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Darwin Correspondence Project

To F. C. Donders   21 December 1872

Down. | Beckenham. Kent.

Decr. 21. 1872.

My dear Professor Donders

You will have received some little time ago, my book on expression, in writing which, I was so deeply indebted to your kindness.—1 I want to beg a favour of you, if you have the means to grant it— A Clergyman, the Head of an Institution for the Blind in England, has been observing the expression of those born blind, & he informs me that they never or very rarely frown. He kept a record of several cases, but at last observed a frown on 2 of the children who he thought never frowned; & then in a foolish manner tore up his notes. & did not write to me until my book was published.2 He may be a bad observer & altogether mistaken; but I think it would be worth while to ascertain whether those born blind, when young, & whilst screaming violently, contract the muscles—round the eyes like ordinary infants—3 And secondly, whether in after years they rarely or never frown. If it should prove true that infants born blind do not contract their orbicular muscles whilst screaming (though I can hardly believe it) it would be interesting to know whether they shed tears as copiously as other children— The nature of the affection which causes blindness may possibly influence the contraction of the muscles:—but on all such points you will judge infinitely better than I can— Perhaps you could get some trustworthy superintendent of an Asylum for the Blind to attend to this subject—

I am sure that you will forgive my asking this favour & pray believe me— | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin.—

P.S. I saw Bowman some little time ago. & was pleased to hear of the great success of your anniversary—4


Donders’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Expression (see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix V). He had carried out investigations in order to answer specific questions from CD; see, for example, Expression, pp. 229, 304. He had also offered to read the proofs of the parts of Expression that related to physiology (see letter from F. C. Donders, 17 April 1872).
Robert Hugh Blair reported having seen two blind youths frown (see letter from R. H. Blair, 9 November 1872).
CD asked William Bowman to make the same observations (see letter to William Bowman, [after 21 December 1872]). In Expression p. 161–2, CD had relied on Donders’s conclusions regarding the protective role of the firm closure of the eyes in screaming infants; see also letter to William Bowman, 25 January 1872 and n. 2.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.


Mentions publication of Expression.

Asks whether children born blind ever frown, shed tears, or contract orbicular muscles.

Congratulates FCD on his anniversary [as Professor at Utrecht].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Frans Cornelis (Franciscus Cornelius) Donders
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 416
Physical description
C 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8690,” accessed on 13 September 2023,

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