skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. S. B. François de Chaumont   29 April 1874

Army Medical School. | Royal Victoria Hospital. | Netley

April 29th. 1874

Dear Mr. Darwin,

My friend Dr. Parkes has kindly promised to put up my name for the Royal Society next year and I venture to ask if you would kindly give me your signature also to the paper—1 I should be extremely gratified to have your support although I am conscious that 〈I ha〉ve no very grea〈t cl〉aims to urge for the honour— If you feel you can do me this great favour I will take the liberty of sending you the paper on hearing from you—

I hope your health is better and that this beautiful spring weather is agreeing with you—

I saw your letter in “Nature” about the destruction of primroses—2 I have never observed anything of the kind here, although both primro〈ses〉 and small bi〈rds of〉 all kinds are in great numbers—

I intended a long time ago to send you a note of an observation on one of my own children as to the shedding of tears before the 40th. day—3 Our last baby but one (I have five children now, all girls!)4—was born on the 31st. Decr. 1872, fully two months prematurely, from what cause I have been unable to trace— She was very small and puny and, to add to her troubles, she caught whooping cough before she was a month old, and before the second month was out the milk left the breasts altogether and her mother5 was no longer able to nurse her— I believe she was really kept alive by small doses of brandy & water (pace our teetotal friends!)— My wife, who had been reading your book on Expression, told me that she distinctly saw tears in the child’s eyes on the 32d. day and I saw them myself quite plainly on the 34th.—

Our youngest child was born on Decr. 25th. 1873, at the full time; she is a fine healthy child and my wife has abundance of milk for her— She was said to have shed tea〈rs o〉n the 27th. day 〈bu〉t I 〈am〉 convinced that this was a mistake, for on being shown a similar appearance the day after it was plain that it was no lachrymal secretion but merely a little surface moistening from the conjunctiva itself which had been temporarily irritated— I do not know on what day she first shed tears proper, but I do not think it was unusually early— Perhaps in the former child the constant coughing (which seemed to shake the poor little body to pieces) and the frequent crying from pain & weakness may have brought the glan〈ds〉 s〈oo〉ner into working than usual.

As a further contribution to inheritance I may mention that our third child (Mary) aged 312 years bears a most marked resemblance to my mother—6 She is the only one of the five that has blue eyes (as my mother has), and neither my wife nor myself have blue eyes but dark brown like the rest of the children— Her (that is my wife’s) father7 however had blue eyes as well as my mother— My mother is now past 80 and has lately had slight threatenings of hemiplegia which now confine her to her room and mostly t〈o〉 her bed; the other day litt〈le〉 Mary came into the room to see her and climbed upon the bed, when my sister8 and I were both struck with the marked resemblance between the child & her grandmother, in spite of the immense difference of age— The temperaments are also remarkably alike; my mother, from having lost her own mother in infancy, had always in her younger days a good deal of our own way besides being naturally of an independent spirit— She was always of a very generous nature and affectionate, but with a decided liking for moving about from place to place, and if offended or interfered with quite ready to “fold up her tent like the Arabs”9 and depart somewhere else— Of course when she married and had a home and family of her own such a tendency had little or no scope for its manifestation or at any rate was necessarily repressed by her own self-control if it was felt— Now however that the weight of years has broken down her memory and that she mixes up past & present, the same propensity is visible and if she feels out of sorts or thinks things are not going on right she at once says she is 〈going〉 to pack up and be off.— In little Mary there is the exact Counterpart— A generous affectionate child, ready to share anything with the others, but very hasty and quickly offended, in which case she always wants to be off— She was spending the afternoon at a friend’s house last year (before she was three years old) and something offended her— After a little she was missed and there was a little fuss and alarm at not being able to find her— It afterwards appeared that she had quietly gone home alone and by a road that must have been little familiar to her— Sometimes at dinner if she is corrected 〈by〉 any little 〈criti〉cism 〈in ma〉nners she puts on a fierce little face and begins to pack up her plate and spoon & fork & mug in order to be off to eat her dinner elsewhere, in the kitchen or in the nursery!— Although a very strong and healthy child, handsome & well-made, she is very backward in talking, even now, at 312 years, hardly speaking articulately— The ideas are certainly not wanting for she has considerable dramatic (or pantomimic?) power of expression and talks plenty in her own way, very difficult however for others to understand— She has a slight tendency to shrug her shoulder〈s〉 but it is not so marked as in our eldest when 〈she w〉as sm〈a〉ll, and our fourth child has it also to a slight extent— The impatient motion of the thumb and fingers is also visible more or less in all10—except of course the baby who is still too young to manifest much of anything except hunger and sleep!—

I am afraid I have spun a long yarn,—so will now stop.

With kind regards to Mrs. Darwin | Believe me, | Yours very sincerely, | F. de Chaumont

Charles Darwin Esqr. F.R.S.

P.S. My wife says that the cough did not really come on in the child until after she had shed tears, some days after the end of the first month.

CD annotations

1.1 My … you— 2.2] crossed pencil
3.1 I … bi〈rds of〉 3.2] crossed pencil
3.3 all … numbers— ] underl pencil
5.3 convinced … understand— 6.34] crossed pencil
5.9 working than usual.] del pencil
6.34 She] after opening square bracket pencil
6.37 except … sleep!— 6.38] crossed pencil
10.1 P.S. … month. 10.2] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Early shedding Tears’; ‘shrugging | shoulders in | 3d child | & 4th child’ pencil


Edmund Alexander Parkes had been a fellow of the Royal Society of London since 1861 (ODNB).
Letter to Nature, 18 April [1874].
CD discussed the age at which infants began to shed tears in Expression, pp. 152–3 and 163–4. François de Chaumont had previously supplied CD with observations of his children (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from F. S. B. François de Chaumont to W. E. Darwin, 11 March 1871).
François de Chaumont’s children were Helen, Nora Tempest, Mary Kennedy, Louise, and Frances Maud.
Elleanor Tempest François de Chaumont.
Helene François de Chaumont.
Thomas Gray.
Anna Kennedy François de Chaumont.
The quotation is from the final stanza of the poem ‘The day is done’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: ‘And the night shall be filled with music, | And the cares, that infest the day, | Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, | And as silently steal away.’
CD had included François de Chaumont’s observations of shrugging and the impatient hand gesture in his two eldest daughters in Expression, pp. 265–6.


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.

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.


Observations on early shedding of tears and shrugging of shoulders.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Stephen Bennet François de Chaumont
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
R. Victoria Hosp., Netley
Source of text
DAR 162: 139
Physical description
12pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9433,” accessed on 28 February 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22