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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Dickson   14 December 1872

“The Northern Whig” Offices, | Belfast,

14th. Dec. 1872


I have not yet had an opportunity of reading your recent work: “The Expression of the emotions in man and animals,” but in a review of it in the Times of 13th. inst.1 I notice this extract: “Therefore the suspicion arises that our progenitors must formerly have had the power of voluntarily rejecting food which disagreed with them.”2 Your use of the word “suscipion,” with the reviewer’s ⁠⟨⁠in⁠⟩⁠sinuation about “the use of the imagination ⁠⟨⁠in scien⁠⟩⁠ce,”3 lead me to infer you hav⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ not given, and may not have, any instances of this power, and I have therefore much pleasure in giving you the following case:—

One of my Father’s male servants, a strong, healthy Scotch lad of about 18 years of age, possessed this power in an extraordinary degree. I never saw him “throw up” (our lowland Scotch phrase for vomit, and the action in question) food because it disagreed with him, but I have seen him do it many times for our amusement. I have given him many a pocketful of fruit on the condition that he would “throw up” a portion of it. It was always done with apparent ease, and he assured us it caused him no pain or uneasiness—his only objection being that of parting with the food. On one occasion he was with us in a search for wild raspberries; and, while I was telling the other boys of this singular powe⁠⟨⁠r of his⁠⟩⁠ he joined us. We were standing on a bridge, and I remember distinctly that the very moment I asked him to do it before my companions, he bent down toward the ledge and performed it. It was done instantaneously; and I believe he could do it at any moment after eating. This youth, therefore, assuredly possessed the power of voluntarily rejecting food.

You have this on the authority of | Yours very truly | James Dickson, | Manager of the Northern Whig Newspaper, Belfast.

CD annotations

1.5 “suscipion,”] underl pencil
Top of letter: ‘Expression’4pencil


The review of Expression appeared in The Times, 13 December 1872, p. 4.
This is an abbreviated quotation from Expression, p. 259.
According to the reviewer, CD’s argument that the actions of our early progenitors shaped present behaviour was an example of the use of the imagination in science; the reviewer claimed, ‘whenever Mr. Darwin is in a great difficulty he brings in an early progenitor to cut the knot’ (The Times, 13 December 1872, p. 4).
In Expression 2d ed., p. 271 n. 11, Francis Darwin, drawing on materials collected by CD, noted three cases of voluntary regurgitation, including this ‘apparently trustworthy’ example.


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.

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


Sends CD the case of a man he knew who could reject food voluntarily, in substantiation of the passage in Expression [p. 259] in which CD says "the suspicion arises that our progenitors must formerly have had [this] power".

Letter details

Letter no.
James Dickson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Northern Whig , Belfast
Source of text
DAR 162: 179
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8680,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

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