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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Crichton-Browne   27 December 1873

West Riding Asylum. | Wakefield.

27th. Decem. 1873.

My dear Sir,

I venture to make a request which you must not hesitate to refuse should you see any objection to acquiescence in it. Impatient of the slowness of the advance which is made in our knowledge of the Pathology and Treatment of Nervous Diseases, I am about to try a new method of dealing with these subjects. Instead of trusting any longer to independent exertions scattered over a wide area, I propose to test the efficacy of combined effort upon one point. Having selected one well marked variety of mental disease—General Paralysis—throughout the whole course of which physical and mental symptoms progress pari passu I have induced a number of able and distinguished friends to undertake its investigation in different aspects. Thus one will work out the Microscopic Anatomy, another—the Chemistry of the urine, another the variation of temperature another the appearances of the retinae. &c &c. Each investigator will briefly and clearly set forth the results at which he arrives and the monographs thus produced, will I believe when collected together form a complete natural history of the disease and greatly elucidate its causes, course and treatment   Now it has occured to me that you might immensley aid us in our work if you would consent to give us a very few remarks on the Physiognomy of the Disease. I could submit to you a series of photographs illustrating its various stages, and a very few words of yours would I am certain embody the true significance of the whole. I am aware that it is a very audacious request that I am making and nothing could justify it but the motive which is an earnest desire to advance Medical Science. You will at least forgive my boldness &c1

Believe me to be with profound esteem and all seasonable good wishes. | Yours very faithfully | J. Crichton Browne

Charles Darwin Esq | &c &c

P.S. Among my fellow labourers in this work are to be Prof. Ferrier. Dr Hughlings Jackson. Dr. Clifford Allbutt. Dr. Brunton2 &c &c | J. C. B.


Crichton-Browne later published an article, ‘Notes on the pathology of general paralysis’, in West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports (Crichton-Browne 1876).
David Ferrier, John Hughlings Jackson, Thomas Clifford Allbutt, and Thomas Lauder Brunton. Although there is no evidence of a co-ordinated research programme on the scale envisaged here, all the researchers mentioned published papers in the West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports, which was founded and edited by Crichton-Browne. Ferrier and Allbutt conducted research in the laboratory at Wakefield, and Crichton-Browne, Ferrier, and Hughlings Jackson were co-founders of the journal Brain in 1878. Crichton-Browne ceased to be active in medical research when he left Wakefield in 1875 (ODNB s.v. Crichton-Browne, James; Pearn 2010; see also letter from James Crichton-Browne, 16 April 1873 and n. 2).


Crichton-Browne, James. 1876. Notes on the pathology of general paralysis. West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports 6: 170–231.

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.

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


Is about to undertake an intensive investigation with other scientists of general paralysis in its various aspects. Would appreciate CD’s comments on photographs he would submit.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Crichton-Browne
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
West Riding Asylum, Wakefield
Source of text
DAR 161: 321
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9190,” accessed on 21 January 2020,

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