skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Erasmus Galton   30 December 1871

Tennis Court Club | Leamington

Decr 30. 1871

My dear Cousin Charles.

Since reading your wonderful work—on the Descent of Man, I have often meditated—on the great truth of what you so lucidly explain—as to mankind making use of the same muscles—of the cheek—when expressing satire—as the Monkey—dog &c &c—do, when in the act of snarling1

There are two other cases which I often see in Society (when people are off their guard) in which they use the same muscles—as the lower animals do, without being conscious of the cause

Take for instance a Whist table (when the stakes are nothing, and therefore no occasion to suppress feelings) say a player sees a card played—which upsets his previous calculations—a muttered “humph”—in the throat and nose, sounds an alarm to himself, much the same as the grunt of the Monkey—at Trincomalee in Ceylon2—The grunt of the Buck rabbit, pig—or Whistle of Alarm—of the Mountain sheep in Scotland—All being I presume the compression of the same muscles of the chestunder surprise.

Again, I have observed through life—that say—A commanding officer speaking to those under his command, or Middle aged people dictating to those much younger than themselves—are apt to strike the table with their fist—or point of finger at important or telling points of their lecture or scold.

Is not this much the same movement of the Muscles—As the sheep—deer—and other animals—use, both in a Wild—and domesticated state—when they stamp their fore foot, on the ground—as a note of warning—or alarm, to those whom they are protecting

Very possibly you have long since, known all this— In that case—please to toss my letter into the fire. Do not on any account, plague yourself by answering this note— Your time is too Valuable to the World at large to be frittered away in answering notes

Believe me to be | Your Affectionate Cousin | Erasmus Galton


See Descent 1: 127.
Ceylon is now Sri Lanka. Galton may have visited Trincomalee while serving on the East Indies Station when he was in the navy (Lethbridge family book, s.v. People, Galton family (accessed 26 November 2010)). Trincomalee was one of the bases of the East Indies Station (G. S. Graham 1967, p. 305–28).


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

Graham, Gerald Sandford. 1967. Great Britain in the Indian Ocean: a study of maritime enterprise 1810–50. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


After reading Descent sends two instances of men and animals using the same muscles to express similar emotional states.

Letter details

Letter no.
Erasmus Galton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 5
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8125,” accessed on 22 September 2021,

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