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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   5 February [1871]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Feb. 5th

My dear Gray

It is a shame to trouble so hard-worked a man; but if you can, (which is doubtful) will you send the enclosed to any one who has charge of Laura Bridgeman, & beg for an answer, with any details, to the one query viz nor 13.— I shd very much like to know how this is. I have been reading Lieber’s paper, & I see he states that L.B. when astonished, raises both hands with fingers apart, & open palms directed towards the person causing astonishment. This has led me to enquire about the gesture of impotence, ie shrugging the shoulders with its accessories.—2

I have finished my book on the “Descent of man &c”, & its publication is delayed only by the Index: when published, I will send you a copy, but I do not know that you will care about it. Parts, as on on the moral sense, will I daresay aggravate you; & if I hear from you, I shall probably receive a few stabs from your polished stiletto of a pen.—3 Pray give my kindest remembrances to Mrs. Gray: I am now at work on my essay on Expression, & I have found her few notes of great use.4

Yours most truly | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the reference to Descent, which was published 24 February 1871 (Freeman 1977).
The enclosure was presumably a copy of CD’s Queries about expression (see Correspondence vol. 19, Appendix VII). Question 13 was: ‘When a man wishes to shew that he cannot prevent something being done, does he shrug his shoulders, turn inwards his elbows, extend outward his hands and open the palms; with the eyebrows raised.’ Laura Dewey Bridgman is thought to have been the first blind, deaf, and mute person to receive a formal academic education (ANB). CD refers to Francis Lieber and Lieber 1851, p. 7.
CD discussed the development of the intellectual and moral faculties in humans in Descent 1: 158–84.
CD refers to Jane Loring Gray and to Expression. See Correspondence vol. 17, letter from Asa Gray and J. L. Gray, 8 and 9 May 1869 and nn. 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, and 13.


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Lieber, Francis. 1851. On the vocal sounds of Laura Bridgeman, the blind deaf-mute at Boston; compared with the elements of phonetic language. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, vol. 2, article 2. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.


Sends questions on expressions of Laura Bridgman.

Has finished Descent. Believes that parts, like that on moral sense, will aggravate AG.

Working on an essay on expression.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (86)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7476,” accessed on 23 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19