skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   4 May 1868

Royal Botanic Gardens | Calcutta

May 4th. 1868.

C. Darwin Esq.

Dear Sir,

You will think me tardy in replying to your queries about expression.1 Though I have always had them in view I have really only now got sufficient information—or rather observations to think it worth my while communicating it to you. I have inserted little—and this I have in every case stated—but what my own eyes have seen. Many of your queries are most difficult; natives are in general so careful as to their behaviour before Europeans, that in many cases one only with difficulty makes the observations.

I have given a copy of your queries to Dr. J. Anderson who is away on the Yunnan expedition. He has promised to make observations on the various tribes, which will be of much interest to you.—2

Accept my best thanks for the honour you did me in sending copy of your late work.3 I am greatly interested with it; though so busy at present that I can but take glances at it .... . — I have not a doubt as to acclimatisation: in a short report on germination here of English seeds, I recommended French seeds thus. There is however one important advantage which continental grown seeds are likely to possess over those grown in Britain for cultivation here; viz. the attainment of a stage in acclimature sufficient to enable us to flower many plants, for which we are now dependent on previous acclimatization in Upper India.

I observe from your book that Dr. Hooker takes a somewhat different view.4 I can give now several other good cases.

I have several of the varieties of Indian pigeons in keeping, if I can be of any assistance to you with them it shall afford me very great pleasure.5

In great haste | I remain | Dear Sir | Yours truly | John Scott


Reply to expression queries.6

1. Surprise is always strongly pronounced by the wrinkled forehead widely opened eyes and mouth, erection of body, a momentary shrug with—frequently—suspension of arms and opening of hands. I could largely illustrate this from observations on Bengalee7 boys (of whom we have many employed in the Gardens here). A sing⁠⟨⁠le⁠⟩⁠ case will suffice. Thus we strict⁠⟨⁠ly pro⁠⟩⁠hibit the workmen smoking in the Gardens, though it is nevertheless much practised. I thus often catch them in the act, and so absorbed do they become with their pipe that I am frequently in close proximity ere they have observed me   Then is surprise evinced. The pipe is instantly dropped, the eyes and mouth widely opened, the arms suspended with a slight shrug and opening of palms .... . A frown, a stamp with a raised hand thus well illustrates your No. 11. their every muscle relaxes from the emotion of surprise, the eye sinks and wanders to and from the object of their dread, the mouth closes, while the head seems involuntarily to sink between the shoulders with a shrinking of body raising of forearms and closing of hands vertically in front of the face or chest, while the more abject will fall on their knees and if you would allow them clasp your limbs and kiss your shoes, just as some of the priest-ridden⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ of our own civilised land ....8 The common habit of imploring with Hindustan⁠⟨⁠i⁠⟩⁠9 and other up country tribes is the less abject posture of bending the head, closing the hands vertically in front of the face or chest and standing on one foot with the other upraised backwards on a level with the knee.

2. I have only observed the slightest blush in any of the Indian tribes with which I have come in contact. Shame is rather expressed by an averted and declined head with a wavering unsteady askant, eye, than by any discoloration of the skin; though indeed I am rather disposed to regard these as indications of fear than shame—the brute-like dread of corporal punishment and not the susceptibilities of a moral nature. The only cases in which I have observed the slightest approach to a blush have been confined to the Sikkim Lepcha. Their pale sallow complexion favouring the observation   On several occasions I have observed on exposing falsehoods, on lecturing them on misdeeds and accusing them of ungratefulness, that with a fallen eye and head a very faint blush might be observed below the eyes, on ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ the base of the ears and on the neck in the line of the vertebral artery.10 In other hill with whom I have come into contact—as the natives of Bootan,11 Nepal, Tibet and Cabul12—though enthusiastically demonstrative within the range of animal [passion], they are in general lamentably wanting in the higher characteristics of our race, showing though moral theorists would have us believe differently that these qualities are acquired in the devlopment of our race, and not the inherent characteristics of our pristine nature.

