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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Frans Cornelis Donders1   6 September 1869

Down, Beckenham | Kent

6 Sepr 1869.

“1st Are any facts known which support Sir C Bell’s statement that the contraction of the muscles round the eyes prevents the eye-balls and surrounding parts from becoming gorged with blood, when the circulation is impeded by screaming or or other similar exertions?2

2ndly Is it conceivable that the strong pressure of the muscles round the eyes can in any way stimulate the lachrymal glands, so as to lead to the secretion of tears? I am aware that strong voluntary contraction of these muscles does not produce this effect, or only in a very slight degree: yet I cannot avoid the suspicion that there is some relation between their contraction and the secretion of tears.3

Ch. Darwin


The correspondent is identified as Donders on the basis that the letter is part of the collection of CD’s letters to Donders at the American Philosophical Society; and on the assumption that CD sent the note to Donders prior to their meeting on 7 September (see letter from William Bowman, 3 September [1869] and n. 2).
CD refers to Charles Bell’s account of the physiology of weeping (see Bell 1844, pp. 105–6).
For some of CD’s investigations into the effects of contraction of the eye muscles, see Correspondence vol. 16, letters to W. E. Darwin, [15 March 1868] and 8 April [1868].


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. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Asks about Charles Bell’s statement concerning contraction of eye muscles. Asks whether such contraction is related to secretion of tears.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Frans Cornelis (Franciscus Cornelius) Donders
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.)
Physical description
Cmem 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6878,” accessed on 26 May 2020,

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