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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Bowman   30 July [1867]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

July 30

Dear Bowman

On the great principle that a man who has done one a kindness will probably do another I want to beg a little information from you.2 Sir C. Bell says that when an infant screams violently, it closes the orbicular muscles so as to compress the eyes & prevent them becoming gorged with blood owing to the retarded circulation. He states that on opening the eyelids of a screaming infant he has actually seen the tissues become gorged with blood. He explains on this same principle of protection the firm closing of the eyes in violent coughing, sneezing &c.3 Now as I have not elsewhere met with a similar remark I shd esteem it a great favour if you wd inform me whether you have observed any thing of the kind, & believe in Sir C. Bell’s statement.

Expression in animals & men is at present a hobby of mine & I think I shall probably utilize my notes made during several years.4 This leads me to ask one other question; when any one (not short-sighted) looks intently at a distant object he generally contracts his eyebrows & the muscles going to the upper lip, which raises the cheeks & thus apparently compresses the eye slightly. Now do you suppose that these movements serve merely to contract the aperture of the eye & protect it from superfluous light, or does slight pressure aid the distinct vision of a distant object?

After long delay from ill-health I have at last printed 34 of a book, including a chapter on inheritance, on which subject you formerly so much aided me.5

I hope you will forgive me for troubling you, & pray believe me yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from William Bowman, 5 August 1867.
Bowman, an ophthalmologist, had given CD information for Variation and had shown kindness to one of CD’s sons (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to William Bowman, 30 July [1865?], and Correspondence vol. 14, letter to William Bowman, 26 September [1866]).
Charles Bell made these remarks in his Nervous system of the human body (Bell 1836), p. 175, and Anatomy and philosophy of expression as connected with the fine arts (Bell 1844), pp. 105–6. There is an annotated copy of Bell 1844 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 47–9). See also Expression, pp. 158–9. For CD’s doubt about Bell’s view of the derivation of human facial muscles, see the letter to A. R. Wallace, [12–17] March [1867].
See letter to Fritz Müller, 22 February [1867], n. 11. Expression was published in 1872.
CD refers to Variation; chapters 12 to 14 are on inheritance. See also CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 15, Appendix II). CD cited Bowman for information on inherited eye defects in Variation 2: 8–9, 79.


Bell, Charles. 1836. The nervous system of the human body: as explained in a series of papers read before the Royal Society of London. 3d edition. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman.

Bell, Charles. 1844. The anatomy and philosophy of expression as connected with the fine arts. Preface by George Bell, and an appendix on the nervous system by Alexander Shaw. 3d edition, enlarged. London: John Murray.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

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


Plans to write a book on expression. Questions WB on orbicular muscle in screaming infant and function of muscle contractions in looking at a distant object.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Bowman, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.11: 8 (EH 8820 6060)
Physical description
LS(A) 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5589,” accessed on 12 July 2024,

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