3. Indignance. My observations under this head are confined to Bengalees. In one instance a native gardener of the Gardens here was accused of stealing a valuable plant and of which he ultimately proved his innocence. On his first accusation by the native overseer of the Garden in my presence he spoke not a word while the supposed proofs of his guilt were being expatiated upon, but looked scornfully on the accuser; as indicated by the slight drawing in of the abdomen, ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ and chest erect head—firmly closed mouth with protruding lips, with a firmly set and penetrating eye. Having heard all he then defiantly maintained his innocence with body erect, head pushed forward, eyebrows raised a fine and widely opened eye, clenched and upraised hand emphasized his arguments.13 Defiance is indeed grotesquely expressed by the lower class of Bengalees. inter se. Again and again I have watched them in their brawls and squabbles, and really they strike me more as the snarling contentions of cowardly dogs (for they are veritable cowards and though noisy in the extreme rarely come to blows) than the strife of men. In illustration I will give the following case, though I can but poorly describe such distorted manifestations of humanity. Two Bengalees of the “Mochi” or shoemaker caste discussed a loan, the debtor admitted receipt but insisted on his having repaid which his creditor denied. The discussion went on for some few minutes coolly while the incidents of the loan &c. were being recounted. This however proved ⁠⟨⁠in⁠⟩⁠effective when as usual with no ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ the grossest abuse of relatives and progenitors for generations back was resorted to, with brutish grimace. Thus with an advanced chest shoulders drawn back and squared, arms rigidly suspended with the elbows turned in to the body so that the palm of hands are turned from the opponent, and spasmodically clenched and re-laxed. A like spasmodic action is continued upwards to the shoulders raising them so that the head become vertically sunk. The forehead is strongly wrinkled and drawn down over the inner end of eyes: these—the eyes—are upturned and look fiercely from below the down-drawn eyebrows, the mouth is drawn together while the lips protrude. In approaching each other they extended their necks stretched forward their heads with scowling features and pushed each other with open hands grasping and scratching rarely striking with their closed fist. 14

4. ⁠⟨⁠I c⁠⟩⁠an best illustrate this from observation upon a Sikkim Lepcha whom I have had in the Botanic Gardens here for a few months back. On his arrival I got from him the native Lepcha names of many Sikkim plants which we have in the Gardens, which at once affixed. A month or so later I told him that he must again re-name them all for me, further cautioning him to be careful as I had already notes of all that he had given me previously. When brought to the plants, he examined them and after some little hesitation named one incorrectly. I accused him of falsehood and told him the name he had previously given the plant; he looked confused held down his head and slightly averted his face, while a very faint discoloration of his cheeks, ears and neck was observable. He then reexamined the plant, but failed to recognise it, so he stood considering, with his head resting on his left hand the right hand on his chest, a wavering movement of the eyebrows and eyes—the latter alternately turned on the plant and vacancy and portraying a mind incapable of abstraction—wit⁠⟨⁠h⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ protrusions and retractions of the chin. I went over eight species of plants with him, some he named and others he could not, through all I observed the unfixedness of eye and the wavering contractions of the eyebrows, with the horizontal movements of chin. It was pleasing to see the look of great glee when the correct name occurred to him.

With Bengalees—Mussulmen & Hindoos—in the few cases in which I have observed them in thoughtful consideration, it was invariably expressed by contraction of the skin around or over the eyes, a closed mouth or generally slightly protruding lips.

5. I am sorry to say I cannot afford you as yet at least a single illustration: indeed I do not think such semi-civilised races as those on which I am making the observations are capable of manifesting such a calm pensive melancholy as that indicated in your query. Certainly I have frequently observed the depression of the corners of the mouth, but from the eyes there was but an ebullition of tears accompanied by an intermitting doleful chant of their losses.

⁠⟨⁠6.⁠⟩⁠ Yes. This seems to ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ generally. I h⁠⟨⁠ave⁠⟩⁠ observed it in making presents to some of the more deserving of the Bengalee boys—of lively disposition—employed in the Gardens. I have such a one before me now, on whom I have bestowed an unexpected favor: his eyes—half-closed—are bright and sparkling with the surrounding skin slightly wrinkled, and especially so at the inner angle, a scarcely closed mouth with the upper lip somewhat quivering, and slightly protruding over the lower which is drawn horizontally backwards.

7. I have but once observed this in a quarrel between two Bengalee boys. The cause of the quarrel was a report to me of certain misdeeds of which the other had been guilty. I accordingly had the delinquent brought up and had him charged by the other with the offence. He of course dared not give vent to his rage at informant before me in words; though he nevertheless strongly pronounced it by his features—sometimes by a defiant frown, and again by a thoroughly canine snarl: the corner of the lip over the eye-tooth (which happened in this case to be large and projecting) the opposite side being very ⁠⟨⁠5 or 6 words⁠⟩⁠ decided puckering of eyebrows at the inner ang⁠⟨⁠le⁠⟩⁠ and skin of the middle of forehead.15

8. I have frequently observed. Markedly so by in one of our native gardeners and another of somewhat similar morose disposition. When I had occasion to severely reprimand these men—a lowering forehead, askant eye, a firmly closed mouth, with down-drawn corners plainly showed what they dared not otherwise express.16

9. Contempt in the limits of my observation, chiefly among the natives of Bengal, is manifested by the protrusion of the lips, lowering of the eyebrows turning up of the nose with a more or less distinct snift, altogether distinct you know from the refined look of contempt of the man of the world—that is of the civilised this of the semi-civilised. In the lowest and entirely uneducated class of natives, it is indeed but a morose frown—so much are the eyebrows lowered and the lips protruded.

