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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Swinhoe   26 March 1873

10 Petrin Road. | Shanghai—

26 March, 1873.

My dear Darwin,

I am ashamed of my long silence, but my sufferings must be my excuse. I had not been a week at my post at Ningpo before I was struck by a paralytic affection which has clung to me up to now.1 I have had it bad, unable to move the left half of me, but am freer now and hoping to get well. The Minister at Peking2 has given me the acting Consulship at Chefoo,3 where the summer climate is very pleasant, and where sulphur baths are near, and I trust there to get rid of my complaint; but as it is too cold a country to venture into in winter I begged leave to tarry at Shanghai till the middle of April. I was obliged to leave Ningpo on the 6th. February, as the absentee Consul4 returned to resume his post. My sojourn of idleness in Shanghai has done me much good; I have long wished to spend the winter months at Shanghai, to keep an eye on the Game Market, in which some good specimens are occasionally offered, and I have been fairly successful.5

I am very thankful to you for the copy of your last work. I note that you hesitate in accepting my statement about the chinese not shrugging their shoulders.6 I find it nevertheless to be a fact. I have never seen a Chinaman do so, and I cannot find anyone that has. The Chinaman displays his helplessness by opening out his hands, but he keeps his elbows away from his sides. You will find in doing this last that it is not easy to shrug the shoulders. A curious thing I noticed some time back at Ningpo. We were passing in a boat under a bridge. There was a bad smell about. The boatman at once put the first and second fingers of his right hand into his nostrils, thrusting them in tip first. I have once observed that the better class of chinese who imitate foreigners (Europeans), put handkerchiefs to their noses, but the common class use the finger tips. You will note that the chinese nose is too flat to hold as we do between finger and thumb compressed to close the wings of the nostrils. Their noses are shaped more as in the Monkeys, and I recollect once seeing a Rhesus (Macacus rhesus) closing his nose in a similar way.7 I have paid attention to the monkey-point on the edge of the ear, and I have found it uncommonly rare in chinese faces.8 I have found it common enough among Europeans here, among nations of Hindustan, the Lascar crew of vessels; but among the African Stokers of steamers and among Chinese I have not found a single prominent case. This seems curious considering how much more pithecoid the African and Mongolian types are than the Caucasian.

You may have heard of the Chinese dressing the eyes as a part of the toilet under the hands of a Barber. The eyes are emptied of their tears, and are supposed to be refreshed thereby— I was anxious to try the effect of this operation so got a Barber to tickle my eyes. He used the instrument of bone, which I enclose.9 It is smooth for greater part of its length; the rest is roughened by a corkscrew groove. The man held the roughened end between finger and thumb of righthand, and passed the point backwards and forwards against the lower edge of the white of the eye, twirling the instrument the while. The eye got full of tears, he passed to the forward corner and kept on twirling there. This made the same corner of the other eye shed tears abundantly. He then passed to the backward corner and repeated the twirling process, making the same part in the other eye weep in a similar manner. It was getting unpleasantly painful, and he passed to the other eye, doing the same on that side with equal effect on the opposite eye. I was very glad when it was over, and have never felt an inclination to have a second dose. It has had no special ill effect on my eyes, except to open apparently a passage in the forward corner of my left eye, so that when I blow my nose I feel a rush of air in that corner. In fact I seem to have made myself a martyr in the cause of enquiry. You may like to see this instrument of fashionable torture. I therefore enclose it to you, having secured it specially for you at the cost of a few cash, say about three farthings.10

I have plenty more to talk about, but time fails, and the mail must be closed.

With kind regards to yourself and to all your circle | I remain, | Your’s very sincerely, | Robert Swinhoe.

P. S. In answer to this letter please address me as Hon. Consul Chefoo. I shall probably be at that northern port for the next year and a half. | RS.

CD annotations

1.1 I am … successful. 1.12] crossed blue crayon
2.14 I have … Caucasian. 2.20] enclosed in square brackets blue crayon; crossed blue crayon


Swinhoe’s most recent surviving correspondence with CD is his letter of 10 February 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18). Swinhoe had suffered two paralytic strokes while acting consul at Ningpo (Ningbo, Zhejiang province); he held the post from May 1871 until February 1873, but spent almost the entire period on sick leave and had only recently returned to China (Foreign Office list 1873, p. 182; Coates 1988, p. 328).
Thomas Francis Wade.
The consul at Chefoo (Yantai) was William Hyde Lay (Foreign Office list 1873, p. 23).
William Henry Fittock. Swinhoe replaced him as consul at Ningpo later in 1873 (Foreign Office list 1873, p. 182; Coates 1988, p. 328).
Swinhoe was an expert on the ornithology of China, and had previously sent CD a number of bird specimens (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Robert Swinhoe, 12 November 1862, and Variation 1: 148).
CD cited Swinhoe for information in several places in Expression; Swinhoe’s name appears on CD’s presentation list (see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix V). In Expression, p. 269, CD wrote that Swinhoe was doubtful that the Chinese ever shrugged their shoulders.
Macacus rhesus is a synonym of Macaca mulatta (the rhesus monkey); Swinhoe had studied monkeys and identified a new Taiwanese species, Macaca cyclopis (the Formosan rock macaque).
Following a suggestion from the sculptor Thomas Woolner, CD had speculated in Descent 1: 22–3 and 206 that the inward protuberance sometimes observed on the outer fold of the human ear was the vestigial remains of ancestral pointed ears; the feature became known as the Woolnerian tip.
The enclosed instrument has not been found.
Cash: a name used by Europeans for various coins of low value in the East Indies and China; in China it was applied to the le and tsien coins, which were made of an alloy of copper and lead, and had a square hole in the centre (OED).


Discusses expression among the Chinese. Reports certain physical characters and the practice of certain unusual customs.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Swinhoe
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 336
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8824,” accessed on 25 June 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21