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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Crichton-Browne   7 April [1871]1


April 7,

My dear Sir

Many thanks for your two last communications.2 The case of the pregnant woman is truly wonderful, and I am particularly glad to have read it, as it seems conclusive; but I doubt whether it will do to give it in any work not strictly medical. Perhaps I may manage to give it wrapped up, or anyhow allude to it.3 Dr. Baird the Hypnotist, gives somewhat analogous cases, but I did not dare to trust him.4 I have got some other references to Sir H. Holland and Dr. Laycock’s works, and I shall now read them in a more believing spirit.5 Very many thanks about the idiots and Blushing.6 I rather expected the answer would be as you give it. Dr. Burgess makes the same remark, but in so loose a manner that I am not at all sure that he ever really attended to the point,—only guessed how it would be.7 I find that Vogt’s microcephalous idiot was not utterly degraded, as his eyes brightened when pleased or amused: the blush was real, as it was caused by an examination of his naked body, and he tried to turn on one side.8 I have received the Photographs and am greatly obliged for all your never-ceasing kindness.9 They are not expressive enough for my purpose. I am, however, now rich in photographs, for I have found a photographer in London. Rejlander, who for years has had a passion for photographing all sorts of chance expressions exhibited on various occasions, especially by children, and taken instantaneously.10 One of the insane woman with bristling hair has been copied by photography on wood, and a most skilful man is now cutting it on wood and is convinced that he will succeed.11

Yours most truly | Ch. Darwin.

I hope your health is not worse.12

P.S. A long time ago I asked Prof. Donders of Utrecht (who most kindly aids me in all sorts of ways) about the iris, and a few days ago I received an answer, and a present of a huge book, published by the Sydenham Soc., from which I infer that the contraction and dilation of pupil is a very complex affair depending on many conditions—movements of the eyes, etc. I suspect it will be safest for me just to say what others have said, and then add a caution. Perhaps, however, I may hereafter hear something definite from you, and I shall be able to judge better when I have read parts of Donder’s work.13


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from James Crichton-Browne, [29–31 March 1871] and 3 April 1871.
CD cited James Braid in support of Crichton-Browne’s account of a phantom pregnancy in Expression, p. 341 n. 39 (see n. 3, above). Braid described a number of cases of menstruation resuming apparently as a result of hypnotic suggestion combined with self-attention (Braid 1852, pp. 94–7).
CD refers to Henry Holland and Thomas Laycock, and to Holland 1858 and Laycock 1839, 1840, and 1860, all of which he cited in support of his argument that concentrated attention to any part of the body could induce physical effects (Expression, p. 339 n. 33). CD’s annotated copies of the first and second editions of Holland’s Chapters on mental physiology (Holland 1852 and 1858) are in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 386). See also letter to William Turner, 28 March [1871] and nn. 11 and 12, and letter to ?, 7 April [1871] and n. 3.
CD refers to Thomas Henry Burgess and Burgess 1839, which he cited extensively in Expression. Burgess wrote that congenital idiots never blushed, so far as he was aware, but cited no direct observation (Burgess 1839, pp. 70–3).
See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 28 March [1871] and n. 4. There is a note by CD on Carl Vogt in DAR 195.1: 36: ‘Vogt on micro: p. 21 idiot eye brightens when pleased & had sly expression & Blushed p. 20’. CD refers to Vogt 1867.
See letter to H. E. Darwin, 20 March 1871 and n. 4. Truly ‘instantaneous’ photography was not yet possible; exposure time ranged from a few seconds to one or two minutes, which made capturing fleeting expressions extremely difficult. Although Rejlander condemned the competition among photographers in the early 1870s to shorten exposure times, he had nevertheless developed faster techniques of his own (Prodger 2009, pp. 7–9.)
See letter to James Crichton-Browne, 26 March [1871] and n. 7, and letter from James Crichton-Browne, [29–31 March 1871]. CD refers to Frans Cornelis Donders and Donders 1864. Although CD had been in correspondence with Donders about the physiology of the eye since 1869, his only known query specifically about the iris is in his letter to Donders of 18 March 1871 (see also letter from F. C. Donders, 28 March 1871 and n. 5). CD cited Donders 1864 on involuntary movements of the iris in Expression, p. 172; there is an abstract in the Darwin Archive–CUL of a passage from Donders 1864 on the contraction of the pupil (DAR 53.1: B38).


Braid, James. 1852. Magic, witchcraft, animal magnetism, hypnotism, and electro-biology: being a digest of the latest views of the author on these subjects. 3d ed. London: John Churchill.

Burgess, Thomas Henry. 1839. The physiology or mechanism of blushing. London.

Donders, Frans Cornelis. 1864. On the anomalies of accommodation and refraction of the eye: with a preliminary essay on physiological dioptrics. Translated by William Daniel Moore. London: New Sydenham Society.

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

Holland, Henry. 1852. Chapters on mental physiology. London.

Holland, Henry. 1858. Chapters on mental physiology. 2d edition. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts.

Laycock, Thomas. 1839. Analytical essay on irregular and aggravated forms of hysteria. Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 50: 302–56 and 52: 43–86.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Prodger, Phillip. 2009. Darwin’s camera: art and photography in the theory of evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vogt, Carl. 1867. Mémoire sur les microcéphales ou hommes-singes. Reprinted from Mémoires de l’Institute national genévois, vol. 11. Geneva: Georg, Libraire de l’Institute Genevois.


Thanks for information about blushing of idiots.

Case of pregnant woman "truly wonderful".

Thanks for photographs.

Has found London photographer, O. G. Rejlander, with passion for photographing expression.

Received information about iris of eye from F. C. Donders; shows contraction and dilation of pupil is very complex.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Crichton-Browne
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 336
Physical description
C 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7666,” accessed on 1 April 2023,

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