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Darwin Correspondence Project

To C. J. Plumptre   19 August [1873?]1

Down, Beckenham, Kent.

My Dear Sir,

I thank you for your very obliging letter, and for the information in regard to Delsarte’s views respecting the eyes.2 Although it is very easy to deceive one’s self on such a point, yet after reading over what I have said, I cannot think that we are in error.3 Surely the different appearance of the eyes in hectic fever, and during great exhaustion to which Dr. Piderit alludes, cannot be accounted for simply by the position of eyelids and eyebrows.4 Could you not observe the eyes of some one looking grave, and then smiling? I will endeavour to do so.

I remain, my dear Sir, | Yours faithfully, | Charles Darwin.

August 19th.

C. J. Plumptre, Esq.


The year is conjectured on the assumption that Plumptre contacted CD after the publication of Expression in November 1872 (see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix II). The letter was included in the new edition of Plumptre’s King’s College lectures on elocution (Plumptre 1876), along with some diagrams from Expression reproduced with CD’s permission.
Plumptre’s letter to CD has not been found. François Delsarte claimed that the eyes could not reveal specific emotions (Plumptre 1876, p. 224).
For CD’s view of the expressiveness of the eyes, see, for example, Expression, p. 206.
CD referred to Theodor Piderit’s remarks on the contrast between the appearance of the eyes of a fever patient and the eyes of a dehydrated patient (Piderit 1867, pp. 63–7) in Expression, p. 206.


Agrees François Delsarte’s view [that the eyes do not show emotion, only indicate the object of it], is probably wrong.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles John Plumptre
Sent from
Source of text
Plumptre 1876, pp. 224–5

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10581F,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24 (Supplement)