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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   25 March [1871]1


March 25.

My dear Frank

Do you attend the Hospital? If so, see if you can observe in a shivering fit, as in cold stage of ague, whether the Platysma is contracted.2 In young men, the contraction makes divergent longitudinal ridges as on your own neck, when fluting; in old & thin men it makes chiefly fine transverse wrinkles, and folds on sides of chin & lower parts of cheeks.— I fancy touching neck would tell best.—

I fear you cannot aid me about operations: I want much to know whether with patients much frightened, before chloroform is given, whether the Platysma contracts.3

Yours affect | C. Darwin

I write for mere chance of aid.—


The year is established by the reference to Francis’s attending the hospital and by the subject matter of the letter (see n. 2, below).
Francis began studying medicine at St George’s Hospital, London in 1871 (ODNB). CD was studying the movement of facial and neck muscles, including the platysma myoides, for Expression, which was published in 1872.
In Expression, pp. 300–1, CD described the contraction of the platysma in frightened patients, and cited William Ogle as his informant.


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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


If FD gets the chance, will he observe whether the platysma contracts in a shivering fit? Wants much to know whether the platysma of frightened patients contracts before chloroform is given.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 271.3: 2
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7626,” accessed on 14 July 2024,

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