skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Ogle   25 March [1871]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

March 25

My dear Dr. Ogle

You will think me a horrid bore.— But I beg you, in relation to a new point for observation, to imagine as well as you can that you suddenly come across, some dreadful object, & act with a sudden little start a shudder of horror— please do this once or twice & observe yourself as well as you can—& afterwards read rest of this note, which I have consequently pinned down.—

I find to my surprise whenever I act thus my platysma contracts. Does yours?? (Now see what a man will do for science, I begin this note with a horrid fib, viz that I want you to attend to a new point.) I will try & get some persons thus to act, who are so lucky as not to know that they even possess this muscle, so troublesome for anyone making out about expression.—2 Is a shudder akin to the rigor or shivering before fever? If so, perhaps the platysma could be observed in such cases.— Paget3 told me that he had attended much to shivering, & had written in M.S on subject, & been much perplexed about it.— He mentioned that passing a catheter often causes shivering. Perhaps I will write to him about the platysma; he is always most kind in aiding me in all ways; but he is so overworked that it hurts my conscience to trouble him; for I have a conscience little as you have reason to think so.— Help me if you can, & forgive me.— Your murderer case has come in splendidly as the acme of prostration from fear.4

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. Since I wrote the foregoing, I have looked through my bundle of notes. I find Mr Langstaff of Southampton carefully observed a large number of cases of severe dyspnœa & agrees fully with you that the platysma is never contracted.5

Again Dr Crichton Browne reports to me that this muscle contracts with many old insane men, when asked to put out their tongues,—in one case, in which there was tendency to spasms, in a wonderfully spasmodic manner.—6 He has never observed its action in the insane under terror. Another Doctor differs somewhat about the terrified insane.

Now please read. Mr Gascoyen’s note, but the part about dyspnœa seems written from memory. & I shall not quote it.—7 I had forgotten (for the Descent of man8 had driven all other subjects out of my head) one statement by you that the gentleman who can contract the platysma only on his right side, is convinced that when startled this muscle contracts. This supports my belief that in an acted start of horror, with a slight shudder, the platysma contracts.—

Do you think you could interest any surgeon in your Hospital to observe the necks of some patients, who happened to be a good deal terrified before an operation.—9 I hate being baffled about this troublesome platysma.— I really will be more reasonable in troubling you for the future with my hobby-horse.—

Please sometime return Mr Gascoyen’s note | C.D.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to William Ogle, 28 [March 1871].
CD had discussed the contraction of the platysma myoides muscle with Ogle in earlier correspondence and in person (see Correspondence vol. 18, letter to William Ogle, 9 November 1870, and letter from William Ogle, [10–17 November 1870], and this volume passim).
James Paget.
Charles Langstaff had observed the absence of movement of the platysma in patients suffering from difficulty in breathing under chloroform (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from W. E. Darwin, [7–15 April 1868]).
CD probably enclosed George Green Gascoyen’s letter of 7 July 1870 (Correspondence vol. 18). Gascoyen had written, ‘The Platysma is always in a state of violent contraction when a person is struggling for breath. this I have long noticed & I believe is invariably the case.’
Ogle was assistant physician at St George’s Hospital, London. In Expression, pp. 300–1, CD discussed contraction of the platysma in patients before an operation, citing Ogle for the information.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

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


Asks WO to act out the sudden discovery of a dreadful object and to observe whether his platysma contracts. CD has found in his notes that it is never contracted in cases of severe dyspnoea [Expression, p. 301].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Ogle
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.5: 9 (EH 88205907)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7622,” accessed on 25 September 2021,

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