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THE EXPRESSION OF THE

EMOTIONS IN MAN AND ANIMALS

CHAPTER VI.

SPECIAL EXPRESSIONS OF MAN: SUFFERING AND WEEPING.

The screaming and weeping Of infants--Forms of features--Age at which weeping commences--The effects of habitual restraint on weeping--Sobbing--Cause of the contraction of the muscles round the eyes during screaming--Cause of the secretion of tears.

 

IN this and the following chapters the expressions exhibited by Man under various states of the mind will be described and explained, as far as lies in my power. My observations will be arranged according to the order which I have found the most convenient; and this will generally lead to opposite emotions and sensations succeeding each other.

Suffering of the body and mind: weeping.--I have already described in sufficient detail, in the third chapter, the signs of extreme pain, as shown by screams or groans, with the writhing of the whole body and the teeth clenched or ground together. These signs are often accompanied or followed by profuse sweating, pallor, trembling, utter prostration, or faintness. No suffering is greater than that from extreme fear or horror, but here a distinct emotion comes into play, and will be elsewhere considered. Prolonged suffering, especially of the mind, passes into low spirits, grief, dejection, and despair, and these states will be the subject of the following chapter. Here I shall almost confine myself to weeping or crying, more especially in children.

Infants, when suffering even slight pain, moderate hunger, or discomfort, utter violent and prolonged screams. Whilst thus screaming their eyes are firmly closed, so that the skin round them is wrinkled, and the forehead contracted into a frown. The mouth is widely opened with the lips retracted in a peculiar manner, which causes it to assume a squarish form; the gums or teeth being more or less exposed. The breath is inhaled almost spasmodically. It is easy to observe infants whilst screaming; but I have found photographs made by the instantaneous process the best means for observation, as allowing more deliberation. I have collected twelve, most of them made purposely for me; and they all exhibit the same general characteristics. I have, therefore, had six of them[1] (Plate I.) reproduced by the heliotype process.

The firm closing of the eyelids and consequent compression of the eyeball,--and this is a most important element in various expressions,--serves to protect the eyes from becoming too much gorged with blood, as will presently be explained in detail. With respect to the order in which the several muscles contract in firmly compressing the eyes, I am indebted to Dr. Langstaff, of Southampton, for some observations, which I have since repeated. The best plan for observing the order is to make a person first raise his eyebrows, and this produces transverse wrinkles across the forehead; and then very gradually to contract all the muscles round the elves with as much force as possible. The reader who is unacquainted with the anatomy of the face, ought to refer to p. 24, and look at the woodcuts 1 to 3. The corrugators of the brow (corrugator supercilii) seem to be the first muscles to contract; and these draw the eyebrows downwards and inwards towards the base of the nose, causing vertical furrows, that is a frown, to appear between the eyebrows; at the same time they cause the disappearance of the transverse wrinkles across the forehead. The orbicular muscles contract almost simultaneously with the corrugators, and produce wrinkles all round the eyes; they appear, however, to be enabled to contract with greater force, as soon as the contraction of the corrugators has given them some support. Lastly, the pyramidal muscles of the nose contract; and these draw the eyebrows and the skin of the forehead still lower down, producing short transverse wrinkles across the base of the nose.[2] For the sake of brevity these muscles will generally be spoken of as the orbiculars, or as those surrounding the eyes.  

[1] The best photographs in my collection are by Mr. Rejlander, of Victoria Street, London, and by Herr Kindermann, of Hamburg. Figs. 1, 3, 4, and 6 are by the former; and figs. 2 and 5, by the latter gentleman. Fig. 6 is given to show moderate crying in an older child.

When these muscles are strongly contracted, those running to the upper lip[3] likewise contract and raise the upper lip. This might have been expected from the manner in which at least one of them, the malaris, is connected with the orbiculars. Any one who will gradually contract the muscles round his eyes, will feel, as he increases the force, that his upper lip and the wings of his nose (which are partly acted on by one of the same muscles) are almost always a little drawn up. If he keeps his mouth firmly shut whilst contracting the muscles round the eyes, and then suddenly relaxes his lips, he will feel that the pressure on his eyes immediately increases. So again when a person on a bright, glaring day wishes to look at a distant object, but is compelled partially to close his eyelids, the upper lip may almost always be observed to be somewhat raised. The mouths of some very short-sighted persons, who are forced habitually to reduce the aperture of their eyes, wear from this same reason a grinning expression.  

[2] Henle (`Handbuch d. Syst. Anat. 1858, B. i. s. 139) agrees with Duchenne that this is the effect of the contraction of the pyramidalis nasi.

[3] These consist of the levator labii superioris alaeque nasi, the levator labii proprius, the malaris, and the zygomaticus minor, or little zygomatic. This latter muscle runs parallel to and above the great zygomatic, and is attached to the outer part of the upper lip. It is represented in fig. 2 (I. p. 24), but not in figs. 1 and 3. Dr. Duchenne first showed (`Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine,' Album, 1862, p. 39) the importance of the contraction of this muscle in the shape assumed by the features in crying. Henle considers the above-named muscles (excepting the malaris) as subdivisions of the quadratus labii superioris.

