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THE EXPRESSION OF THE

EMOTIONS IN MAN AND ANIMALS

CHAPTER VII.

LOW SPIRITS, ANXIETY, GRIEF, DEJECTION, DESPAIR.

General effect of grief on the system—Obliquity of the eyebrows under suffering—On the cause of the obliquity of the eyebrows—On the depression of the corners of the mouth.

AFTER the mind has suffered from an acute paroxysm of grief, and the cause still continues, we fall into a state of low spirits; or we may be utterly cast down and dejected. Prolonged bodily pain, if not amounting to an agony, generally leads to the same state of mind. If we expect to suffer, we are anxious; if we have no hope of relief, we despair.

Persons suffering from excessive grief often seek relief by violent and almost frantic movements, as described in a former chapter; but when their suffering is somewhat mitigated, yet prolonged, they no longer wish for action, but remain motionless and passive, or may occasionally rock themselves to and fro. The circulation becomes languid; the face pale; the muscles flaccid; the eyelids droop; the head hangs on the contracted chest; the lips, checks, and lower jaw all sink downwards from their own weight. Hence all the features are lengthened; and the face of a person who hears bad news is said to fall. A party of natives in Tierra del Fuego endeavoured to explain to us that their friend, the captain of a sealing vessel, was out of spirits, by pulling down their cheeks with both hands, so as to make their faces as long as possible. Mr. Bunnet informs me that the Australian aborigines when out of spirits have a chop-fallen appearance. After prolonged suffering the eyes become dull and lack expression, and are often slightly suffused with tears. The eyebrows not rarely are rendered oblique, which is due to their inner ends being raised. This produces peculiarly-formed wrinkles on the forehead, which are very different from those of a simple frown; though in some cases a frown alone may be present. The corners of the mouth are drawn downwards, which is so universally recognized as a sign of being out of spirits, that it is almost proverbial.

The breathing becomes slow and feeble, and is often interrupted by deep sighs. As Gratiolet remarks, whenever our attention is long concentrated on any subject, we forget to breathe, and then relieve ourselves by a deep inspiration; but the sighs of a sorrowful person, owing to his slow respiration and languid circulation, are eminently characteristic.[1] As the grief of a person in this state occasionally recurs and increases into a paroxysm, spasms affect the respiratory muscles, and he feels as if something, the so-called globus hystericus, was rising in his throat. These spasmodic movements are clearly allied to the sobbing of children, and are remnants of those severer spasms which occur when a person is said to choke from excessive grief.[2]

[1] The above descriptive remarks are taken in part from my own observations, but chiefly from Gratiolet (‘De la Physionomie,’ pp. 53, 337; on Sighing, 232), who has well treated this whole subject. See, also, Huschke. ‘Mimices et Physiognomices, Fragmentum Physiologicitim,’ 1821, p. 21. On the dulness of the eyes, Dr. Piderit, ‘Mimik und Physiognomik,’ 1867, s. 65.

[2] On the action of grief on the organs of respiration,

 

Obliquity of the eyebrows.—Two points alone in the above description require further elucidation, and these are very curious ones; namely, the raising of the inner ends of the eyebrows, and the drawing down of the corners of the mouth. With respect to the eyebrows, they may occasionally be seen to assume an oblique position in persons suffering from deep dejection or anxiety; for instance, I have observed this movement in a mother whilst speaking about her sick son; and it is sometimes excited by quite trifling or momentary causes of real or pretended distress. The eyebrows assume this position owing to the contraction of certain muscles (namely, the orbiculars, corrugators, and pyramidals of the nose, which together tend to lower and contract the eyebrows) being partially checked by the more powerful action of the central fascim of the frontal muscle. These latter fasciae by their contraction raise the inner ends alone of the eyebrows; and as the corrugators at the same time draw the eyebrows together, their inner ends become puckered into a fold or lump. This fold is a highly characteristic point in the appearance of the eyebrows when rendered oblique, as may be seen in figs. 2 and 5, Plate II. The eyebrows are at the same time somewhat roughened, owing to the hairs being made to project. Dr. J. Crichton Browne has also often noticed in melancholic patients who keep their eyebrows persistently oblique, "a peculiar acute arching of the upper eyelid." A trace of this may be observed by comparing the right and left eyelids of the young man in the photograph (fig. 2, Plate II.); for he was not able to act equally on both eyebrows. This is also shown by the unequal furrows on the two sides of his forehead.

The acute arching of the eyelids

 

see more especially Sir C. Bell, ‘Anatomy of Expression,’ 3rd edit. 1844, p. 151. depends, I believe, on the inner end alone of the eyebrows being raised; for when the whole eyebrow is elevated and arched, the upper eyelid follows in a slight degree the same movement.

But the most conspicuous result of the opposed contraction of the above-named muscles, is exhibited by the peculiar furrows formed on the forehead. These muscles, when thus in conjoint yet opposed action, may be called, for the sake of brevity, the grief-muscles. When a person elevates his eyebrows by the contraction of the whole frontal muscle, transverse wrinkles extend across the whole breadth of the forehead; but in the present case the middle fasciae alone are contracted; consequently, transverse furrows are formed across the middle part alone of the forehead. The skin over the exterior parts of both eyebrows is at the same time drawn downwards and smooth, by the contraction of the outer portions of the orbicular muscles. The eyebrows are likewise brought together through the simultaneous contraction of the corrugators;[3] and this latter action generates vertical furrows, separating the exterior and lowered part of the skin of the forehead from the central and raised part. The union of these vertical furrows with the central and transverse furrows (see figs. 2 and 3) produces a mark on the forehead which has been compared to a horse-shoe; but the furrows more strictly form three sides of a quadrangle. They are often conspicuous on the foreheads of adult or nearly adult persons, when their eyebrows are made oblique; but with young children, owing to their skin not easily wrinkling, they are rarely seen, or mere traces of them can be detected.

