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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Robert Swinhoe   [27 February 1867]1


Queries about Expression.

1. Is astonishment expressed by the eyes and mouth being opened wide and by the eyebrows being raised?

2. Does shame excite a blush, when the colour of the skin allows it to be visible?

3. When a man is indignant or defiant does he frown, hold his body and head erect, square his shoulders and clench his fists?

4. When considering deeply on any subject, or trying to understand any puzzle, does he frown, or wrinkle the skin beneath the lower eyelids?

5. When in low spirits, are the corners of the mouth depressed, and the inner corner or angle of the eyebrows raised by that muscle which the French call the “Grief Muscle?”

6. When in good spirits do the eyes sparkle, with the skin round and under them a little wrinkled and with the mouth a little drawn back?

7. When a man sneers or snarls at another, is the corner of the upper lip over the canine teeth raised on the side facing the man whom he addresses?

8. Can a dogged or obstinate expression be recognised, which is chiefly shown by the mouth being firmly closed, a lowering brow and slight frown?

9. Is contempt expressed by a slight protrusion of the lips and turning up of the nose, with a slight expiration?

10. Is disgust shown by the lower lip being turned down, the upper lip slightly raised, with a sudden expiration something like incipient vomiting?

11. Is extreme fear expressed in the same general manner a with Europeans?

12. Is laughter ever carried to such an extreme as to bring tears into the eyes?

13. When a man wishes to show that he cannot prevent something being done, or cannot himself do something, does he shrug his shoulders, turn inwards his elbows, extend outwards his hands, and open the palms?

14. Do the children when sulky, pout or greatly protrude the lips?

15. Can guilty, or sly, or jealous expressions be recognised?—though I know not how these can be defined.

16. As a sign to keep silent, is a gentle hiss uttered?

17. Is the head nodded vertically in affirmation and shaken laterally in negation?

Observations on natives who have had little communication with Europeans would be of course the most valuable, though those made on any natives would be of much interest to me.

General remarks on expression are of comparatively little value.

A definite description of the countenance under any emotion or frame of mind would possess much more value.

Memory is so deceptive on subjects like these that I hope it may not be trusted to.


The date is established by the mention in the letter from Robert Swinhoe, 5 August 1867, of a letter to Swinhoe (now missing) dated 27 February, and an enclosure on expression. See also letter to Fritz Müller, 22 February [1867] and n. 13.
The letter and its original enclosure, CD’s queries on expression, have not been found. Swinhoe had the queries published in Notes and Queries on China and Japan, 31 August 1867; the transcript has been made from that publication. The queries were headed by the following paragraph: Signs of emotion amongst the Chinese &c.— The following Queries have been addressed to me by a friend in England. He wishes them to be applied to the expression displayed under various emotions by the Chinese or by any other outlandish race. Some of your readers may find leisure to record their observations on this subject in Notes and Queries. I give my Querist’s own words:— Beneath the queries was printed, ‘Amoy, July, 1867. R.S.’ No replies were published.


CD’s queries on expression as reprinted in Notes and Queries on China and Japan 1 (1867): 105.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Swinhoe
Source of text
Notes and Queries on China and Japan 1 (1867): 105

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5423F,” accessed on 22 March 2023,

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