The raising of the upper lip draws upwards the flesh of the upper parts of the cheeks, and produces a strongly marked fold on each cheek,--the naso-labial fold,--which runs from near the wings of the nostrils to the corners of the mouth and below them. This fold or furrow may be seen in all the photographs, and is very characteristic of the expression of a crying child; though a nearly similar fold is produced in the act of laughing or Smiling.[4]  

[4] Although Dr. Duchenne has so carefully studied the contraction of the different muscles during the act of crying, and the furrows on the face thus produced, there seems to be something incomplete in his account; but what this is I cannot say. He has given a figure (Album, fig. 48) in which one half of the face is made, by galvanizing the proper muscles, to smile; whilst the other half is similarly made to begin crying. Almost all those (viz. nineteen out of twenty-one persons) to whom I showed the smiling half of the face instantly recognized the expression; but, with respect to the other half, only six persons out of twenty-one recognized it,--that is, if we accept such terms as "grief," "misery," "annoyance," as correct;--whereas, fifteen persons were ludicrously mistaken; some of them saying the face expressed "fun," "satisfaction," "cunning," "disgust," &c. We may infer from this that there is something wrong in the expression. Some of the fifteen persons may, however, have been partly misled by not expecting to see an old man crying, and by tears not being secreted. With respect to another figure by Dr. Duchenne (fig. 49), in which the muscles of half the face are galvanized in order to represent a man beginning to cry, with the eyebrow on the same side rendered oblique, which is characteristic of misery, the expression was recognized by a greater proportional number of persons. Out of twenty-three persons, fourteen answered correctly, "sorrow," "distress," "grief," "just going to cry," "endurance of pain," &c. On the other hand, nine persons either could form no opinion or were entirely wrong, answering, "cunning leer," "jocund," "looking at an intense light," "looking at a distant object," &c.

As the upper lip is much drawn up during the act of screaming, in the manner just explained, the depressor muscles of the angles of the mouth (see K in woodcuts 1 and 2) are strongly contracted in order to keep the mouth widely open, so that a full volume of sound may be poured forth. The action of these opposed muscles, above and below, tends to give to the mouth an oblong, almost squarish outline, as may be seen in the accompanying photographs. An excellent observer,[5] in describing a baby crying whilst being fed, says, "it made its mouth like a square, and let the porridge run out at all four corners." I believe, but we shall return to this point in a future chapter, that the depressor muscles of the angles of the mouth are less under the separate control of the will than the adjoining muscles; so that if a young child is only doubtfully inclined to cry, this muscle is generally the first to contract, and is the last to cease contracting. When older children commence crying, the muscles which run to the upper lip are often the first to contract; and this may perhaps be due to older children not having so strong a tendency to scream loudly, and consequently to keep their mouths widely open; so that the above-named depressor muscles are not brought into such strong action.    

[5] Mrs. Gaskell, `Mary Barton,' new edit. p. 84.

With one of my own infants, from his eighth day and for some time afterwards, I often observed that the first sign of a screaming-fit, when it could be observed coming on gradually, was a little frown, owing to the contraction of the corrugators of the brows; the capillaries of the naked head and face becoming at the same time reddened with blood. As soon as the screaming-fit actually began, all the muscles round the eyes were strongly contracted, and the mouth widely opened in the manlier above described; so that at this early period the features assumed the same form as at a more advanced age.

Dr. Piderit[6] lays great stress on the contraction of certain muscles which draw down the nose and narrow the nostrils, as eminently characteristic of a crying expression. The depressores anguli oris, as we have just seen, are usually contracted at the same time, and they indirectly tend, according to Dr. Duchenne, to act in this same manner on the nose. With children having bad colds a similar pinched appearance of the nose may be noticed, which is at least partly due, as remarked to me by Dr. Langstaff, to their constant snuffling, and the consequent pressure of the atmosphere on the two sides. The purpose of this contraction of the nostrils by children having bad colds, or whilst crying, seems to be to cheek the downward flow of the mucus and tears, and to prevent these fluids spreading over the upper lip.

After a prolonged and severe screaming-fit, the scalp, face, and eyes are reddened, owing to the return of the blood from the head having been impeded by the violent expiratory efforts; but the redness of the stimulated eyes is chiefly due to the copious effusion of tears. The various muscles of the face which have been strongly contracted, still twitch a little, and the upper lip is still slightly drawn up or everted,[7] with the corners of the mouth still a little drawn downwards. I have myself felt, and have observed in other grown-up persons, that when tears are restrained with difficulty, as in reading a pathetic story, it is almost impossible to prevent the various muscles. which with young children are brought into strong action during their screaming-fits, from slightly twitching or trembling.  

[6] `Mimik und Physiognomik,' 1867, s. 102. Duchenne, Mecanisme de la Phys. Humaine, Album, p. 34.

Infants whilst young do not shed tears or weep, as is well known to nurses and medical men. This circumstance is not exclusively due to the lacrymal glands being as yet incapable of secreting tears. I first noticed this fact from having accidentally brushed with the cuff of my coat the open eye of one of my infants, when seventy-seven days old, causing this eye to water freely; and though the child screamed violently, the other eye remained dry, or was only slightly suffused with tears. A similar slight effusion occurred ten days previously in both eyes during a screaming-fit. The tears did not run over the eyelids and roll down the cheeks of this child, whilst screaming badly, when 122 days old. This first happened 17 days later, at the age of 139 days. A few other children have been observed for me, and the period of free weeping appears to be very variable. In one case, the eyes became slightly suffused at the age of only 20 days; in another, at 62 days. With two other children, the tears did NOT run down the face at the ages of 84 and 110 days; but in a third child they did run down at the age of 104 days. In one instance, as I was positively assured, tears ran down at the unusually early age of 42 days. It would appear as if the lacrymal glands required some practice in the individual before they are easily excited into action, in somewhat the same manner as various inherited consensual movements and tastes require some exercise before they are fixed and perfected. This is all the more likely with a habit like weeping, which must have been acquired since the period when man branched off from the common progenitor of the genus Homo and of the non-weeping anthropomorphous apes.  

