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Darwin Correspondence Project

To F. C. Donders   3 June [1870]1

Down Beckenham | Kent

June 3rd

My dear Sir,

I do not know how to thank you enough for the very great trouble which you have taken in writing at such length, & for your kind expressions towards me.2 I am particularly obliged for the abstract with respect to Sir C. Bell’s views, as I shall now proceed with some confidence; but I am intensely anxious to read your essay in full when translated & published, as I hope, in the Dublin Journal.3 As you speak of the weak-point in the case, viz; that injuries are not known to follow from the gorging of the eye with blood, I may mention that my son & his friend at a Military Academy, tell me that when they perform certain feats with heads downwards, their faces become purple & veins distended, and that they then feel an uncomfortable sensation in their eyes, but that, as it is necessary for them to see, they cannot protect their eyes by closing the eyelids.4 The companions of one young man who naturally has very prominent eyes, used to laugh at him when performing his feats, & declare that some day both eyes wd start out of his head.

Your essay on the physiological & anatomical relations between the contraction of the orb-muscles & the secretion of tears is wonderfully clear, & has interested me greatly. I had not thought about irritating substances getting into nose while vomiting; but my clear impression is that mere retching causes tears; I will however try to get this point ascertained.5 When I reflect that in vomiting, (subject to the above doubt) in violent coughing from choking, in yawning, violent laughter, in the violent downward action of the abdominal muscle as during the evacuation of fæces when constipated, & in your very curious case of the spasms,—that in all theses cases, the orb-muscles are strongly and unconsciously contracted; & that at the same time tears often certainly flow, I must think that there is a connection of some kind between these Phenomena; but you have clearly shewn me that the nature of the relation is at present quite obscure.6

With the most cordial thanks for your great kindness | believe me | my dear Sir | yours sincerely obliged | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from F. C. Donders, 27 May 1870 and 28 May 1870.
See letters from F. C. Donders, 27 May 1870 and 28 May 1870.
In his letter of 27 May 1870, Donders summarised his article in Dutch on the action of the eyelid in modulating blood pressure raised by expiratory effort (Donders 1870a). The article was translated in Archives of Medicine (Donders 1870b), not the Dublin Journal. See letter from F. C. Donders, 27 May 1870 and n. 3. CD refers to Charles Bell; see letter from F. C. Donders, 17 May 1870 and n. 4.
Leonard Darwin was at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich; the friend mentioned may have been Richard Matthews Ruck.
CD refers to Donders’s letter of 28 May 1870. He discussed whether mere retching produced tears in Expression, p. 165.
CD discussed the secretion of tears while laughing, coughing, retching, straining, or yawning in Expression, pp. 164–6.


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


Thanks FCD for information.

Hopes that translation of his paper will appear in Dublin Journal.

Notes experience of his son [Leonard Darwin] on engorgement of eyes with blood. Discusses secretion of tears when eye muscles are involuntarily contracted.

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

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7215,” accessed on 26 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18