RECORD: Bain, Alexander. 1904. [Recollections and an 1873 letter of Darwin]. Autobiography. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 7.2020. RN1

NOTE: Introduction by Christine Chua: Alexander Bain was a Scottish philosopher and educationist. His autobiography was completed in 1890. In 1873, Bain reviewed Darwin's Expression of the emotions (A251). The letter by Darwin was published in Life and letters, vol. 3.

[page] 249


Being repeatedly troubled with indigestion, I paid occasional visits, during the Richmond stay, to Dr. Lane's hydropathic establishment at Moorpark, Farnham, and received there the greatest benefit, as well as kindness and attention. In the

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beginning of 1857, I was the means of recommending Charles Darwin to visit the establishment, and happened to spend a fortnight there in his company. As we generally walked together after the baths, I had opportunities of hearing of the progress of his researches, and the approaching publication of the Origin of Species. He found so much benefit from the treatment under Dr. Lane that he frequently returned for a fortnight's stay at a time; but I never met him again.

[page] 256

Winter, 1859-60.

My plan of work to follow the Emotions was to take up the subject of Character, to be discussed

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according to the psychological views set forth in my two volumes. This was begun at once, and carried on continuously during 1859 and next year.


This visit was rendered notable by my being taken by [John] Grote to luncheon at Trinity Lodge with Dr. Whewell. The main incident was that, during luncheon, Adam Sedgwick, the old geologist, came in in a state of great excitement, and addressed Whewell to this effect:

"Well, Master, what do you think I've been doing all the morning? Reading Darwin's new book on the Origin of Species that has just come into my hands."

He, thereupon, indulged in a vehement diatribe against Darwin—in which Whewell concurred—for setting aside the Creator

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in accounting for the Universe. Most curious and remarkable was his defiance of Darwin's evolution to bring about the races of animals and man as we find them—remarking with vehemence, "I'll give you the Bank of Eternity to draw upon". He was, of course, unaware at that time of the limits put by physical authorities upon the age of the solar system. Sedgwick had made himself conspicuous by showing up the well-known "Vestiges" in the Quarterly Review; and he now felt much in the same mood with Darwin.


[page] 318

This year saw the commencement of the revision of the third edition of The Emotions and the Will.

Darwin's Expression of the Emotions came out in the Autumn of 1872, and I immediately perused and analyzed it. This was followed by a very full review of the whole which was put into print and appended to the current (third) edition of the Senses. Darwin had gone carefully into the minutest details of expression, comparing the modes throughout the accessible races of mankind.

The problem herein presented is somewhat complex, consisting of matters that are fairly within our range, and others that are beyond our reach; it being a necessary clearance of our way to separate the one from the other. Darwin has, seemingly, failed to draw the proper line—as I wish to show.

The accessible part of the inquiry consists in assigning to our various emotional states—pleasurable and painful— the prevailing modes of manifestation or expression. So great is the general uniformity throughout mankind, that this attempt is fairly within our province—indeed, it is roughly appreciated and understood by every one, and the

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knowledge is acted on for a variety of purposes. When a scientific treatment is superadded, it means a more careful analysis of our emotional states, on the one hand, and of our organs of expression, on the other, together with a precise rendering of their characteristic modes. We may, moreover, endeavour to generalize—to reduce to general laws—the different manifestations, showing a common bond running through the great variety of details. This applies not merely to pleasures and pains, as such, but to emotional forms that have distinctive characters—such as the exultation of victory, the stare of astonishment, the prostration of fear, and so on. General laws of mind and body are sought with a view to comprehend the leading kinds of emotion.

While Darwin has applied successfully this form of legitimate research, he has ventured a step farther, and involved himself in speculations that pass beyond our grasp. This is more particularly shown in his endeavouring to account for the characteristic movements of the eyes and mouth in expressing emotional states. He would fain ascertain how these peculiar movements first began ; what were the generating causes of the opposing attitudes of the mouth in pleasure and in pain, in love and in anger. The hypothesis framed by him for this end must be pronounced a total failure. It halts in the special point, if in no other, that it presumes to give priority to our volitional framework over emotional expression strictly so called. We assume, and Darwin would admit as much, that the volitional and the emotional movements are distinct facts of our constitution; while to say which was prior, which could be given as the producing cause of the other, is entirely beyond us. It is one of those problems of beginnings that we are never likely to solve. What Darwin endeavours to account for, in the characteristic movements and attitudes of the face, must be simply assumed ; its origin being beyond our power to reach.

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It was on revising the criticism appended to the Senses in 1873, for the edition of 1894, that the illegitimacy of Darwin's bolder speculations became more and more apparent. Our attitude now to such matters is of the same nature as the attempt to account for the mental development of infancy. A certain amount of the absolutely inscrutable has to be taken into account, and, if possible, estimated, so as to draw the line between what is really primitive and what is taken on from the exercise of the organs and contact with the world of inanimate nature and living beings. This is, evidently, the problem of infancy, in its two essentially distinct parts. It is the second that is within our reach—we can attack it by actual observations; the other is pure inference from it as a datum.

The criticism in question overhauled Darwin's positions point by point, and no material change was made upon it in the reprint. Darwin himself admitted the general fairness of the review, and his letter [1] in reply is as follows :—

"Down, Beckenham, Kent,

"9th Oct., 1873.


"I am particularly obliged to you for having sent me your essay [2]. Your criticisms are all written in a quite fair spirit, and indeed no one who knows you or your works would expect anything else. What you say about the vagueness of what I have called the direct action of the nervous system is perfectly just: I felt it so at the time, and even more of late. I confess that I have never been able fully to grasp your principle of spontaneity, as well as some other of your points, so as to apply them to special cases. But as we look at everything from different points of view, it is not likely that we should agree closely.

"I have been greatly pleased by what you say about the crying expression and about blushing. Did you read a review in a late Edin.? It was magnificently contemptuous towards myself and many others.

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"I retain a very pleasant recollection of our sojourn together at that delightful place, Moor Park.

"With my renewed thanks,

"I remain, my dear sir,

"Yours sincerely,

"Ch. Darwin."


[1] CUL-DAR143.27.

[2] Darwin's annotated copy is in CUL-DAR53.1.B51-B61. Another copy is transcribed and available via the Supplementary works page.

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