[7] Dr. Duchenne makes this remark, ibid. p. 39.

The fact of tears not being shed at a very early age from pain or any mental emotion is remarkable, as, later in life, no expression is more general or more strongly marked than weeping. When the habit has once been acquired by an infant, it expresses in the clearest manner suffering of all kinds, both bodily pain and mental distress, even though accompanied by other emotions, such as fear or rage. The character of the crying, however, changes at a very early age, as I noticed in my own infants,--the passionate cry differing from that of grief. A lady informs me that her child, nine months old, when in a passion screams loudly, but does not weep; tears, however, are shed when she is punished by her chair being turned with its back to the table. This difference may perhaps be attributed to weeping being restrained, as we shall immediately see, at a more advanced age, under most circumstances excepting grief; and to the influence of such restraint being transmitted to an earlier period of life, than that at which it was first practised.

With adults, especially of the male sex, weeping soon ceases to be caused by, or to express, bodily pain. This may be accounted for by its being thought weak and unmanly by men, both of civilized and barbarous races, to exhibit bodily pain by any outward sign. With this exception, savages weep copiously from very slight causes, of which fact Sir J. Lubbock[8] has collected instances. A New Zealand chief "cried like a child because the sailors spoilt his favourite cloak by powdering it with flour." I saw in Tierra del Fuego a native who had lately lost a brother, and who alternately cried with hysterical violence, and laughed heartily at anything which amused him. With the civilized nations of Europe there is also much difference in the frequency of weeping. Englishmen rarely cry, except under the pressure of the acutest grief; whereas in some parts of the Continent the men shed tears much more readily and freely.

The insane notoriously give way to all their emotions with little or no restraint; and I am informed by Dr. J. Crichton Browne, that nothing is more characteristic of simple melancholia, even in the male sex, than a tendency to weep on the slightest occasions, or from no cause. They also weep disproportionately on the occurrence of any real cause of grief. The length of time during which some patients weep is astonishing, as well as the amount of tears which they shed. One melancholic girl wept for a whole day, and afterwards confessed to Dr. Browne, that it was because she remembered that she had once shaved off her eyebrows to promote their growth. Many patients in the asylum sit for a long time rocking themselves backwards and forwards; "and if spoken to, they stop their movements, purse up their eyes, depress the corners of the mouth, and burst out crying." In some of these cases, the being spoken to or kindly greeted appears to suggest some fanciful and sorrowful notion; but in other cases an effort of any kind excites weeping, independently of any sorrowful idea. Patients suffering from acute mania likewise have paroxysms of violent crying or blubbering, in the midst of their incoherent ravings. We must not, however, lay too much stress on the copious shedding of tears by the insane, as being due to the lack of all restraint; for certain brain-diseases, as hemiplegia, brain-wasting, and senile decay, have a special tendency to induce weeping. Weeping is common in the insane, even after a complete state of fatuity has been reached and the power of speech lost. Persons born idiotic likewise weep;[9] but it is said that this is not the case with cretins.  

[8] `The Origin of Civilization,' 1870, p. 355.

Weeping seems to be the primary and natural expression, as we see in children, of suffering of any kind, whether bodily pain short of extreme agony, or mental distress. But the foregoing facts and common experience show us that a frequently repeated effort to restrain weeping, in association with certain states of the mind, does much in checking the habit. On the other hand, it appears that the power of weeping can be increased through habit; thus the Rev. R. Taylor,[10] who long resided in New Zealand, asserts that the women can voluntarily shed tears in abundance; they meet for this purpose to mourn for the dead, and they take pride in crying "in the most affecting manner."

A single effort of repression brought to bear on the lacrymal glands does little, and indeed seems often to lead to an opposite result. An old and experienced physician told me that he had always found that the only means to check the occasional bitter weeping of ladies who consulted him, and who themselves wished to desist, was earnestly to beg them not to try, and to assure them that nothing would relieve them so much as prolonged and copious crying.  

[9] See, for instance, Mr. Marshall's account of an idiot in Philosoph. Transact. 1864, p. 526. With respect to cretins, see Dr. Piderit, `Mimik und Physiognomik,' 1867, s. 61.

[10] `New Zealand and its Inhabitants,' 1855, p. 175.

The screaming of infants consists of prolonged expirations, with short and rapid, almost spasmodic inspirations, followed at a somewhat more advanced age by sobbing. According to Gratiolet,[11] the glottis is chiefly affected during the act of sobbing. This sound is heard "at the moment when the inspiration conquers the resistance of the glottis, and the air rushes into the chest." But the whole act of respiration is likewise spasmodic and violent. The shoulders are at the same time generally raised, as by this movement respiration is rendered easier. With one of my infants, when seventy-seven days old, the inspirations were so rapid and strong that they approached in character to sobbing; when 138 days old I first noticed distinct sobbing, which subsequently followed every bad crying-fit. The respiratory movements are partly voluntary and partly involuntary, and I apprehend that sobbing is at least in part due to children having some power to command after early infancy their vocal organs and to stop their screams, but from having less power over their respiratory muscles, these continue for a time to act in an involuntary or spasmodic manner, after having been brought into violent action. Sobbing seems to be peculiar to the human species; for the keepers in the Zoological Gardens assure me that they have never heard a sob from any kind of monkey; though monkeys often scream loudly whilst being chased and caught, and then pant for a long time. We thus see that there is a close analogy between sobbing and the free shedding of tears; for with children, sobbing does not commence during early infancy, but afterwards comes on rather suddenly and then follows every bad crying-fit, until the habit is checked with advancing years.  

[11] `De la Physionomie,' 1865, p. 126.