10. In general very much as you indicate. For instance an Ooreah17 servant of ⁠⟨⁠mi⁠⟩⁠ne ⁠⟨⁠of ra⁠⟩⁠ther delicate constitution and to whom I had thus frequently to prescribe—and amongst others Castor-oil which he most cordially detested—used thus to express his disgust. The sight of the bottle indeed was quite enough to make him shudder and shrug his shoulders. When I handed it him he would open his mouth, with an eructation of wind and spasmodic backward with short rapid horizontal shakings of the head: then he would shudderingly put it to his lips, smell and withdraw with a shrug a few horizontal paralytic shakes of the head, firmly closed teeth with lips somewhat opened (or rather by the turning up and down of lips as you express it) and eyes obliquely upturned (avoiding the sight of oil) with a lowering brow and a disposition to vomit. I have seen disgust thus strongly pronounced frequently both in administering medicines to natives and in observing Hindoos of high caste coming contact in proximity to a defiling object &c.18

11. Fear very similarly ⁠⟨⁠4 or 5 words⁠⟩⁠ as by Europeans, though of course greatly ⁠⟨⁠ex⁠⟩⁠aggerated. An abjectness indeed truly ludicrous, but for its utter debasement of man’s semblance.

12. From my own observations I can only give a negative to this: natives when before Europeans do not thus give way to a hearty laugh, and I have not as yet been fortunate enough to take them by surprise. On the authority however of one of my native writers19—who is most trustworthy—I may say that it is quite common for them to throw themselves actually on the ground and roll and laugh with tears freely trickling from their eyes.

13. I have frequently observed this expressed. Illustration a native of Bengal when whom I had with me on a plant collecting excursion was ordered to secure specimens from a very lofty tree. He at once with a shrug of his shoulder, and a lateral shake of his head declared his inability to climb. I however rather attributing it to laziness than inability insisted on his ⁠⟨⁠7 or 8 words⁠⟩⁠ h⁠⟨⁠is⁠⟩⁠ arms dropped by his side, his countenance became paler, mouth opened by I may say the involuntary dropping of chin, with a slightly protruding upper lip and a fixed and widely opened eye, he first surveyed the tree, than askantly turned his eye on me, shrugged his shoulders, inverted his elbows, extended and opened his hands, and with a few quick and lateral shakes of the head again declared his inability to climb. Further insisting brought him to his knees and with uplifted eyes, forearms upraised hands extended and pressed together he begged me to excuse him. I have seen very similar expressions in the Sindars and other of our Dhangar Coolies, when they were expressing their inability to raise heavy loads &c. on which I might be strongly insisting that they could do.20 I may note however that very many of the natives of Bengal are so disgustingly craven; that they dare not thus express to Europeans their inability to perform what they may have been asked, but the most abje⁠⟨⁠ct⁠⟩⁠ mann⁠⟨⁠er⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠inab⁠⟩⁠ility crave excuse.

14. Native Children, I observe very generally protrude their lips when sullen. Enraged they give most cordial vent to passion, throw themselves on their back or belly and with sprawling arms and legs, kick and cry most bitterly.21

15. Yes: guilty expression may be recognised by the wavering, evasive, askant eye, the almost involuntary opening and closing of mouth, and generally a paler countenance with incoherent talk. Many natives however are utterly imperturable under the most conclusive evidence and give but expression to fear when they are fairly alive to impending punishment. Educated natives also tell me that amongst guilt is readily recognised (as also sly and jealous expressions) by the expression of countenance, and that is quite common for them to make accusations on the grounds of simple expressions.

