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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   2 July 1869

Roy Bot Gardens | Calcutta

2d July 1869

Dear Sir,

It is long since I wrote you1—so utterly had I failed in collating the information you required—and now when I do write I have only a few imperfect scraps. I have written many parties in different parts of India to make and communicate to me observations on expression but all have been fruitless or at most afforded me only a few general remarks.2 I can therefore only afford you a few additional ones of my own.

1— The following on your query 3. were made by me in Sikkim last September.3 I purposely raised a quarrel between two Mechis4 by making a present to one of the whole of a few pence which I had promised to divide between them, and telling the other that he might get his share as he best could. I having previously cautioned the recipient against giving it up. This had the desired effect; both ultimately got into a violent passion— As they warmed on the argument, I observed that their bodies became less erect, (withdrawn below) the head pushed forward strong grimaces, shoulders raised, arms rigid, bent at elbows, hands turned into body, their backs facing opponents, and somewhat spasmodically closed (not clenched—the third joint unbent the middle and dictal phalanges being simply pressed on palm while the thumb is bent upon the proximal phalange of the first finger and not placed slanting across and in opposition to the three fingers. They continued thus for several minutes approaching and withdrawing from each other; and frequently lifting their arms as if they would strike. This they never did. This they never did, and I always observed that in the action of lifting their hands were always opened, thumbs and fingers slightly bent and spread in a sort of grasping position. I did not once see them strike at each other with closed fists.5

The Lepcha (Sikkim)6 manifests indignance and violent passion very similarly; though perhaps less demonstratively, they being naturally I believe a milder race. In their cases I observed that the arms were scarcely bent at elbow, but placed nearly parallel to body, rigid the hands pushed somewhat backward and but loosely closed much in the Mechi fashion, with the thumbs placed parallel to the metacarpas and bent upon the proximal phalange of the first finger.7 I have also repeated observations with such slight difference of results from those I have previously recorded as might be expected from differences of temperament. In these observations, however, I must tell you, that I have always made it my endeavour to confine to those who have had little to do with Europeans.

Were I to give you results, from the Bengali Manjees (boatmen) who have had a training from our sailors you would have but a repetition of what you could see at home—   Natives are apt pupils in all sorts of vices.

(2). With regard to your query (17) I have abundant evidence that the lateral shake of the head is somewhat indifferently given in negation and affirmation. The vertical nod is much less commonly used by natives—though exclusively in affirmation. From repeated observations on this however I am convinced that in affirmation a single shake only is given, the head being first indifferently bent to the right or left and then given an oblique jerk: while in negation the head is shaken several times and I think usually in a nearly vertical position. I have paid particular attention to this since you wrote me and I now think that negation and affirmation is thus distinguished by them.8

(3) I have only lately been afforded illustrations of your query (5). The first case was of a poor Hindustani who after a long illness and want of means had to sell a favorite goat. He was deeply affected in receiving the money, and looked alternately at it and the goat. On the goat being taken from his hand and bound, it tried hardly to get back to him, he then went up to it, when it at once leaped upon him and licked his hands. Thus he stood silently looking from the money to the goat—then as if with an effort he put the money in his cloth. Thus far his eye was unfixed and wavering, though his mouth was partially closed with the corners very decidedly depressed   Now however that he seemed to have determined to part from the goat—I observed as he looked down upon it an obliqueness of the eyes, the lower eyelids wrinkled below at the inner angle, the eyebrows somewhat obliquely set with a marked puckering or swelling at their inner angles and over the nose, but though I looked very carefully I could not observe the transverse wrinkling on the middle of forehead. The poor man stood thus for a minute or so, then heaving a deep sigh, burst into tears, held up his hands blessed the goat, then turned, and went away without once looking round again.9

The other observations under this head was on a young Dhangar woman whose first and only child was fast dying, while she sat nursing it below a trellis covered with Pumpkins. I having observed her sitting thus pensively with the child in her lap went quietly up to her and got quite unobserved behind the Pumpkin screen. She seemed really affected, and I very distinctly observed the transverse wrinklings on the middle of the forehead, the eyebrows slightly raised at the inner end, the upper eyelid somewhat drooping and the lower wrinkled at the inner angle. Mouth slightly open, lips protruding a little and arched so that the corners were much depressed. After having watched her for sometime I went from behind the screen of Pumpkins, and spoke to her   she started up burst into tears and cried most bitterly for me to save her child. This is by far the best illustration I have been able to make under this head—she was about 16 years of age and the wife of one of our garden coolies a Dhang⁠⟨⁠ar⁠⟩⁠10

⁠⟨⁠2 pages excised⁠⟩⁠ observations. I have tried in vain to get the breed with black comb and wattles. I see in your reference to the Sooty fowls of India, that the hens alone are said to exhibit the peculiarities.11 I have lately got a dull greyish white Cock, (about 2 months old) comb and wattles, brownish red, ear-lappets of a bluish tinge, legs stoutish and as is also the beak of an olivy-brown colour, skin and bones black. The natives assure me that this bird will retain its present colour of plumage. It agrees however in many respects with the silk-fowl as described by you and may possibly be a cross between that and the Sooty race. I am indeed sorry that I cannot get a thoroughly pure breed. I do not know a single fancier of fowls here, & it is a mere chance to get such from the native dealers. They are most unscrupulous and deceitful race. If I succeed in getting the above breed however I shall have very great pleasure in making the experiment and reporting result.