On the cause of the contraction of the muscles round the eyes during screaming--We have seen that infants and young children, whilst screaming, invariably close their eyes firmly, by the contraction of the surrounding muscles, so that the skin becomes wrinkled all around. With older children, and even with adults, whenever there is violent and unrestrained crying, a tendency to the contraction of these same muscles may be observed; though this is often checked in order not to interfere with vision.

Sir C. Bell explains[12] this action in the following manner:--"During every violent act of expiration, whether in hearty laughter, weeping, coughing, or sneezing, the eyeball is firmly compressed by the fibres of the orbicularis; and this is a provision for supporting and defending the vascular system of the interior of the eye from a retrograde impulse communicated to the blood in the veins at that time. When we contract the chest and expel the air, there is a retardation of the blood in the veins of the neck and head; and in the more powerful acts of expulsion, the blood not only distends the vessels, but is even regurgitated into the minute branches. Were the eye not properly compressed at that time, and a resistance given to the shock, irreparable injury might be inflicted on the delicate textures of the interior of the eye." He further adds, "If we separate the eyelids of a child to examine the eye, while it cries and struggles with passion, by taking off the natural support to the vascular system of the eye, and means of guarding it against the rush of blood then occurring, the conjunctiva becomes suddenly filled with blood, and the eyelids everted."  

[12] `The Anatomy of Expression,' 1844, p. 106. See also his paper in the `Philosophical Transactions,' 1822, p. 284, ibid. 1823, pp. 166 and 289. Also `The Nervous System of the Human Body,' 3rd edit. 1836, p. 175.

Not only are the muscles round the eyes strongly contracted, as Sir C. Bell states and as I have often observed, during screaming, loud laughter, coughing, and sneezing, but during several other analogous actions. A man contracts these muscles when he violently blows his nose. I asked one of my boys to shout as loudly as he possibly could, and as soon as he began, he firmly contracted his orbicular muscles; I observed this repeatedly, and on asking him why he had every time so firmly closed his eyes, I found that he was quite unaware of the fact: he had acted instinctively or unconsciously.

It is not necessary, in order to lead to the contraction of these muscles, that air should actually be expelled from the chest; it suffices that the muscles of the chest and abdomen should contract with great force, whilst by the closure of the glottis no air escapes. In violent vomiting or retching the diaphragm is made to descend by the chest being filled with air; it is then held in this position by the closure of the glottis, "as well as by the contraction of its own fibres."[13] The abdominal muscles now contract strongly upon the stomach, its proper muscles likewise contracting, and the contents are thus ejected. During each effort of vomiting "the head becomes greatly congested, so that the features are red and swollen, and the large veins of the face and temples visibly dilated." At the same time, as I know from observation, the muscles round the eyes are strongly contracted. This is likewise the case when the abdominal muscles act downwards with unusual force in expelling the contents of the intestinal canal.  

[13] See Dr. Brinton's account of the act of vomiting, in Todd's Cyclop. of Anatomy and Physiology, 1859, vol. v. Supplement, p. 318.

The greatest exertion of the muscles of the body, if those of the chest are not brought into strong action in expelling or compressing the air within the lungs, does not lead to the contraction of the muscles round the eyes. I have observed my sons using great force in gymnastic exercises, as in repeatedly raising their suspended bodies by their arms alone, and in lifting heavy weights from the ground, but there was hardly any trace of contraction in the muscles round the eyes.

As the contraction of these muscles for the protection of the eyes during violent expiration is indirectly, as we shall hereafter see, a fundamental element in several of our most important expressions, I was extremely anxious to ascertain how far Sir C. Bell's view could be substantiated. Professor Donders, of Utrecht,[14] well known as one of the highest authorities in Europe on vision and on the structure of the eye, has most kindly undertaken for me this investigation with the aid of the many ingenious mechanisms of modern science, and has published the results.[15] He shows that during violent expiration the external, the intra-ocular, and the retro-ocular vessels of the eye are all affected in two ways, namely by the increased pressure of the blood in the arteries, and by the return of the blood in the veins being impeded. It is, therefore, certain that both the arteries and the veins of the eye are more or less distended during violent expiration. The evidence in detail may be found in Professor Donders' valuable memoir. We see the effects on the veins of the head, in their prominence, and in the purple colour of the face of a man who coughs violently from being half choked. I may mention, on the same authority, that the whole eye certainly advances a little during each violent expiration. This is due to the dilatation of the retro-ocular vessels, and might have been expected from the intimate connection of the eye and brain; the brain being known to rise and fall with each respiration, when a portion of the skull has been removed; and as may be seen along the unclosed sutures of infants' heads. This also, I presume, is the reason that the eyes of a strangled man appear as if they were starting from their sockets.  

[14] I am greatly indebted to Mr. Bowman for having introduced me to Prof. Donders, and for his aid in persuading this great physiologist to undertake the investigation of the present subject. I am likewise much indebted to Mr. Bowman for having given me, with the utmost kindness, information on many points.

[15] This memoir first appeared in the `Nederlandsch Archief voor Genees en Natuurkiinde,' Deel 5, 1870. It has been translated by Dr. W. D. Moore, under the title of "On the Action of the Eyelids in determination of Blood from expiratory effort," in `Archives of Medicine,' edited by Dr. L. S. Beale, 1870, vol. v. p. 20.

With respect to the protection of the eye during violent expiratory efforts by the pressure of the eyelids, Professor Donders concludes from his various observations that this action certainly limits or entirely removes the dilatation of the vessels.[16] At such times, he adds, we not unfrequently see the hand involuntarily laid upon the eyelids, as if the better to support and defend the eyeball.    