16. Yes. Natives tell me that it is quite common ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠— I ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ had ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ confirmation of both. I may note however that Bengalees frequently give an affirmation by a ⁠⟨⁠la⁠⟩⁠teral inclination of the head—and this indiffent to the right or left—negatives always by lateral shakes.22

John Scott

Royal Bot Gardens | Calcutta | 4th May 1868

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘(Sexual differences [‘B’ del] Sooty Fowls when 2 months old) | Dr Anderson | (Primula Paper) | Eyebrows—give in [perhaps] distress | negation’23 pencil
Top of enclosure: ‘John Scott | May 4th 1868’ pencil; ‘Indiapencil; ‘INDIA | 14’ red crayon
Question 1] ‘Dhangars’ in margin, pencil
Questions 1 and 2] crossed pencil
Question 3, 21 Thus with an advanced … sunk 25] scored blue crayon
Question 3, 29 pushed each other … closed fist 30] scored blue crayon
Question 4] illeg & partly destroyed note in margin, pencil
Questions 6 and 7] crossed pencil
Question 10, 5 shrug his shoulders] underl blue crayon, scored blue crayon
9 turning up and down … oil) 10] scored blue crayon
10 lowering brow 11] underl blue crayon
12 and in observing Hindoos … object &c. 13] scored blue crayon
Question 13] crossed pencil
Question 16] crossed pencil


CD had sent Scott a copy of his queries about expression in 1867 (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from John Scott, 24 September 1867 and n. 16).
John Anderson, the younger brother of Scott’s superior at the Calcutta botanic garden, Thomas Anderson, was naturalist to the Yunnan (China) expedition of 1867 to 1868. There is no surviving correspondence between John Anderson and CD on the subject of human expression, and he is not cited on this subject in Expression.
Scott’s name appears on the presentation list for Variation (see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix IV).
CD discussed acclimatisation in Variation 2: 305–15; on p. 311 he cited Scott’s report that sweetpea seeds imported from England produced very poor plants while those imported from France were rather better, though sterile; plants grown from sweetpeas raised in Darjeeling, in northern India, but originally derived from England, flowered and seeded profusely (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from John Scott, 22 January 1867). CD mentioned that Joseph Dalton Hooker suggested that the greater success of some plants was due to their having been more fully ripened in a more favourable climate. The quotation, from Scott 1868, p. 193, is a printed clipping from a proof copy; the original reads ‘one only important advantage’; ‘only’ has been deleted in pen. In the published version, the word ‘only’ does not appear.
CD discussed pigeons, including some Indian varieties, in Variation vol. 1, chapters 5 and 6.
For a copy of CD’s printed Queries about expression, probably drawn up at the end of 1867 or early in 1868, see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix V.
Bengali. Calcutta was in the British province of Bengal.
CD recounted Scott’s observations of surprised smokers in Expression, p. 280.
In contemporary usage, Hindustan was India north of the Deccan plateau, exclusive of Bengal and Bihar (Hobson-Jobson).
The Lepcha are thought to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim (EB). CD included Scott’s observations of blushing and shame among Lepchas in Expression, p. 316.
Kabul (Afghanistan).
CD recounted Scott’s observations on the gardener accused of stealing in Expression, p. 249.
CD recounted Scott’s account of the quarrel over a loan in Expression, p. 248.
CD quoted from Scott’s account of the quarrel in Expression, p. 250.
See Expression, p. 232.
Ooreah: an alternative spelling of ‘Ooryah’ or ‘Oriya’, the name applied to the people and language of the Indian state of Orissa (Hobson-Jobson, OED s.v. Oriya).
See Expression, p. 260.
Writer: i.e. copying-clerk (Hobson-Jobson).
CD reported Scott’s answer to this question in Expression, p. 267. The Dhangar were agricultural labourers from Chota Nagpur in Bengal (Risley 1891, 1: 219). Sind was a province in north-eastern India; it is now in Pakistan.
See Expression, p. 241.
See Expression, p. 276.
CD’s annotations are for his reply to Scott of 3 June 1868. CD’s paper ‘Specific difference in Primula was read at the Linnean Society on 19 March 1868 and published on 23 June.


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

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

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

Hobson-Jobson: Hobson-Jobson. A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. By Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell. New edition edited by William Crooke. London: John Murray. 1903.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Risley, Herbert Hope. 1891. The tribes and castes of Bengal: ethnographic glossary. 2 vols. Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press.

Scott, John. 1868. Report on trial sowings of flower-seeds from Messrs. James Carter & Co. of London and Messrs. Vilmorin Andrieux & Co. of Paris. [Extracts read 21 January 1868.] Journal of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India n.s. 1 (1869): 191–9.

‘Specific difference in Primula’: On the specific difference between Primula veris, Brit. Fl. (var. officinalis of Linn.), P. vulgaris, Brit. Fl. (var. acaulis, Linn.), and P. elatior, Jacq.; and on the hybrid nature of the common oxlip. With supplementary remarks on naturally produced hybrids in the genus Verbascum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 19 March 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 10 (1869): 437–54.

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


Replies to CD’s query on expression of emotions.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
R. Bot. Gard., Calcutta
Source of text
DAR 177: 118
Physical description
ALS 16pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6160,” accessed on 22 April 2024,

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