(6) I have particularly attended to your query about differences in the tint of beard and hair of the head: but can detect no such characteristics in any of the races which have come under my observation in India.12 We of course see occasional differences in individual cases (just as at home) in which the beard is lighter, (I really do not remember having seen it darker among natives) than the hair of the head, but I cannot hear of its being common to any race. Some of the Northern races here have little or no beard while some of those of Eastern Bengal—as do also many of the Malays—practise depilation.

The only instance in which I really thought I had found real differences was with some of the Arabs which frequent our bazaars &c. Those with light brown or greyish hair have a carroty-red beard   I was soon undeceived however. I find that it is a custom to dye the whiskers with the bruised leaves of the Henna—Lawsovia alba.13

I shall be glad if any of the above scraps are of service to you. It has been a pain to me to have failed so long & so signally in collating the information you required. I still hold my old position in the garden here and for which I have you to thank.14 With best wishes for your continued health.

I am Sir very respectfully yours John Scott

CD annotations

1.1 It … Europeans. 3.10] crossed pencil
2.2 Mechis] underl blue crayon
2.7 less erect] underl blue crayon
2.7 the head pushed forward] underl blue crayon
2.8 their backs] ‘of Hands’ interl
3.1 Lepcha] underl blue crayon
3.8 I must … Europeans. 3.10] double scored blue crayon
4.1 Were … home— 4.3] crossed blue crayon
5.1 (2).] red crayon opening square bracket
5.1 (2).... a Dhang⁠⟨⁠ar⁠⟩⁠ 7.13] crossed pencil
6.2 Hindustani] underl red crayon
6.4 it tried … a Dhang⁠⟨⁠ar⁠⟩⁠ 7.13] ‘John Scott’ pencil
6.8 corners very decidedly depressed 6.9] underl red crayon
6.11 wrinkled below] underl red crayon
6.11 the eyebrows … nose, 6.12] scored red crayon
6.15 burst into tears] underl red crayon
7.5 the transverse … end, 7.6] scored red crayon
7.8 lips … depressed.] double scored red crayon
7.13 Dhang⁠⟨⁠ar⁠⟩⁠] ‘from Nagpore—.’ ink
8.1 observations.... result. 8.12] crossed pencil
9.1 (6) … alba. 10.4] ‘Man sexual selection — July 2d 1869’ pencil
9.3 occasional … lighter, 9.4] scored red crayon
9.4 (I … natives) 9.5] underl red crayon
9.6 Some … health. 11.4] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘John Scott | This is first letter’ ink

CD note:

Abstract | * p. 1--3  Passion & indignation  two Races from Sikkim; do not clench fists, do not hold themselves erect, but do not strike each other— grimaces.— good & [recent] account [crossed pencil] | p (4)  on the shaking of Head in affirmation & negation— not very [firmly] fixed, [likely] | I suspect the lateral is primordial— & the vertical a principle of opposite [movement] * p 5 & 6 on cor⁠⟨⁠ner⁠⟩⁠ of mouth depressed & oblique eyelids— ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ wrinkled forehead [crossed pencil]


Scott’s last extant letter to CD is that of 4 May 1868 (Correspondence vol. 16).
CD evidently sent Scott a version of his queries on expression (see Correspondence vol.17, Appendix VI) in 1867 with a letter that has not been found (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from John Scott, 24 September 1867 and n. 16). Scott sent some replies and CD asked further questions in 1868 (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from John Scott, 4 May 1868, and letter to John Scott, 3 June 1868).
Question 3 on CD’s list of Queries about expression concerned the facial expression and bodily postures of indignation or defiance.
The Mechi, or Mech people, lived in Sikkim, Bengal, Assam, and Nepal during the nineteenth century (Risley 1891, 2: 86–91; Bhatt and Bhargava eds. 2005, p. 29).
CD included some of Scott’s observations on the quarrel in Expression, p. 249.
The Lepcha people are thought to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim (Risley 1891, 2: 6–14, EB).
CD cited Scott for this observation in Expression, p. 249.
CD had asked for further observations of lateral shakes of the head in his letter to Scott of 3 June 1868 (Correspondence vol. 16). CD recorded Scott’s conclusion in Expression, p. 276.
Question 5 on CD’s list of Queries about expression concerned the facial expression of grief. Scott’s account was recorded in Expression, p. 188.
CD gave Scott’s account of the Dhangar woman in Expression, p. 187.
In Variation 1: 230, 256, CD mentioned the sooty fowl of India, in which only the female had black skin and bones. In his letter to Scott of 3 June 1868 (Correspondence vol. 16), CD had asked about the plumage of the male sooty fowl.
CD’s query to Scott regarding beard and hair colour has not been found, but see the letter to Asa Gray, 1 June [1869] and n. 14.
Lawsonia alba is a synonym of L. inermis (henna).
For more on CD’s role in helping Scott to emigrate to India and become curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Calcutta, see Correspondence vols. 12 and 13.


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

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Risley, Herbert Hope. 1891. The tribes and castes of Bengal: ethnographic glossary. 2 vols. Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Observations on expression and colour of beard and hair in natives of India.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Royal Botanic Gardens, Calcutta
Source of text
DAR 85: A31, DAR 177: 119
Physical description
ALS 8pp inc †, 2 CD notes

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6815,” accessed on 14 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17