[16] Prof. Donders remarks (ibid. p. 28), that, "After injury to the eye, after operations, and in some forms of internal inflammation, we attach great value to the uniform support of the closed eyelids, and we increase this in many instances by the application of a bandage. In both cases we carefully endeavour to avoid great expiratory pressure, the disadvantage of which is well known." Mr. Bowman informs me that in the excessive photophobia, accompanying what is called scrofulous ophthalmia in children, when the light is so very painful that during weeks or months it is constantly excluded by the most forcible closure of the lids, he has often been struck on opening the lids by the paleness of the eye,-- not an unnatural paleness, but an absence of the redness that might have been expected when the surface is somewhat inflamed, as is then usually the case; and this paleness he is inclined to attribute to the forcible closure of the eyelids.

Nevertheless much evidence cannot at present be advanced to prove that the eye actually suffers injury from the want of support during violent expiration; but there is some. It is "a fact that forcible expiratory efforts in violent coughing or vomiting, and especially in sneezing, sometimes give rise to ruptures of the little (external) vessels" of the eye.[17] With respect to the internal vessels, Dr. Gunning has lately recorded a case of exophthalmos in consequence of whooping-cough, which in his opinion depended on the rupture of the deeper vessels; and another analogous case has been recorded. But a mere sense of discomfort would probably suffice to lead to the associated habit of protecting the eyeball by the contraction of the surrounding muscles. Even the expectation or chance of injury would probably be sufficient, in the same manner as an object moving too near the eye induces involuntary winking of the eyelids. We may, therefore, safely conclude from Sir C. Bell's observations, and more especially from the more careful investigations by Professor Donders, that the firm closure of the eyelids during the screaming of children is an action full of meaning and of real service.

We have already seen that the contraction of the orbicular muscles leads to the drawing up of the upper lip, and consequently, if the mouth is kept widely open, to the drawing down of the corners by the contraction of the depressor muscles. The formation of the naso-labial fold on the cheeks likewise follows from the drawing up of the upper lip. Thus all the chief expressive movements of the face during crying apparently result from the contraction of the muscles round the eyes. We shall also find that the shedding of tears depends on, or at least stands in some connection with, the contraction of these same muscles.  

[17] Donders, ibid. p. 36.

In some of the foregoing cases, especially in those of sneezing and coughing, it is possible that the contraction of the orbicular muscles may serve in addition to protect the eyes from too severe a jar or vibration. I think so, because dogs and cats, in crunching hard bones, always close their eyelids, and at least sometimes in sneezing; though dogs do not do so whilst barking loudly. Mr. Sutton carefully observed for me a young orang and chimpanzee, and he found that both always closed their eyes in sneezing and coughing, but not whilst screaming violently. I gave a small pinch of snuff to a monkey of the American division, namely, a Cebus, and it closed its eyelids whilst sneezing; but not on a subsequent occasion whilst uttering loud cries.

Cause of the secretion of tears.--It is an important fact which must be considered in any theory of the secretion of tears from the mind being affected, that whenever the muscles round the eyes are strongly and involuntarily contracted in order to compress the blood-vessels and thus to protect the eyes, tears are secreted, often in sufficient abundance to roll down the cheeks. This occurs under the most opposite emotions, and under no emotion at all. The sole exception, and this is only a partial one, to the existence of a relation between the involuntary and strong contraction of these muscles and the secretion of tears is that of young infants, who, whilst screaming violently with their eyelids firmly closed, do not commonly weep until they have attained the age of from two to three or four months. Their eyes, however, become suffused with tears at a much earlier age. It would appear, as already remarked, that the lacrymal glands do not, from the want of practice or some other cause, come to full functional activity at a very early period of life. With children at a somewhat later age, crying out or wailing from any distress is so regularly accompanied by the shedding of tears, that weeping and crying are synonymous terms.[18]

Under the opposite emotion of great joy or amusement, as long as laughter is moderate there is hardly any contraction of the muscles round the eyes, so that there is no frowning; but when peals of loud laughter are uttered, with rapid and violent spasmodic expirations, tears stream down the face. I have more than once noticed the face of a person, after a paroxysm of violent laughter, and I could see that the orbicular muscles and those running to the upper lip were still partially contracted, which together with the tear-stained cheeks gave to the upper half of the face an expression not to be distinguished from that of a child still blubbering from grief. The fact of tears streaming down the face during violent laughter is common to all the races of mankind, as we shall see in a future chapter.

In violent coughing especially when a person is half-choked, the face becomes purple, the veins distended, the orbicular muscles strongly contracted, and tears run down the cheeks. Even after a fit of ordinary coughing, almost every one has to wipe his eyes. In violent vomiting or retching, as I have myself experienced and seen in others, the orbicular muscles are strongly contracted, and tears sometimes flow freely down the cheeks. It has been suggested to me that this may be due to irritating matter being injected into the nostrils, and causing by reflex action the secretion of tears. Accordingly I asked one of my informants, a surgeon, to attend to the effects of retching when nothing was thrown up from the stomach; and, by an odd coincidence, he himself suffered the next morning from an attack of retching, and three days subsequently observed a lady under a similar attack; and he is certain that in neither case an atom of matter was ejected from the stomach; yet the orbicular muscles were strongly contracted, and tears freely secreted. I can also speak positively to the energetic contraction of these same muscles round the eyes, and to the coincident free secretion of tears, when the abdominal muscles act with unusual force in a downward direction on the intestinal canal.    

[18] Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood (Dict. of English Etymology, 1859, vol. i. p. 410) says, "the verb to weep comes from Anglo-Saxon wop, the primary meaning of which is simply outcry."

