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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Crichton-Browne   22 May 1869


May 22, 1869.

Dear Sir

I do not know how to thank you enough for your MS. observations on expression.1 They contain exactly and fully the information which I wanted; and besides being of the greatest use to me, are most interesting and so graphic as to be almost painful.

You kindly say that you are willing to give me further information. I may premise that my object is to make out to a limited extent the causes of the movement of certain muscles under various emotions in man and the lower animals. Your answers are distinct and amply sufficient about the hair “standing on end”; and before receiving them, I felt doubtful whether this expression was not a mere poetic licence. With mammals of all orders, the hair (and in birds the feathers) are erected both under fear and anger; and I think especially when these emotions are combined. Now from your account it seems that with man the hair is erected under both terror and rage;2 but I understand from one of your remarks, and from what you say about the hair under acute melancholia and hypochondria that the erection often occurs without any emotion either of terror or rage being felt; Is this the case? As any habitual expression seems ultimately to affect the features, is it conceivable that frequent paroxysms of terror and rage might give a tendency to the hair to stand on end without at the time any such emotion being excited? I suppose however that this notion is too improbable.

Your remark on the sterno-cl.-mast.-muscle3 leads me to ask for information on one point, about which I have long been extremely curious. Duchenne (whose great work on expression perhaps you know) gives photographs of persons with the platysma myoides contracted by galvanism, which wrinkles the skin of the neck transversely, and draws a very little downwards the cheeks near the corners of the mouth.4 These photographs when tested by showing them to many persons without any explanation and asking what they meant, seem well to exhibit extreme fear; but whether the contraction of the platysma plays so important a part as Duchenne thinks, I wish to ascertain.5 Would you kindly observe patients suffering under extreme fear, with widely distended eyes, open mouth and erect hair, whether you can observe the contraction of this muscle? Gratiolet says it contracts under severe dyspnœa: a good observer denies this: another surgeon says he has seen it contracted during violent screaming by a patient who was quite insensible from an injury on the head.6

Altogether this muscle has quite perplexed me. If it does contract under terror, one might suspect that it partook of the contraction of the homologous scalp muscles.7 Your description of the grinning and exposure of the canine teeth under furious rage is excellent.8 I presume that you would not object to my quoting, if I require it, some of your words, as well as giving your general results. I fear that you will think me quite unreasonable, but I should very much like to hear whether the “grief muscles” (see query 5) act frequently and in a prolonged manner with patients who are suffering from extreme depression and anxiety.9 I should expect that it would be oftenest observed in women. I enclose a poor photograph of a girl who could voluntarily (and this is not common) contract these muscles; but as I have no other copy, having sent the remainder to distant countries I must beg you to return it some time hence.10 I have noticed the “grief muscles” in action with girls who were pretending to be in distress and by girls who could not voluntarily bring them into action.

I must not write any more, or I shall weary you; but I will add that I should be grateful for any hints from so excellent an observer on any points, such as Query 10 or 9 or 2.11 Mr. Paget has been observing for me with respect to blushing, but has never seen a blush extend lower down than the clavicles, except a few irregular blotches.12 I am however assured that some savages who go nearly naked blush over a much more extended surface.13 I am led to suppose that you must long have felt some interest in Expression; and this leads me to ask whether you have seen Duchenne’s great work in folio with numerous photographs.14 If you would like to see it I would send it by rail, and you could keep it for a couple of months; but the plates are hardly intelligible without reading the text, and this perhaps would be hardly worth your while, even if you had spare time. With the most cordial thanks for your great kindness, and apologies for the length of this letter

I remain dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin

P.S. In about a month’s time a new Edit. of my Origin of Species will appear and for the chance of your liking to have a copy I will direct the publisher to send one15


