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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Henry Kendrick Thwaites   31 January [1868]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan 31.

My dear Thwaites

I am going to beg a favor of you, which will appear one of the oddest ever asked. Sir J Emerson Tennant says that captured elephants when moaning & screaming weep so that tears run down from the eyes.2 Now I want most particularly to know when an elephant screa⁠⟨⁠ms⁠⟩⁠ very violently (perhaps it wd be best observed with a young animal) whether the “orbicularis palpebrarum” acts, so that the skin becomes wrinkled round the eyes, & the eyes themselves partially or wholly closed.3 Could you anyhow get this observed for me, not trusting to any one’s memory. You will perceive that it is about expression4

I enclose some printed copies of my queries on expression, with two of the more important ones a little amended.5 If you can stir up any one to make a few observations on any race (tho’ I well know how difficult it is to observe) I should be very much obliged.

I hope you will excuse me troubling you & believe me my dear Thwaites | yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. H. K. Thwaites, 1 April 1868.
CD described the weeping of the Indian elephant in Expression, pp. 167–8, quoting from a work by James Emerson Tennent on the tears shed by elephants that had been captured and bound in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The orbicularis palpebrarum is part of the orbicularis oculi, the muscle surrounding the eyelid (Donáth 1969). CD discussed the movements of the eye muscles and other facial muscles in his chapter on weeping in Expression, pp. 147–77.
CD reported information received at Thwaites’s behest from Samuel Owen Glenie on the screaming of captured elephants in Ceylon. CD interpreted the lack of tears in these elephants as a defensive response to allow unimpeded vision (Expression, p. 167 n. 20).
The enclosure has not been found. See letter to Julius von Haast, 28 January [1868] and n. 3, and Appendix V.


Donáth, Tibor. 1969. Anatomical dictionary. English edition edited by G. N. C. Crawford. Oxford [etc.]: Pergamon Press.

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


Asks GHKT about eyes of screaming elephants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Henry Kendrick Thwaites
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.325)
Physical description
LS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2670,” accessed on 21 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16