Yawning commences with a deep inspiration, followed by a long and forcible expiration; and at the same time almost all the muscles of the body are strongly contracted, including those round the eyes. During this act tears are often secreted, and I have seen them even rolling down the cheeks.

I have frequently observed that when persons scratch some point which itches intolerably, they forcibly close their eyelids; but they do not, as I believe, first draw a deep breath and then expel it with force; and I have never noticed that the eyes then become filled with tears; but I am not prepared to assert that this does not occur. The forcible closure of the eyelids is, perhaps, merely a part of that general action by which almost all the muscles of the body are at the same time rendered rigid. It is quite different from the gentle closure of the eyes which often accompanies, as Gratiolet remarks,[19] the smelling a delicious odour, or the tasting a delicious morsel, and which probably originates in the desire to shut out any disturbing impression through the eyes.  

[19] `De la Physionomie,' 1865, p. 217.

Professor Donders writes to me to the following effect: "I have observed some cases of a very curious affection when, after a slight rub (attouchement), for example, from the friction of a coat, which caused neither a wound nor a contusion, spasms of the orbicular muscles occurred, with a very profuse flow of tears, lasting about one hour. Subsequently, sometimes after an interval of several weeks, violent spasms of the same muscles re-occurred, accompanied by the secretion of tears, together with primary or secondary redness of the eye." Mr. Bowman informs me that be has occasionally observed closely analogous cases, and that, in some of these, there was no redness or inflammation of the eyes.

I was anxious to ascertain whether there existed in any of the lower animals a similar relation between the contraction of the orbicular muscles during violent expiration and the secretion of tears; but there are very few animals which contract these muscles in a prolonged manner, or which shed tears. The Macacus maurus_ which formerly wept so copiously in the Zoological Gardens, would have been a fine case for observation; but the two monkeys now there, and which are believed to belong to the same species, do not weep. Nevertheless they were carefully observed by Mr. Bartlett and myself, whilst screaming loudly, and they seemed to contract these muscles; but they moved about their cages so rapidly, that it was difficult to observe with certainty. No other monkey, as far as I have been able to ascertain, contracts its orbicular muscles whilst screaming.

The Indian elephant is known sometimes to weep. Sir E. Tennent, in describing these which he saw captured and bound in Ceylon, says, some "lay motionless on the ground, with no other indication of suffering than the tears which suffused their eyes and flowed incessantly." Speaking of another elephant he says, "When overpowered and made fast, his grief was most affecting; his violence sank to utter prostration, and he lay on the ground, uttering choking cries, with tears trickling down his cheeks."[20] In the Zoological Gardens the keeper of the Indian elephants positively asserts that he has several times seen tears rolling down the face of the old female, when distressed by the removal of the young one. Hence I was extremely anxious to ascertain, as an extension of the relation between the contraction of the orbicular muscles and the shedding of tears in man, whether elephants when screaming or trumpeting loudly contract these muscles. At Mr. Bartlett's desire the keeper ordered the old and the young elephant to trumpet; and we repeatedly saw in both animals that, just as the trumpeting began, the orbicular muscles, especially the lower ones, were distinctly contracted. On a subsequent occasion the keeper made the old elephant trumpet much more loudly, and invariably both the upper and lower orbicular muscles were strongly contracted, and now in an equal degree. It is a singular fact that the African elephant, which, however, is so different from the Indian species that it is placed by some naturalists in a distinct sub-genus, when made on two occasions to trumpet loudly, exhibited no trace of the contraction of the orbicular muscles.  

[20] `Ceylon,' 3rd edit. 1859, vol. ii. pp. 364, 376. I applied to Mr. Thwaites, in Ceylon, for further information with respect to the weeping of the elephant; and in consequence received a letter from the Rev. Mr Glenie, who, with others, kindly observed for me a herd of recently captured elephants. These, when irritated, screamed violently; but it is remarkable that they never when thus screaming contracted the muscles round the eyes. Nor did they shed tears; and the native hunters asserted that they had never observed elephants weeping. Nevertheless, it appears to me impossible to doubt Sir E. Tennent's distinct details about their weeping, supported as they are by the positive assertion of the keeper in the Zoological Gardens. It is certain that the two elephants in the Gardens, when they began to trumpet loudly, invariably contracted their orbicular muscles. I can reconcile these conflicting statements only by supposing that the recently captured elephants in Ceylon, from being enraged or frightened, desired to observe their persecutors, and consequently did not contract their orbicular muscles, so that their vision might not be impeded. Those seen weeping by Sir E. Tennent were prostrate, and had given up the contest in despair. The elephants which trumpeted in the Zoological Gardens at the word of command, were, of course, neither alarmed nor enraged.

From the several foregoing cases with respect to Man, there can, I think, be no doubt that the contraction of the muscles round the eyes, during violent expiration or when the expanded chest is forcibly compressed, is, in some manner, intimately connected with the secretion of tears. This holds good under widely different emotions, and independently of any emotion. It is not, of course, meant that tears cannot be secreted without the contraction of these muscles; for it is notorious that they are often freely shed with the eyelids not closed, and with the brows unwrinkled. The contraction must be both involuntary and prolonged, as during a choking fit, or energetic, as during a sneeze. The mere involuntary winking of the eyelids, though often repeated, does not bring tears into the eyes. Nor does the voluntary and prolonged contraction of the several surrounding muscles suffice. As the lacrymal glands of children are easily excited, I persuaded my own and several other children of different ages to contract these muscles repeatedly with their utmost force, and to continue doing so as long as they possibly could; but this produced hardly any effect. There was sometimes a little moisture in the eyes, but not more than apparently could be accounted for by the squeezing out of the already secreted tears within the glands.

