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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Turner   8 February 1867

25 Royal Crescent

Feby. 8th.—/67

My Dear Sir

Undoubtedly the great muscle of the scalp should be regarded as a skin muscle and it is through this same muscle that the eyebrows are elevated, their depression being affected by another muscle called corrugator supercilii—1 Those muscles which move the ear as a whole evidently belong to the same group, and the muscles of the alæ of the nose, of the lips & the sphincter muscles of the mouth and anus are apparently also of the same character—2 Many of these from their position are evidently for the purpose of moving not only the skin, but those appendages (hairs in the human body) which are somewhat numerous in those localities.3 There is one spot in the human body however, viz: the skin of the inner side of the palm of the hand to which a fairly marked panniculus is attached. The muscle is called palmaris brevis. But one cannot say that its use is primarily for the movement of hairs as the inner side of the palm is destitute of those appendages—

Bye the way the power not only of moving the scalp but the ears to & fro, is possessed by some persons— I have seen it more than once—4

In connection with the movements of the hairs, not only in the scalp but elsewhere, I may remind you that the individual hairs have special muscles attached to them, which are attached on the one hand to the corium immediately beneath the epidermis & on the other to the outer surface of the hair follicle— These muscles by their contraction project the individual hairs & produce the condition known as goose skin (cutis anserina), such as we experience on sudden application of cold to the surface. These muscles are of the non striped or involuntary form— They were first discovered by Kölliker & have been carefully described by Lister in Vol VI of Microscopical Journal— The panniculus carnosus of man & quadrupeds is on the other hand formed of striped or voluntary fibre—5

Hence it would appear that the movement of the skin & of its appendages en masse is effected by the agency of a more or less generally distributed voluntary muscle, whilst the movement of individual hairs is effected by a special involuntary muscle attached to each hair follicle.

I remain | very truly yrs | Wm Turner

N.B. In the skin of the hedge hog there is no difficulty in seeing that the ‘quills’ are moved by the voluntary panniculus. A special reason (defensive purposes) requiring that they should be under the influence of the will—6

Kölliker states that in the cat & other mammals the vibrissæ are moved by striped, i.e. voluntary, & not involuntary fibres—7

CD annotations

1.2 that … elevated] double scored blue crayon
1.4 the muscles … muscles 1.5] scored blue crayon
3.8 Vol VI … Journal] double scored blue crayon
4.2 by … hairs 4.3] scored blue crayon; scored pencil; ‘[animals]added in margin, pencil
Top of letter: ‘Keep for expression’ blue crayon


See letter to William Turner, 1 February [1867]. CD discussed the scalp muscle in Expression, and illustrated the facial muscles in Expression, pp. 24–5. He discussed the muscles controlling the eyebrows in Expression; see, for example, pp. 148–9 and 179–80. See CD’s annotations.
The alae are parts of the sides of the nose. See Expression, pp. 24–5.
See letter to William Turner, 1 February [1867]. See also nn. 5 and 6, below.
CD discussed the movement of ears in humans and other mammals in Descent 1: 20–3. See also Expression, pp. 111–15.
Turner refers to the arrectores pili, smooth, involuntary muscles connecting the corium, or dermis, to the hair follicle; when these muscles contract, they cause gooseflesh (cutis anserina). Joseph Lister discussed the cellular structure of involuntary muscles in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (Lister 1856); he described the arrectores pili at length in Lister 1853, where he verified Rudolf Albert von Kölliker’s findings published in Kölliker 1850–4, 2 (part 1): 14, and Kölliker 1852, p. 82. CD cited Kölliker in Expression, p. 101, and Lister 1853 in Expression, pp. 101 n. 19, and 201 n. 6.
CD discussed movement of the ‘dermal appendages’ in birds, mammals, and some reptiles when under the influence of anger or fear in Expression, pp. 95–104 and 298. He mentioned movement of hedgehog quills by the panniculus carnosus in Expression, p. 101; in Expression, pp. 101–4 and 298, he also discussed the possible ancestral relationship of the voluntary muscles of the panniculus carnosus and the involuntary arrectores pili in mammals, noting both the role of force of habit (influence of will on involuntary muscles), and the roles of variation and natural selection.
See Kölliker 1850–4, 2 (part 1): 15, and Lister 1853, p. 268; see also Expression, p. 101.


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.

Kölliker, Rudolf Albert von. 1850–4. Microskopische Anatomie oder Gewebelehre des Menschen. Vol. 2: Specielle Gewebelehre (2 parts). Vol. 1 not published. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.

Kölliker, Rudolf Albert von. 1852. Handbuch der Gewebelehre des Menschen für Aerzte und Studirende. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.

Lister, Joseph. 1853. Observations on the muscular tissue of the skin. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science 1: 262–8.

Lister, Joseph. 1856. On the minute structure of involuntary muscular fibre. [Read 1 December 1856 before the Royal Society of Edinburgh.] Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science 6 (1858): 5–14.


On muscles in man for moving skin, hair, ears, etc.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Turner
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Royal Crescent, 25
Source of text
DAR 80: B152–3c
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5396,” accessed on 26 September 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15