RECORD: Mason, James, 1885. [Review of Descent and Expression]. Music as medicine.Leisure Hour Monthly Library, vol. 34: 402.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 7.2021. RN1

[page] 183


Music often causes tears to start into the eyes, and of this effect an explanation has been attempted by the late Mr. Darwin. In his "Descent of Man" he tries to show that music "has a wonderful power of recalling in a vague and indefinite manner those strong emotions which were felt during long past ages, when, as is probable, our early progenitors courted each other by the aid of vocal tones."

Having thus given the fascinations of the art a prehistoric basis, he remarks in his "Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," that, "as several of our strongest emotions-grief, great joy, love, and sympathy-lead to the free secretion of tears, it is not surprising that music should be apt to cause our eyes to become suffused with tears, especially when we are already softened by any of the tenderer feelings."

Another peculiar effect is referred to by Mr. Darwin in the same work-namely, the thrill or slight shiver which runs down the backbone and limbs of many persons when they are powerfully affected by music. "We know," he says, that every strong sensation, emotion, or excitement –extreme pain, rage, terror, joy, or the passion of love –all have a special tendency to cause the muscles to tremble." Now, the thrill in question "seems to bear the same relation to the above trembling of the body as a slight suffusion of tears from the power of music does to weeping from any strong and real emotion."

What strikingly affects us in health may in sickness have a still more marked influence. We must make all allowance for exaggeration, and may grant, too, that a violin and a tambourine would be handy instruments in the hands of charlatans; but we are safe in saying that the curative powers of music deserve still further study. Perhaps the music of the future may do good work in driving disease without the bounds of society, and in this way perform greater wonders than Orpheus when he tamed lions and tigers with the sweet sounds of his lyre and the charms of his voice.


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

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