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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   7 September 1872

11 St. Mary Abbot’s | Terrace | Kensington

Sept. 7. ’72

My dear Sir

I find a passage in Andersson’s Lake Ngami p 435 about the tears in laughing which you may prefer to a verbal statement for purposes of quotation— The people in question are Bechuanas—a negro or negroid race.

“The mirth became so outrageous as to throw the party into convulsions many casting themselves at full length on the ground with their hands tightly clasped across their stomachs as if in fear of bursting whilst their greasy cheeks became furrowed with tears trickling down in streams—

At p 470 he says of the same people “Unless it forces tears into their eyes they look upon snuff as “worthless”.1

Emerson Tennant in his description of the elephants captured in a corral mentions their shedding tears.2 Gordon Cuming I think notices the same in a wounded giraffe—3 I have seen an African Pack-ass shed a tear on the bit being placed in its mouth for the first time.

Do not trouble to acknowledge the receipt of this but pray mention any point of this kind you wish me to look out for in my reading.

I remain | yours very truly | Winwood Reade

CD annotations

3.1 At p 470… tears. 4.2] crossed pencil
4.2 Gordon … time. 4.4] scored pencil
Verso of last page: ‘In a new Edit. I ought to explain why the wrinkling of lower eyelids *can hardly [above del ‘canno’] be explained, by trace of contraction of whole orbicular, *during loud laughter [interl] because the lower contracts so much more than upper— This may aid the tendency. [‘for soon’ del]’4 pencil


Reade refers to Charles John Andersson and Andersson 1856. He may have mentioned the book when he visited CD on 19 March 1872 (see letter from W. W. Reade, 18 March [1872]). CD discussed laughter accompanied by tears in different races in Expression, pp. 172 and 217–219; however, he did not cite Andersson. The Bechuanas (now known as Batswana) are members of the Bantu language peoples, and lived in Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and western South Africa (EB).
Reade refers to James Emerson Tennent and Tennent 1861, pp. 190 and 204. The passages are quoted by CD in Expression, p. 167. On the question of whether elephants weep, see also Correspondence vol. 16, letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 31 January [1868].
There are no references to a giraffe shedding tears in Roualeyn George Gordon-Cumming’s works; Reade may refer to William Cornwallis Harris’s description in an anthology that includes Gordon-Cumming’s observations (see Frost 1853, p. 437). Expression 2d ed., p. 176 n. 25, refers to Gordon-Cumming 1856, p. 227, for information on the African elephant shedding tears after being shot.
In Expression 2d ed., p. 220 n. 20, Francis Darwin added: ‘It appears from a manuscript note of the author’s that his final opinion was that the contraction of the orbiculars in gentle laughter and smiling cannot be wholly explained as a “trace of the contraction” during loud laughter, for this does not explain the contraction chiefly “of the lower orbiculars” in smiling.’


Andersson, Charles John. 1856. Lake Ngami: or, explorations and discoveries during four years’ wanderings in the wilds of South Western Africa. London: Hurst and Blackett.

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

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Expression 2d ed.: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. Edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1890.

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

Frost, John. 1853. Wild scenes in a hunter’s life; including Cumming’s adventures among the lions, and other wild animals of Africa, etc. Auburn: Derby and Miller.

Gordon-Cumming, Roualeyn George. 1856. The lion hunter of South Africa. Five years’ adventures in the far interior of South Africa. Revised and condensed edition. London: John Murray.

Tennent, James Emerson. 1861. Sketches of the natural history of Ceylon, with narratives and anecdotes illustrative of the habits and instincts of the mammalia, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects &c. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.


Sends extract [from Carl Johan Andersson, Lake Ngami (1856)] on expression.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 62
Physical description
ALS 3pp ††

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8514,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

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