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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Green Gascoyen   7 July 1870

48, Queen Anne St. | Cavendish Square. W.

July 7. 1870.

Dear Sir.

Our friend Mivart asked me if I could give him information on two points respecting the Platysma Myoides which you wished to know;1 one of them I could at once affirm, the other I had not noticed, and have since been making observations, hence the delay in writing to you which I hope you will pardon.

The Platysma is always in a state of violent contraction when a person is struggling for breath. this I have long noticed & I believe is invariably the case.2

In the few patients whom I have had the opportunity of observing during the past week and to whom Chloroform was about to be administered for an operation, the action of the Platysma was not so constant or so marked as in the former instance. in most there was distinct contraction but much more in some than in others— the knowledge that the operation will be painless allays greatly the fear of the patient and altho’ there is some distrust of the chloroform it is not extreme. I have no doubt that when a person was expecting a severe operation without chloroform the muscle would contract strongly—in company with those which assist in causing the expression of fear by depressing the angles of the mouth.3

I yesterday asked a friend who has administered Chloroform in many hundred cases. he said it was a point that had not occurred to him to notice but he was quite sure he had repeatedly seen it— others of whom I asked the question could give me no satisfactory answer.

I remain, Dear Sir, | faithfully yours | Geo. G. Gascoyen

Chas. Darwin Esqr. F.R.S.

CD annotations

2.1 The Platysma … the case. 2.2] scored pencil


Gascoyen refers to St George Jackson Mivart. CD may have seen Mivart during his visit to London from 24 June to 1 July 1870 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). CD was interested in the contraction of the platysma muscle in connection with his work on expression.
CD had also asked James Paget about contraction of the platysma in persons who were having difficulty in breathing (see Correspondence vol. 17, letter to James Paget, 29 April [1869]).
In Expression, pp. 300–1, CD discussed contraction of the platysma in patients before an operation, but cited William Ogle for the information.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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


Sends CD information on two points which St George Mivart has asked him to provide, respecting the platysma myoides muscle. It is always in a state of violent contraction when a person is struggling for breath. In persons to whom chloroform is about to be administered, there is contraction but not so marked. No doubt contraction was strong before use of chloroform in operations.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Green Gascoyen
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Queen Anne St, 48
Source of text
DAR 165: 11
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7270,” accessed on 16 October 2019,

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