RECORD: S. 1873. Bain's review of "Darwin on expression". Nature (6 November): 2-3.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed and corrected by John van Wyhe 12.2005. RN1

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Review of "Darwin on Expression." Being a Postscript to "The Senses and the Intellect." By Alexander Bain, LL.D., Professor of Logic in the University of Aberdeen. (Longmans, Green, and Co.)

THERE is nothing in this Postscript to "The Senses and the Intellect" so important to psychology as the declaration and announcement contained in the following sentences: "In the present volume I have not made use of the principle of Evolution to explain either the complex Feelings or the complex Intellectual powers. I believe, however, that there is much to be said in behalf of the principle for both applications. In the third edition of 'The Emotions and the Will,' now in preparation, I intend to discuss it at full length." No man can claim to have done more for the study of psychology than Prof. Bain; and in now recognising the principle of evolution and in incorporating it with his system, he is doing the science the greatest possible service. This is more than in some quarters was ever hoped from Prof. Bain, and more than was ever feared by those of his disciples who—after the manner of disciples—have clung most tenaciously to the defects of his system.

Though accepting the principle of evolution, Prof. Bain does not, it would seem, always look at phenomena from the evolutionist's point of view, as we understand it. Thus, in speaking of the large extent to which Mr. Darwin uses the principle of inheritance to account for the phenomena of expression, he says;—"Wielding an instrument of such flexibility and range as the inheritance of acquired powers, a theorist can afford to dispense with the exhaustive consideration of what may be clue to the primitive mechanism of the system; he is even tempted to slight the primitive capabilities, just as the disbeliever in evolution is apt to stretch a point in favour of these original capabilities." But whence the so-called "primitive mechanism" which is here made separate and distinct from, set over against the products of inheritance? is not the "primitive mechanism" the "original capabilities" of every creature the results of evolution?

Mr. Darwin is accused of not having given sufficient attention to "spontaneity of movements," which, according to Prof. Bain, "is a great fact of the constitution." Now it may be that a "readiness to pass into movement, in the absence of all stimulation whatever" is a fact of the constitution; but we fail to see that Prof. Bain has

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given any proof that such is the case. He says:—"We may never in our waking hours be wholly free from the stimulation of the senses, but in the exuberance of nervous power, our activity is out of all proportion to the actual solicitation of the feelings." What is the right proportion of activity to feeling? the proportion that Prof. Bain takes as his standard by which to discover that at times our activity is out of all proportion to feeling. Is not the simple and the whole fact this, that the amount of bodily movement that goes along with a given amount of feeling is different in each individual, and in the same individual from hour to hour. He continues:— "The gesticulations and the carols of young and active animals are mere overflow of nervous energy; and although they are very apt to concur with pleasing emotion, they have an independent source? their origin is more physical than mental." Is not the origin not of these only, but of all movements, entirely physical, though it is also a fact that some movements, and certainly these among the number, concur with pleasing emotion? Mr. Darwin has instanced the frisking of a horse when turned into an open field, as an example of joyful expression; on which it is remarked, this "is, almost pure spontaneity it does not necessarily express joy or pleasure at all. How curious! One must really be a psychologist before he can see common things in such an uncommon light. Perhaps no movement necessarily expresses any state of consciousness whatever: but no ploughboy, we venture to think, ever doubted that the frisking of his horse, when he turned it loose in the field, was an expression of delight. But, then, ploughboys have no theories about spontaneous activity. All mental states correspond to certain physical conditions; that "the nerve-centres and the muscles shall be fresh and vigorous" is the physical condition of much bodily activity, and at the same time of the pleasure that goes along therewith. Granting that "the kitten is not seriously in love with a worsted ball," it thoroughly enjoys the sport nevertheless. Its amusement being mere play does not preclude its being real pleasure. And if our memories can be trusted, the worsted balls of our childhood were far more delightful than the gold and substantial realities we seriously love in our old age. S.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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