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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Crichton-Browne   16 April 1873

West Riding Asylum, | Wakefield.

16th. April. 1873.

My dear Sir,

Will you gratify me by accepting fifteen Studies in Expression which I send you by this Post. The history of these studies is simply this. My wife who has considerable control over her features but who knows nothing of the philosophy or physiology of Expression, and who has not even looked at your book, guided simply by her own feelings, voluntarily assumed, the expressions which she believed to be indicative of certain emotions and frames of mind of which I had given her a list. She received no hints nor advice; as to the pose in anyone case and hence the photographs have the merit of recording the notions about Expression of an observant woman, unbiased by any theory. If you feel in any degree interested in the Series I shall be happy to send you another half-dozen studies which are now printing. The photographs as photographs are rough and poor for the most part having been executed in our private Studio under difficult circumstances.1

Professor Ferrier of Kings College has just completed an experimental investigation in my pathological laboratory which cannot fail to interest you and which must have an incalculable bearing upon your views. By exposing the brains of living animals, under chloroform, and stimulating the cerebral grey matter by an electric current from Du Bois Reymonds coil he has discovered that every convolution of the brain is in direct relation with certain groups of muscles, and controls their actions. Thus for example on irritating one frontal convolution the fore-face, performs a clutching movement, on irritating another the ears are erected on irritating, a parietal convolution—the tail is wagged—while stimulation of an orbital one produces snapping of the jaws. So on through all the numerous convolutions. In all different animals analogous convolutions are found to regulate analogous movements. The Cerebellum controls all the movements of the eyeballs. Professor Ferriers researches which are to be published in the next volume of West Riding Asylum Medical Reports in July, will I believe constitute the most important advances yet made in cerebral physiology.2

With profound respect | I am (in haste) | Yours most faithfully | J. Crichton Browne

Charles Darwin Esq | M.A. F.R.S. | &c &c


Crichton-Browne had provided CD with several sets of photographs of inmates of the West Riding Asylum for possible use in Expression and had been sent a presentation copy (see letter to James Crichton-Browne, 28 February [1873] and nn. 3 and 4). The asylum had its own photographic studio possibly from 1870 or earlier (see Correspondence vol. 18, letter from James Crichton-Browne, 6 June 1870; Pearn 2010, p. 168). The photographs of Emily Crichton-Browne have not been identified; there is one West Riding Asylum photograph of a young woman among CD’s papers which is not clearly that of a patient, all the others being annotated with a diagnosis, or of patients suffering obvious physical illness (DAR 53.1: C32).
David Ferrier was one of a group of researchers who used the facilities at the West Riding Asylum for experiments and published their findings in its journal; his paper (D. Ferrier 1873) and his subsequent major work The functions of the brain (D. Ferrier 1876) detailed the effects of stimulating different parts of the brain using electrical current from a type of induction coil invented by Emil Heinrich du Bois-Reymond. For the impact of Ferrier’s research on the development of neuroscience, and the role of the West Riding Asylum group, see George and Najib 2003.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 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.

Ferrier, David. 1873. Experimental researches in cerebral physiology and pathology. West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports 3: 30–96.

Ferrier, David. 1876. The functions of the brain. London: Smith, Elder, & Co.

Pearn, Alison M. 2010. ‘This excellent observer …’: the correspondence between Charles Darwin and James Crichton-Browne, 1869–75. History of Psychiatry 21: 160–75.


Sends 15 studies in expression, acted by his wife.

Describes David Ferrier’s experiments on electrical brain stimulation of animals; these show direct relation between convolutions of the brain and groups of muscles [West Riding Asylum Med. Rep. (July 1873)].

Letter details

Letter no.
James Crichton-Browne
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
West Riding Asylum, Wakefield
Source of text
DAR 161: 319
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8861,” accessed on 22 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21