The nature of the relation between the involuntary and energetic contraction of the muscles round the eyes, and the secretion of tears, cannot be positively ascertained, but a probable view may be suggested. The primary function of the secretion of tears, together with some mucus, is to lubricate the surface of the eye; and a secondary one, as some believe, is to keep the nostrils damp, so that the inhaled air may be moist,[21] and likewise to favour the power of smelling. But another, and at least equally important function of tears, is to wash out particles of dust or other minute objects which may get into the eyes. That this is of great importance is clear from the cases in which the cornea has been rendered opaque through inflammation, caused by particles of dust not being removed, in consequence of the eye and eyelid becoming immovable.[22] The secretion of tears from the irritation of any foreign body in the eye is a reflex action;--that is, the body irritates a peripheral nerve which sends an impression to certain sensory nerve-cells; these transmit an influence to other cells, and these again to the lacrymal glands. The influence transmitted to these glands causes, as there is good reason to believe, the relaxation of the muscular coats of the smaller arteries; this allows more blood to permeate the glandular tissue, and this induces a free secretion of tears. When the small arteries of the face, including those of the retina, are relaxed under very different circumstances, namely, during an intense blush, the lacrymal glands are sometimes affected in a like manner, for the eyes become suffused with tears.

It is difficult to conjecture how many reflex actions have originated, but, in relation to the present case of the affection of the lacrymal glands through irritation of the surface of the eye, it may be worth remarking that, as soon as some primordial form became semi-terrestrial in its habits, and was liable to get particles of dust into its eyes, if these were not washed out they would cause much irritation; and on the principle of the radiation of nerve-force to adjoining nerve-cells, the lacrymal glands would be stimulated to secretion. As this would often recur, and as nerve-force readily passes along accustomed channels, a slight irritation would ultimately suffice to cause a free secretion of tears.  

[21] Bergeon, as quoted in the `Journal of Anatomy and Physiology,' Nov. 1871, p. 235.

[22] See, for instance, a case given by Sir Charles Bell, `Philosophical Transactions,' 1823, p. 177.

As soon as by this, or by some other means, a reflex action of this nature had been established and rendered easy, other stimulants applied to the surface of the eye--such as a cold wind, slow inflammatory action, or a blow on the eyelids-- would cause a copious secretion of tears, as we know to be the case. The glands are also excited into action through the irritation of adjoining parts. Thus when the nostrils are irritated by pungent vapours, though the eyelids may be kept firmly closed, tears are copiously secreted; and this likewise follows from a blow on the nose, for instance from a boxing-glove. A stinging switch on the face produces, as I have seen, the same effect. In these latter cases the secretion of tears is an incidental result, and of no direct service. As all these parts of the face, including the lacrymal glands, are supplied with branches of the same nerve, namely, the fifth, it is in some degree intelligible that the effects of the excitement of any one branch should spread to the nerve-cells or roots of the other branches.

The internal parts of the eye likewise act, under certain conditions, in a reflex manner on the lacrymal glands. The following statements have been kindly communicated to me by Mr. Bowman; but the subject is a very intricate one, as all the parts of the eye are so intimately related together, and are so sensitive to various stimulants. A strong light acting on the retina, when in a normal condition, has very little tendency to cause lacrymation; but with unhealthy children having small, old-standing ulcers on the cornea, the retina becomes excessively sensitive to light, and exposure even to common daylight causes forcible and sustained closure of the lids, and a profuse flow of tears. When persons who ought to begin the use of convex glasses habitually strain the waning power of accommodation, an undue secretion of tears very often follows, and the retina is liable to become unduly sensitive to light. In general, morbid affections of the surface of the eye, and of the ciliary structures concerned in the accommodative act, are prone to be accompanied with excessive secretion of tears. Hardness of the eyeball, not rising to inflammation, but implying a want of balance between the fluids poured out and again taken up by the intra-ocular vessels, is not usually attended with any lacrymation. When the balance is on the other side, and the eye becomes too soft, there is a greater tendency to lacrymation. Finally, there are numerous morbid states and structural alterations of the eyes, and even terrible inflammations, which may be attended with little or no secretion of tears.

It also deserves notice, as indirectly bearing on our subject, that the eye and adjoining parts are subject to an extraordinary number of reflex and associated movements, sensations, and actions, besides those relating to the lacrymal glands. When a bright light strikes the retina of one eye alone, the iris contracts, but the iris of the other eye moves after a measurable interval of time. The iris likewise moves in accommodation to near or distant vision, and when the two eyes are made to converge.[23] Every one knows how irresistibly the eyebrows are drawn down under an intensely bright light. The eyelids also involuntarily wink when an object is moved near the eyes, or a sound is suddenly heard. The well-known case of a bright light causing some persons to sneeze is even more curious; for nerve-force here radiates from certain nerve-cells in connection with the retina, to the sensory nerve-cells of the nose, causing it to tickle; and from these, to the cells which command the various respiratory muscles (the orbiculars included) which expel the air in so peculiar a manner that it rushes through the nostrils alone.

