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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   [13 April 1868]1



My dear Father,

I watched today a child of about 5 very gradually change from cheerfulness up to the very verge of squalling, and then back again by up & downs to cheerfulness, so that I saw the change come over its face at least 3 times. it was a plump face so that the contraction of the depressor quite wrinkled the skin on each side of the chin, & the contraction of little Zygomatic cause quite a deep little groove on each side of the nose, so that it was an easy face to observe. I am perfectly certain that the depressor began acting first, and left off acting last; and after it had contracted a good deal so as to be in a good horse shoe the zygomatics began acting strongly, but I could not be certain that they pulled up the corners at all, I do not see that that is necessary to determine, because I saw that they both could act perfectly together, for directly the child felt it was in the order for crying there came another contraction simultaneously of the depressores & of the Zygomatics   I do not think the child actually made a noise, and the mouth was of this shape


roughly. The child seemed at first to be rather wishing to cry for pity, and afterwards when scolded to try to stop.

I could not watch the eyebrows but I saw tolerably another boy (of about 4) in same way beginning crying & I am pretty sure the eyebrows became oblique, at all events the eyebrows were not lowering & there was a contraction at inner corner of each, but I will look again2

your affect son WED

I write to confirm Langstaff, whom I have not seen yet3


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to W. E. Darwin, 16 April [1868]. In 1868, the Monday before 16 April was 13 April.
CD discussed the movements of the facial muscles, the shape of the mouth, and the position of the eyebrows in his chapter on weeping in Expression.
William refers to Charles Langstaff. See letter from W. E. Darwin, 5 March [1868] and n. 4.


Action of facial muscles at onset of crying.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 98
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5965,” accessed on 28 November 2021,

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