloured, black, dark grey, or tortoiseshell, or even pure white. The particularly coarse coat struck me very much. This seems to have become the dominant type of cat in that quarter of Strabane.3

Wm. H. Patterson. | Dundela | Strandtown | Belfast.

April 24, | 1876,


CD developed a theory of blushing in Expression, pp. 310–47. On pp. 315–16, he stated: Nevertheless it may be doubted whether the habitual exposure of the skin of the face and neck, and its consequent power of reaction under stimulants of all kinds, is by itself sufficient to account for the much greater tendency in English women of these parts than of others to blush; for the hands are well supplied with nerves and small vessels, and have been as much exposed to the air as the face or neck, and yet the hands rarely blush. We shall presently see that the attention of the mind having been directed much more frequently and earnestly to the face than to any other part of the body, probably affords a sufficient explanation. A similar case was added by Francis Darwin to Expression 2d ed., p. 333 n. 10.
In Expression, p. 129, CD remarked that cats made at least six or seven different sounds: ‘The purr of satisfaction, which is made during both inspiration and expiration, is one of the most curious.’
CD discussed varieties of domestic cat in Variation 1: 43–8. Strabane is a town in county Tyrone, now in north-west Northern Ireland.


Expression 2d ed.: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. Edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1890.

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

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Observations on expression and variation in cats.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Hugh Patterson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 174: 28
Physical description
AmemS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10469,” accessed on 27 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24