To return to our point: why are tears secreted during a screaming-fit or other violent expiratory efforts? As a slight blow on the eyelids causes a copious secretion of tears, it is at least possible that the spasmodic contraction of the eyelids, by pressing strongly on the eyeball, should in a similar manner cause some secretion. This seems possible, although the voluntary contraction of the same muscles does not produce any such effect. We know that a man cannot voluntarily sneeze or cough with nearly the same force as he does automatically; and so it is with the contraction of the orbicular muscles: Sir C. Bell experimented on them, and found that by suddenly and forcibly closing the eyelids in the dark, sparks of light are seen, like those caused by tapping the eyelids with the fingers; "but in sneezing the compression is both more rapid and more forcible, and the sparks are more brilliant." That these sparks are due to the contraction of the eyelids is clear, because if they "are held open during the act of sneezing, no sensation of light will be experienced." In the peculiar cases referred to by Professor Donders and Mr. Bowman, we have seen that some weeks after the eye has been very slightly injured, spasmodic contractions of the eyelids ensue, and these are accompanied by a profuse flow of tears. In the act of yawning, the tears are apparently due solely to the spasmodic contraction of the muscles round the eyes. Notwithstanding these latter cases, it seems hardly credible that the pressure of the eyelids on the surface of the eye, although effected spasmodically and therefore with much greater force than can be done voluntarily, should be sufficient to cause by reflex action the secretion of tears in the many cases in which this occurs during violent expiratory efforts.  

[23] See, on these several points, Prof. Donders `On the Anomalies of Accommodation and Refraction of the Eye,' 1864, p. 573.

Another cause may come conjointly into play. We have seen that the internal parts of the eye, under certain conditions act in a reflex manner on the lacrymal glands. We know that during violent expiratory efforts the pressure of the arterial blood within the vessels of the eye is increased, and that the return of the venous blood is impeded. It seems, therefore, not improbable that the distension of the ocular vessels, thus induced, might act by reflection on the lacrymal glands--the effects due to the spasmodic pressure of the eyelids on the surface of the eye being thus increased.

In considering how far this view is probable, we should bear in mind that the eyes of infants have been acted on in this double manner during numberless generations, whenever they have screamed; and on the principle of nerve-force readily passing along accustomed channels, even a moderate compression of the eyeballs and a moderate distension of the ocular vessels would ultimately come, through habit, to act on the glands. We have an analogous case in the orbicular muscles being almost always contracted in some slight degree, even during a gentle crying-fit, when there can be no distension of the vessels and no uncomfortable sensation excited within the eyes.

Moreover, when complex actions or movements have long been performed in strict association together, and these are from any cause at first voluntarily and afterwards habitually checked, then if the proper exciting conditions occur, any part of the action or movement which is least under the control of the will, will often still be involuntarily performed. The secretion by a gland is remarkably free from the influence of the will; therefore, when with the advancing age of the individual, or with the advancing culture of the race, the habit of crying out or screaming is restrained, and there is consequently no distension of the blood-vessels of the eye, it may nevertheless well happen that tears should still be secreted. We may see, as lately remarked, the muscles round the eyes of a person who reads a pathetic story, twitching or trembling in so slight a degree as hardly to be detected. In this case there has been no screaming and no distension of the blood-vessels, yet through habit certain nerve-cells send a small amount of nerve-force to the cells commanding the muscles round the eyes; and they likewise send some to the cells commanding the lacrymal glands, for the eyes often become at the same time just moistened with tears. If the twitching of the muscles round the eyes and the secretion of tears had been completely prevented, nevertheless it is almost certain that there would have been some tendency to transmit nerve-force in these same directions; and as the lacrymal glands are remarkably free from the control of the will, they would be eminently liable still to act, thus betraying, though there were no other outward signs, the pathetic thoughts which were passing through the person's mind.

As a further illustration of the view here advanced, I may remark that if, during an early period of life, when habits of all kinds are readily established, our infants, when pleased, had been accustomed to utter loud peals of laughter (during which the vessels of their eyes are distended) as often and as continuously as they have yielded when distressed to screaming-fits, then it is probable that in after life tears would have been as copiously and as regularly secreted under the one state of mind as under the other. Gentle laughter, or a smile, or even a pleasing thought, would have sufficed to cause a moderate secretion of tears. There does indeed exist an evident tendency in this direction, as will be seen in a future chapter, when we treat of the tender feelings. With the Sandwich Islanders, according to Freycinet,[24] tears are actually recognized as a sign of happiness; but we should require better evidence on this head than that of a passing voyager. So again if our infants, during many generations, and each of them during several years, had almost daily suffered from prolonged choking-fits, during which the vessels of the eye are distended and tears copiously secreted, then it is probable, such is the force of associated habit, that during after life the mere thought of a choke, without any distress of mind, would have sufficed to bring tears into our eyes.

To sum up this chapter, weeping is probably the result of some such chain of events as follows. Children, when wanting food or suffering in any way, cry out loudly, like the young of most other animals, partly as a call to their parents for aid, and partly from any great exertion serving relief. Prolonged screaming inevitably leads to the gorging of the blood-vessels of the eye; and this will have led, at first consciously and at last habitually, to the contraction of the muscles round the eyes in order to protect them. At the same time the spasmodic pressure on the surface of the eye, and the distension of the vessels within the eye, without necessarily entailing any conscious sensation, will have affected, through reflex action, the lacrymal glands. Finally, through the three principles of nerve-force readily passing along accustomed channels--of association, which is so widely extended in its power--and of certain actions, being more under the control of the will than others--it has come to pass that suffering readily causes the secretion of tears, without being necessarily accompanied by any other action.  

24] Quoted by Sir J. Lubbock, `Prehistoric Times,' 1865, p. 458.

Although in accordance with this view we must look at weeping as an incidental result, as purposeless as the secretion of tears from a blow outside the eye, or as a sneeze from the retina being affected by a bright light, yet this does not present any difficulty in our understanding how the secretion of tears serves as a relief to suffering. And by as much as the weeping is more violent or hysterical, by so much will the relief be greater,-- on the same principle that the writhing of the whole body, the grinding of the teeth, and the uttering of piercing shrieks, all give relief under an agony of pain.

Contents - CHAPTER - Introduction

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