CD cited Crichton-Browne as an authority on this point in Expression, p. 295.
CD refers to the sternocleidomastoid muscle (see letter from Henry Maudsley, 20 May 1869, enclosure 2, and n. 11).
CD refers to Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne, and Duchenne 1862. There is an annotated copy of Duchenne 1862 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 209–10). See Expression, pp. 298–303, for CD’s discussion of the platysma myoides, a sheet of muscle in the neck extending from the collar bone to the lower part of the cheek.
See Expression, pp. 299–300, for CD’s account of this experiment. Expression, p. 299, fig. 20, is a woodcut based on Duchenne 1862, ‘Atlas’, fig. 61; Expression, plate VII, fig. 2, is a reproduction of fig. 64 from Duchenne 1862. CD’s unbound copy of the ‘Atlas’ is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The tabulations of results of this experiment are in DAR 186: 27–9. See Duchenne 1862, ‘Atlas’, pp. 44–5, for Duchenne’s discussion of the relative role of the muscles of face and neck in expressions of terror. CD cited Charles Bell’s belief that corrugation of the neck muscles was strongly indicative of fear only when accompanied by widely staring eyes and an open mouth in Expression, p. 298.
CD refers to Louis Pierre Gratiolet; see Gratiolet [1865], p. 167. There is an annotated copy of Gratiolet [1865] in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 345–7). The ‘good observer’ was probably Charles Langstaff; see Correspondence vol. 16, letter to W. E. Darwin, 16 April [1868] and n. 6. The surgeon may have been James Paget, who had offered to make observations on the condition of the platysma in patients under the influence of chloroform (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from James Paget, 9 July 1867). In Expression CD cited both Langstaff and William Ogle on this point, but CD only approached Ogle later, in 1870 (see Expression, p. 301, and letter to William Ogle, 9 November 1870, Calendar no. 7364).
CD discussed this point in Expression, p. 302.
For CD’s printed questionnaire on the expression of the emotions, see Correspondence vol.17, Appendix VI. The first part of question five reads, ‘When in low spirits, are the corners of the mouth depressed, and the inner corner of the eyebrows raised by that muscle which the French call the “Grief muscle”?’ CD defined the corrugator muscle and the occipito-frontalis when ‘in conjoint yet opposed action’ as the ‘grief muscles’ (see Expression, pp. 179–80; see also Expression, p. 25, for a diagram including these muscles). The phrase ‘muscle de la douleur’, referring to the corrugator supercilii, was used by Duchenne in his Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Duchenne 1862, pp. 35– 53). For the difference between CD’s and Duchenne’s understanding of the muscles used in creating this expression, see Expression, p. 181 n. 3; see also Correspondence vol. 15, letter to J. P. M. Weale, 27 August [1867].
The enclosure has not been found, but see Expression, pl. 2, fig. 3, facing p. 180, for a detail of the photograph; see also Expression, p. 182. CD had apparently sent copies of it with his questionnaire on expression of emotion (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to J. P. M. Weale, 27 August [1867]).
See n. 10, above. Question 2 refers to blushing, question 9 to expressions of contempt, and question 10 to expressions of disgust.
CD cited Paget on the extent of blushing in Expression, p. 313. No letter from Paget containing this information has been found, but he had been observing people blush on CD’s behalf for several months; see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from James Paget, 9 July 1867, and this volume, letter to James Paget, 29 April [1869].
See Correspondence vol. 16, letter from F. F. Geach, April 1868. CD cited Frederick F. Geach in Expression, p. 317. See also letter to James Paget, 29 April [1869].
CD refers to the ‘Atlas’ of Duchenne 1862; see n. 5, above.
The fifth edition of Origin was published in the week beginning 22 June 1869 (letter from R. F. Cooke, 22 June 1869).


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

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

Duchenne, Guillaume Benjamin Amand. 1862. Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, ou analyse électro-physiologique de l’expression des passions. 1 vol. and ‘Atlas’ of plates. Paris: Ve Jules Renouard, Libraire.

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

Gratiolet, Pierre. [1865.] De la physionomie et des mouvements d’expression. Paris: J. Hetzel.

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.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Thanks for MS observations on expression. Discusses hair standing on end in terror and rage. Asks JC-B to observe contraction of platysma myoides. "Your description of the grinning and exposure of the canine teeth under furious rage is excellent. I presume that you would not object to my quoting it." Asks about contraction of "grief muscles". Comments on blushing. Offers to send book by G. B. A. Duchenne [Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (1862)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Crichton-Browne
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 327
Physical description
C 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6755,” accessed on 22 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17