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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. L. Brunton   2 November [1874]1

23 Som⁠⟨⁠erset Street⁠⟩⁠

Novr. 2d 187[4]

My dear Sir

I may have been led away by my imagination in fancying that one side of the face in the photograph of the holy Mary of Egypt expresses repentance and sorrow ⁠⟨⁠&⁠⟩⁠ the other devout joy. I shall feel honoured by your retaining the photograph and pleased if you can get any other person to see in it the same expressions that I fancy it2 ⁠⟨⁠2 or 3 words⁠⟩⁠ beginning to read the last sentence of your letter I felt a glow of pride come over ⁠⟨⁠me⁠⟩⁠ but I had barely finished its perusal when I remembered the story of Apelles & the cobbler and at once perceived its remarkable applicability.3 No d⁠⟨⁠o⁠⟩⁠ubt the cobbler would have been glad to paint pictures like Apelles and I should have been delighted to write your book on Expression—if I could. However I have ere now taken to heart the painters advice ⁠⟨⁠several words⁠⟩⁠ crepida⁠⟨⁠m⁠⟩⁠4 ⁠⟨⁠several words ⁠⟩⁠ be allowed to ⁠⟨⁠several words⁠⟩⁠ which you may per⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠1 or 2 words⁠⟩⁠ of use. I do not know whet⁠⟨⁠her⁠⟩⁠ you have noticed Dr. Ferriers ⁠⟨⁠obser⁠⟩⁠vation that when he irritated a certain ⁠⟨⁠co⁠⟩⁠nvolution of the brain gently the paw of the animal moved but when the irritation was a little stronger it spread to the neighbouring ⁠⟨⁠co⁠⟩⁠nvolution which regulated the movements of the mouth.5 The retraction of the angle of the mouth ⁠⟨⁠about 4 words⁠⟩⁠ movements of ⁠⟨⁠4 or 5 words⁠⟩⁠ thinks ⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ of the right angle ⁠⟨⁠2 or 3 words⁠⟩⁠ often seen in carpenters ⁠⟨⁠1 or 2 words⁠⟩⁠ a C⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ in with ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ right hand is due to the violent excite⁠⟨⁠m⁠⟩⁠en⁠⟨⁠t⁠⟩⁠ in the one convolution spreading to the other. I cannot at present lay hands on my copy of the West Riding Asylum reports to see whether the convolutions for listening ie. pricking up the ears & opening the mouth are adjacent or not but it seems possible that these also may be connected in the same way as the movements of the hands ⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ mouth.6 Ferriers expressi⁠⟨⁠ons⁠⟩⁠ certainly show that irr⁠⟨⁠itation⁠⟩⁠ of some parts of the brain may cause movements of muscles on the other side of the face only although irrit⁠⟨⁠a⁠⟩⁠tion of other parts will cause movements extending to both sides. Now as Dr. Crichton Browne7 tells me that the convolutions on the two sides are symmetrical in idiots but become more ⁠⟨⁠and⁠⟩⁠ more un⁠⟨⁠symmetri⁠⟩⁠cal until ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ becomes developed it ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ probable that in the same proportion we may look for differences between the two sides of the face whenever the facial muscles are set in action by stimuli from the brain. In maniacs the two sides of the brain are very unsymmetrical and in them I think twitchings & contractions of one side of the face are often observed which I think they ⁠⟨⁠3 or 4 words⁠⟩⁠ I will ask Dr Browne about ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ however so as to be cer⁠⟨⁠tain⁠⟩⁠    Mr. Ernest Hart tells me that Americans have a general notion that girls with a cast in their eyes have more expressive faces than others and that some girls of high culture & mental power get a slight ca⁠⟨⁠s⁠⟩⁠t in their eyes when excited.8 He instanced one, a daughter of Dr. Marion Sims9 who had this & she, he says, certainly had an ⁠⟨⁠1 or 2 words⁠⟩⁠ expressive face ⁠⟨⁠several words over 2 lines⁠⟩⁠

Yours very sincerely | T Lauder Brunton

Charles Darwin Esq

CD annotations

1.5 it … use. 1.12] crossed pencil


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. L. Brunton, [29] October [1874].
Brunton had sent CD a postcard showing a photograph of a drawing of Mary of Egypt copied from the painting by Jusepe de Ribera (see letter from T. L. Brunton, [29] October [1874] and n. 2); this postcard is in DAR 53.1: 40. See plate on p. 525. Brunton had first described the different expressions on the two sides of the face of the saint (now considered to be St Agnes) in December 1873 (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from T. L. Brunton, 2 December 1873 and n. 2). CD evidently tested Brunton’s reading of the expressions by asking Hensleigh Wedgwood and Francis Darwin for their opinions. He recorded their views on the back of the photograph: ‘Hensleigh W. thinks one side more seraphic than the other.’; ‘F.D. thinks one side hopeful the other sadder.’
When the famous Greek painter Apelles heard a cobbler criticise his depiction of a sandal in a painting, he acknowledged the cobbler’s expertise, and made corrections to the picture. The following day, the cobbler, filled with pride at seeing the altered painting, proceeded to criticise the leg, at which Apelles admonished him to judge only those things about which he was knowledgeable. See Pliny the Elder, Natural history, 35.10.36.
Brunton probably wrote, ‘Ne sutor ultra crepidam’ (Shoemaker, not above the sandal), the riposte made by Apelles when he rebuked the cobbler for judging beyond his expertise.
David Ferrier had made this observation in his paper ‘Experimental researches in cerebral physiology and pathology’ (Ferrier 1873, p. 46). CD had first heard of Ferrier’s experiments from James Crichton-Browne (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from James Crichton-Browne, 16 April 1873 and n. 2).
Ferrier’s paper (Ferrier 1873), published in the West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports, was an account of his experiments on the localisation of centres of muscular movement in rabbits, dogs, and cats. The application of electrodes to the brain of a cat showed that the convolutions that produced repeated closing and opening of the jaws were close to those that produced movement in the ears (Ferrier 1873, pp. 42–4).
Crichton-Browne was medical director of the West Riding Asylum. He had established a pathological laboratory at the asylum, where Ferrier carried out his experimental work (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from James Crichton-Browne, 16 April 1873 and n. 2).
Ernest Abraham Hart, a medical journalist, had travelled extensively in the Americas on behalf of the British Medical Association (ODNB).
James Marion Sims, a gynaecologist who practised in New York but came from South Carolina, a state that supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War, spent the war in Europe (DAB). During this time he met Hart in London (Sims 1884, p. 336). The daughter referred to has not been identified.


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

DAB: Dictionary of American biography. Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 20 vols., index, and 10 supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Simon & Schuster Macmillan. London: Oxford University Press; Humphrey Milford. 1928–95.

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

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.

Sims, James Marion. 1884. The story of my life. Edited by H. Marion-Sims. New York: D. Appleton and Company.


CD may keep the photograph of "the holy Mary of Egypt". TLB may have been led away by his imagination in thinking that one side of the face expressed repentance and the other devout joy.

Comments on David Ferrier’s observations on electrical stimulation of the brain. Extent of response relates to intensity of stimulus.

Crichton-Browne’s observations on the asymmetry of convolutions on the two sides of the brains of maniacs.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Lauder Brunton, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Somerset St, 23
Source of text
DAR 160: 342
Physical description
ALS 7pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9705,” accessed on 24 September 2023,

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