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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. S. B. F. de Chaumont to W. E. Darwin   11 March 1871

Oakland, Woolston,

March 11th. 1871

My dear Darwin,

I am very sorry I missed you today— Mrs. de Chaumont1 was too unwell to see anybody having been all the morning in bed with a very bad cold— I intended to have answered your former notes but waited until I could supply positive information, of which I am sorry to say I have little to offer—2

First with regard to the shrug:— Our eldest child, Helen,3 aged 4 years, 16th. December last—shrugged her shoulders at the age of between 16 and 18 months— Of course I did not note the date at the time, but we arrive at it in this way— Neither my wife nor I can call to mind its occuring before my sister4 came to stay with us in the summer of 1867—and she came about the end of April when Helen was 16 months— It is also certain that it took place before the coming of another friend who visited us in July when the child was between 18 & 19 months— The grimace was not complete inasmuch as the shoulders were shrugged & the head sometimes thrown a little on one side, but I do not remember any special movement of the arms— As regards parentage: my father5 is French from Paris, but not given to shrugging his shoulders:— my mother6 is Scotch from Ayrshire:—so that I am half French— My wife’s father7 was Scotch from Forfarshire, and her mother8 English from the county of Durham.— The child’s nurse9 is from Sholing in this neighbourhood & as English as can well be— Her mother10 however is from Guernsey—

Helen has always been reared in England— I may remark that at her birth I was struck with the almost absurd resemblance she bore to my father— This is not now nearly so marked— I do not believe my wife ever shrugged her shoulders in her life— I believe I do so myself at times— at least so my wife says, particularly if I am in an argument with any one— I am sometimes but not always conscious of it— If it was imitation it may have been from me but the child could hardly have seen me do it often— The first time we observed it my wife exclaimed, “Look at the little French girl, shrugging her shoulders.”— She did it a good deal at first and it then gradually wore off— now she never does it, her mother says.— I may add, with regard to the likeness she bore to my father,—that when she wanted a thing as a very little child she used to hold out her little hand & rub the thumb against the index & middle finger rapidly & impatiently— now that is a peculiar & characteristic habit of my father’s,—but the child at that time had never seen him (she did it before she was eight months old and continues it to this day.)— It is a movement that I never use myself—

Our second child Nora11 born 9th. Novr. 1868 also shrugged her shoulders a little, but very little:—this may have been imitation of her sister but her mother says she did it after Helen had ceased— at all events it was very early, before she was 18 months old— She does not do it now— She resembles my father too, more now than her sister, but she never had the striking resemblance that I noticed in her sister’s case— She also from the earliest age made use of the movement of the fingers I have mentioned & still does so, but not nearly to the same extent as Helen—12 We have a third daughter,13 born 29th. Sepr./70. and will try to notice any peculiarities about her & make a mem. of them—

As regards pouting: I am sorry I have not much to tell. Our children seldom pout, for when anything vexes them they generally go straight off into a small passion & have it out!— But once or twice I have seen them pout since you wrote to me & in each case it seemed to me that the lips were protruding equally & became rather tubular— They protrude to about the level of the end of the nose— N.B. Both the children have short noses— I have not observed the lower lip project beyond the upper, nor have I remarked any particular noise— There is usually a frown at the same time— —

I mentioned the points required to be known to my sister in case she had an opportunity of observing either our own or any other child, and today she told me that she had observed my cousin’s child pout and that the lips became distinctly tubular— This was quite an independent statement as I had never mentioned my own observation. The child is a boy, 4 yrs. old next august— born in Paris, of purely French parents—14 The sister & Mother have been here since the investment of Paris began—15

I am sorry I have so little of a positive character to tell you—but as you well know accurate observation is the most difficult thing in the world— I shall keep my weather open however & communicate any thing that may occur—

Mrs. de Chaumont joins me in kind regards—

Yours very sincerely, | F. de Chaumont

W. E. Darwin Esqr.

CD annotations

1.1 I am … of them— 4.9] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Dr. De Chaumont | Prof. Netley Hospital’ ink; ‘Pouting used’16blue crayon, circled blue crayon


In Expression, pp. 265–7, CD described the shrugging of the shoulders as well as the impatient hand gesture of the two girls.
The cousin and her son, sister, and mother have not been identified.
De Chaumont refers to the siege (investment) of Paris in the winter of 1870 and 1871 during the Franco-Prussian war.
CD did not refer to the de Chaumont children in his discussion of pouting in Expression.


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


In response to queries on expression, which WED had asked on CD’s behalf, reports on shrugging and pouting observed in his children.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Stephen Bennet François de Chaumont
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 135
Physical description
ALS 7pp † (by CD), 2 CD notes

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7573,” accessed on 1 April 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19