RECORD: Darwin C. R. 1881. [Letter on the expression of the eye]. In Plumptre, C. J. King’s College lectures on elocution: or, The physiology and culture of voice and speech, and the expression of the emotions by language, countenance, and gesture… New ed. London: Trübner, pp. 290-1.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 3.2008. RN1


[page] 290

Undoubtedly the eyelids, eyebrows, and mouth are most powerful adjuncts in the expression of the emotions; but I am certainly disposed, from the observations I have made, to come to the conclusion that the eyes themselves do grow bright or dull, under the influence of certain emotions, that they do sparkle in mirth or melt in pity. On this point I was anxious to obtain the opinion of so distinguished a naturalist and so careful and accurate an observer as Mr. Darwin, and I accordingly wrote to him on the subject, saying that I ventured to differ from Delsarte, and should like much to know whether Mr. Darwin's views on this point were in accordance with mine or not. In compliance with my request, Mr. Darwin favoured me at once with an answer, which I give in his own words:—

"Down, Beckenham, Kent.

"MY DEAR SIR,1—I thank you for your very obliging letter, and for the information in regard to Delsarte's2 views respecting the eyes. Although it is very easy to deceive one's self on such a point, yet after reading over

1 Charles John Plumptre (1818-1887), barrister and writer on elocution.

2 François Delsarte (1811-1871), French musician and dramatic elocution teacher who claimed that the eyes alone could not reveal specific emotions only the object of them.

[page] 291

what I have said, I cannot think that we are in error. Surely the different appearance of the eyes in hectic fever, and during great exhaustion to which Dr. Piderit1 alludes, cannot be accounted for simply by the position of eyelids and eyebrows. Could you not observe the eyes of some one looking grave, and then smiling? I will endeavour to do so.

"I remain, my dear Sir,

"Yours faithfully,

"CHARLES DARWIN."

"August 19th.

"C. J. PLUMPTRE, ESQ.

* Since this letter was written, now more than four years ago, Mr. Darwin has favoured me with another communication, stating that further observation has in no way altered his opinion.

1 Theodor Piderit (1826-1912), German physician who published on physiognomy. Darwin frequently cited Piderit 1867 in Expression.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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