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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. T. Rothrock   25 November 1872

Wilkes-Barre Penna.

Nov. 25, 1872

Mr Charles Darwin

Dr Sir—

Through the kindness of Prof Asa Gray I have received your last—on Expression of Emotions.1 I hastily prepared the enclosed notice of the book for one of our local papers.2

We have in this City of 20000. inhabitants more intelligent readers of your wor⁠⟨⁠ks⁠⟩⁠ t⁠⟨⁠h⁠⟩⁠an in any city of similar size in the state.

I need not say that I am under obligations to you for the volume, which I value not more for its real importance to me as a physician than as a token from you. In one word I am delighted with it. My practice leaves me not a moment of time now for anything but medicine and I am clear outside all scientific work and scientific circles. Reading the paragraph on pp. 34 & 5. calls up to mind—this—that when a boy I used to see my father drawing teeth and the moment the patient opened his mouth mine too was as widely opened as the patients.3 I have observed the same thing repeatedly since when giving chloroform for some of my dental friends, in other persons. In this case with me habit of seeing teeth extracted has destroyed the propensity, which I still find in others not so habituated to the sight.

Another singular freak I have not yet learned to abandon— In attending an obstetrical case—after the true expulsive pains of the pati⁠⟨⁠en⁠⟩⁠t have become severe—an⁠⟨⁠d⁠⟩⁠ the child is about being b⁠⟨⁠or⁠⟩⁠n, if especially anxious to have the patient ha⁠⟨⁠sten⁠⟩⁠ through her labor, I find the moment she begi⁠⟨⁠ns to⁠⟩⁠ bear down I (unconsciously until my attention is arrested by the effort) am doing the same—

Certainly in my case this cant be explained from habit. If you have occasion to refer to these little peculiarities—it will not hurt my feelings to have my name omitted as the subject.4 An Unconscious sympathy is of course sufficient to explain them, but I have so often noted these two facts that I have no hesitancy in mentioning them more particularly as they are somewhat striking illustrations

Doubtless some of your Medical friends can confirm my statements.

Thanks again my dear Sir for the volume—and if any facts are in my possession which might be of service to you I would cheerfully turn them into your hands

Yours sincerely | J. T. Rothrock M.D. | Wilkes-Barre Penna | Box. 1⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠2

To | Chas Darwin FRS. etc

CD annotations

1.1 Through … circles. 3.4] crossed pencil


Rothrock’s name, ‘care of Prof. Asa Gray, Cambridge Mass.’, appears on CD’s presentation list for Expression. CD had cited Rothrock for information on the expressions of Native Americans.
The notice has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
The passage referred to discusses actions undertaken in unconscious sympathy with other intentional or observed actions. Rothrock’s father was Abraham Rothrock.
In Expression 2d ed., p. 36, a note was added: ‘An American physician states, in a letter to the author, that while attending women in labour he sometimes finds himself imitating the muscular efforts of the patient. This case is of interest because habit is necessarily excluded.’


Expression 2d ed.: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. Edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1890.


Thanks for Expression, which he received through Asa Gray.

Relates some personal experiences of unconscious sympathy.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Trimble Rothrock
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Wilkes Barre, Pa.
Source of text
DAR 176: 220
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8647,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20