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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. H. Garrod to Francis Darwin   30 June [1872]1

11, Harley Street, | Cavendish Square, W.

June 30th.

Dear Darwin

I made an attempt this morning to take a sphygmograph tracing during fright, & fear that I have not been very successful. At the Hospital the house-physician & I went to a woman, Abt 30, & commenced putting on the sphygmograph,2 & when quite ready asked her if she minded being hurt a little, upon which she, being rather of a nervous temperament, jumped up & said she would have nothing done to her at all & wanted to dress & leave immediately. She was very much terrified & it was with great difficulty that we could get her quiet enough to take a trace & we only did so by telling her I did not mean to hurt her at all. At last, she still being very excited & frightened, we took the lower trace & after about 10 minutes the two upper ones. She did not quiet down for some time afterwards & then remained suspiciously nervous, so that it was not possible to take a normal trace. The pulse did not become much increased in rapidity after the fright, being nearly 100 a minute before the fright & but little more during it. On the whole I think that little or nothing can be learnt from the trace.

I have been looking up any points that seem to bear on the point your father is working at & think that the following two may be of use.3

I. In P. Lorain’s work on the pulse there are some normal sphygmograms of a woman (p. 193. p. 194) & on p. 194 is one of the same woman in a rage. It is very different to the others & much quicker.4

II. In a paper by L. Lortet of Lyons in the Annales des Sciences Nat. Sci. 5. Tom VII. p296 & seq. the wonderful increase in the rapidity of the blood current on a horse scenting food & commencing to eat is shown diagrammatically in a most excellent manner, & this increase in blood current may assist in the increased glandular action necessary for the digestion of the food. There are other kindred points of interest in the same paper.5

I shall be very happy to lend you Lorain’s book if it is of any service to you.

Upon my theory of pulse rate, the only way that fright &c can influence the circulation for good is by its influence on the pneumogastric nerve, which thus indirectly alters the calibre of the coronary small arteries & so modifies the nutrition of the heart.6

I have not yet had any ruminant dead, so have not yet got any lig. nuchae for you, but I have not forgotten it.7

Hoping to see you when you have any spare time | Believe me | Yours very truly | A. H. Garrod


The year is established by the reference to Garrod’s theory of the pulse, which was published in Garrod 1872, and by the publication date of Expression (see n. 4, below).
Garrod was a medical associate of King’s College Hospital, London; there were a number of assistant physicians at the hospital (Lyle 1935, pp. 204–5). See also second letter from Francis Darwin, [before 30 June 1872] and n. 3.
See first and second letters from Francis Darwin, [before 30 June 1872].
CD cited Paul Lorain’s work on the pulse (Lorain 1870) in Expression, published in November 1872, in a discussion of the physiological effects of rage; he acknowledged Garrod for supplying him with the reference (Expression, p. 74 n. 9).
CD did not cite Louis Lortet’s work on the circulation of the blood (Lortet 1867) in Expression.
In a paper completed on 10 June 1872, Garrod suggested that the frequency of the pulse was regulated not by the resistance offered by the arteries to blood pumped away from the heart, but by the ease with which blood returned to the heart; if the return flow was impeded by compression of the blood vessels, as in lying down for example, the pulse was slowed (Garrod 1872).
Francis was studying medicine at St George’s Hospital, London; he later published the results of animal experiments carried out at the Brown Institution (ODNB, F. Darwin 1874 and 1875). The nuchal ligament, or ligamentum nuchae, is vestigial in humans but in some animals supports the weight of the head.


Darwin, Francis. 1874. Contributions to the anatomy of the sympathetic ganglia of the bladder in their relation to the vascular system. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science n.s. 14: 109–14.

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

Garrod, Alfred Henry. 1872. On the law which regulates the frequency of the pulse. London: H. K. Lewis.

Lorain, Paul. 1870. Études de médecine clinique faites avec l’aide de la méthode graphique et des appareils enregistreurs: le pouls, ses variations et ses formes diverses dans les maladies. Paris: Baillière.

Lortet, Louis. 1867. Recherches sur la vitesse du cours du sang dans les artères du cheval, au moyen du nouvel hémadromographe de chauveau. Annales des sciences naturelles. Zoologie et paléontologie. 5th ser. 7: 279–313.

Lyle, Herbert Willoughby. 1935. King’s and some king’s men: being a record of the medical department of King’s College, London, from 1830 to 1909, and of King’s College Hospital Medical School from 1909 to 1934. London: Oxford University Press.

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.


Sends an account of an attempt to take a sphygmograph tracing of a woman during fright

and some references that might apply to CD’s work on pulse rates during rage and fright.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Henry Garrod
Francis Darwin
Sent from
London, Harley St, 11
Source of text
DAR 165: 10
Physical description
4pp †(by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8399,” accessed on 23 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20