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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   [15 April 1868]1



My dear Father,

I saw Langstaff today, and gave him your letter to read.2

I misunderstood him about the two adults, they were both crying under operation; they were both women, one began crying from fear on being told of an operation she must undergo, the other from grief on account of a death.3 he has since watched two men under Chloroform for the platysma; and in neither case when rigidity came on from the chloroform, was the platysma contracted as he held the skin off the neck with his fingers, and could feel no change. But in each case, as the effect of the chloroform went off, and the men began to feel pain, parallel lines of twitching action passed up the platysma, as if it was trying to contract.4

L says that no doubt the lines you saw in Frank’s neck when screaming, were gorged veins, as the contraction of the muscles from clavicle to chin &c would contract their orifices & prevent return of blood.5

I shall see him again in a day or so.

Yours affect son | W. E. Darwin

CD annotations

1.1 I saw … death. 2.3] crossed pencil
2.1 both] ‘both’ added pencil
2.3 he] after opening square bracket, pencil, ‘h’ altered to ‘H’ pencil
3.1 L says … so. 4.1] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘(& Platysma)’ pencil


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter to W. E. Darwin, 8 April [1868], and the note dated 10 April 1868 in DAR 162: 80/2 (see n. 5, below). The first Wednesday after 10 April 1868 was 15 April.
There is a note in DAR 162: 80/2 dated 10 April 1868 that describes the action of Francis Darwin’s platysma muscle and other facial movements while he screamed violently in different ways.


Gives details of the subjects on whom Langstaff made his observations on crying. Langstaff has not seen the platysma contract under chloroform.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 84
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6122,” accessed on 2 June 2023,

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