skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Crichton-Browne   2 March 1873

West Riding Asylum, | Wakefield.

2nd. March 1873.

My dear Sir,

If you could see my face at the present moment you would behold a vivid picture of Remorse! I am really ashamed beyond all expression that I have allowed so long a time to elapse without acknowledging the copy of your great work which you were kind enough to send me, and without thanking you for the generous compliment which you paid me in that work.1 You over estimated the value of the trifling services which I was able to render to you and more than requited them, by the use you put them to. I value your good word more than an elaborate eulogium by most other men.

I devoured your book greedily and then I had’nt the decency to thank you for one of the choicest intellectual repasts that I ever enjoyed. But in this manner do I explain my apparently inexcusable negligence. When reading your book I said to myself: ‘How shall I best show Mr. Darwin that I appreciate his kindness in sending me this book—and in approving of my observations? And the answer returned to that question was why by sending him matter which shall be corroborative and illustrative of his thesis. Adopting this view I at once jotted down some examples of hereditarily transmitted movements &c.— and then came the hurry and worry of professional work and I read on but not pen in hand as I had hoped to do. I shall still however send you some notes and then I trust you will again receive me into favour.2

Maudsley asked me to review the book but I could not at that time undertake to do so.3 I propose however, with your approval, to write a paper, for the next volume of the West Riding Asylum Medical Reports—which will be published in July extending and illustrating your views on one or two points, especially with reference to the Insane.4

By this post I forward to you a few photographs of Lunatics taken here which, although not at all good may perhaps have some interest for you.5 I shall be gratified if you will add them to your collection, and should you care to possess them I shall be happy to supply you with many more.

My health is better than it was, but I am not robust.6 My work is more arduous than ever but I shall consider it a relief and a recreation to make any additional observations that you may desire.

With profound respect | I am, | My dear Sir, | Yours very gratefully and faithfully | J. Crichton-Browne

C. Darwin Esq. | &c &c

CD annotations

3.2 for … Reports— 3.3] cross in margin blue crayon
3.3 Asylum Medical] underl blue crayon
4.1 By … you. 4.2] cross in margin blue crayon
4.2 I shall … more. 4.4] cross in margin blue crayon


CD had acknowledged Crichton-Browne in Expression as an ‘excellent observer’ whose assistance in providing notes and suggestions could hardly be overestimated (Expression, p. 14), and was anxious to know whether the presentation copy sent to him had arrived (see letter to James Crichton-Browne, 28 February [1873] and n 4, and Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix VI).
CD discussed hereditary movements in Expression, pp. 183–4, and acknowledged Crichton-Browne for information concerning a family with the hereditary ability to contract the muscles of the forehead into a simulated expression of grief (see also Correspondence vol. 18, letter from James Crichton-Browne, [6 June 1870] and n. 4). No further notes on the subject from Crichton-Browne have been found.
Henry Maudsley was one of the editors of the Journal of Mental Science (ODNB); a hostile review of Expression by Thomas Claye Shaw, medical superintendent of the Metropolitan Asylum, Leavesden, Hertfordshire (Medical directory 1873), appeared in the April 1873 issue (Journal of Mental Science n.s. 49 (1873): 93–122).
In his paper on the use of nitrite of amyl in the treatment of epilepsy, Crichton-Browne discussed its power to induce blushing, an effect he had originally investigated on CD’s behalf (Expression, pp. 325–6; Crichton-Browne 1873, p. 153).
The photographs are probably some or all of a group now in DAR 53.1: A9–39. On an envelope preserved with them, CD wrote, ‘Photographs of the Insane from Dr J. Crichton Browne | March 4th 1873 | Perhaps of no direct use— | The insane ears’ (DAR 53.1: A8). DAR 53.1: A18 is a partial side view of a man’s head annotated ‘The Insane Ear’ in Crichton-Browne’s hand (see p. 100); with the exception of DAR 53.1: A17, all the photographs in this group are mounted on card with a stamp in red or black on the reverse that reads, ‘West Riding Asylum | Wakefield | Photographic Studio’. A24 may have been mounted with the stamp under the photograph.


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

Crichton-Browne, James. 1873. Nitrite of amyl in epilepsy. West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports 3: 153–74.

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

Medical directory: The London medical directory … every physician, surgeon, and general practitioner resident in London. London: C. Mitchell. 1845. The London and provincial medical directory. London: John Churchill. 1848–60. The London & provincial medical directory, inclusive of the medical directory for Scotland, and the medical directory for Ireland, and general medical register. London: John Churchill. 1861–9. The medical directory … including the London and provincial medical directory, the medical directory for Scotland, the medical directory for Ireland. London: J. & A. Churchill. 1870–1905.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


Thanks for Expression. Will write paper on it in next [July] West Riding Asylum Medical Report.

Sends photos of lunatics;

will send notes corroborative of CD’s views, including some on "hereditarily transmitted movements".

Letter details

Letter no.
James Crichton-Browne
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
West Riding Asylum, Wakefield
Source of text
DAR 161: 318
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8795,” accessed on 25 September 2021,

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