These peculiar furrows are best represented in fig. 3, Plate II., on the forehead of a young lady who has the power in an unusual degree of voluntarily acting on the requisite muscles. As she was absorbed in the attempt, whilst being photographed, her expression was not at all one of grief; I have therefore given the forehead alone. Fig. 1 on the same plate, copied from Dr. Duchenne’s work 4 represents, on a reduced scale, the face, in its natural state, of a young man who was a good actor.

In fig. 2 he is shown simulating grief, but the

 

[3] In the foregoing remarks on the manner in which the eyebrows are made oblique, I have followed what seems to be the universal opinion of all the anatomists, whose works I have consulted on the action of the above-named muscles, or with whom I have conversed. Hence throughout this work I shall take a similar view of the action of the corrugator supercilii, orbicularis, pyramidalis nasi, and frontalis muscles. Dr. Duchenne, however, believes, and every conclusion at which he arrives deserves serious consideration, that it is the corrugator, called by him the sourcilier, which raises the inner corner of the eyebrows and is antagonistic to the upper and inner part of the orbicular muscle, as well as to the pyramidalis nasi (see Mecanisme de la Phys. Humaine, 1862, folio, art. v., text and figures 19 to 29: octavo edit. 1862, p. 43 text). He admits, however, that the corrugator draws together the eyebrows, causing vertical furrows above the base of the nose, or a frown. He further believes that towards the outer two-thirds of the eyebrow the corrugator acts in conjunction with the upper orbicular muscle; both here standing in antagonism to the frontal muscle. I am unable to understand, judging from Henle’s drawings (woodcut, fig. 3), how the corrugator can act in the manner described by Duchenue. See, also, oil this subject, Prof. Donders’ remarks in the ‘Archives of Medicine,’ 1870, vol. v. p. 34. Mr. J. Wood, who is so well known for his careful study of the muscles of the human frame, informs me that he believes the account which I have given of the action of the corrugator to be correct. But this is not a point of any importance with respect to the expression which is caused by the obliquity of the eyebrows, nor of much importance to the theory of its origin.

‘I am greatly indebted to Dr. Duchenne for permission to have these two photographs (figs. 1 and 2) reproduced by the heliotype process from his work in folio. Many of the foregoing remarks on the furrowing of the skin, when the eyebrows are rendered oblique, are taken from his excellent discussion on this subject. two eyebrows, as before remarked, are not equally acted on. That the expression is true, may be inferred from the fact that out of fifteen persons, to whom the original photograph was shown, without any clue to what was intended being given them, fourteen immediately answered, "despairing sorrow," "suffering endurance," "melancholy," and so forth. The history of fig. 5 is rather curious: I saw the photograph in a shop-window, and took it to Mr. Rejlander for the sake of finding out by whom it had been made; remarking to him how pathetic the expression was. He answered, "I made it, and it was likely to be pathetic, for the boy in a few minutes burst out crying." He then showed me a photograph of the same boy in a placid state, which I have had (fig. 4) reproduced. In fig. 6, a trace of obliquity in the eyebrows may be detected; but this figure, as well as fig. 7, is given to show the depression of the corners of the mouth, to which subject I shall presently refer.

Few persons, without some practice, can voluntarily act on their grief-muscles; but after repeated trials a considerable number succeed, whilst others never can. The degree of obliquity in the eyebrows, whether assumed voluntarily or unconsciously, differs much in different persons. With some who apparently have unusually strong pyramidal muscles, the contraction of the central fasciae of the frontal muscle, although it may be energetic, as shown by the quadrangular furrows on the forehead, does not raise the inner ends of the eyebrows, but only prevents their being so much lowered as they otherwise would have been. As far as I have been able to observe, the grief-muscles are brought into action much more frequently by children and women than by men. They are rarely acted on, at least with grown-up persons, from bodily pain, but almost exclusively from mental distress. Two persons who, after some practice, succeeded in acting on their grief-muscles, found by looking at a mirror that when they made their eyebrows oblique, they unintentionally at the same time depressed the corners of their mouths; and this is often the case when the expression is naturally assumed.

The power to bring the grief-muscles freely into play appears to be hereditary, like almost every other human faculty. A lady belonging to a family famous for having produced an extraordinary number of great actors and actresses, and who can herself give this expression "with singular precision," told Dr. Crichton Browne that all her family had possessed the power in a remarkable degree. The same hereditary tendency is said to have extended, as I likewise hear from Dr. Browne, to the last descendant of the family, which gave rise to Sir Walter Scott’s novel of ‘Red Gauntlet;’ but the hero is described as contracting his forehead into a horseshoe mark from any strong emotion. I have also seen a young woman whose forehead seemed almost habitually thus contracted, independently of any emotion being at the time felt.

The grief-muscles are not very frequently brought into play; and as the action is often momentary, it easily escapes observation. Although the expression, when observed, is universally and instantly recognized as that of grief or anxiety, yet not one person out of a thousand who has never studied the subject, is able to say precisely what change passes over the sufferer’s face. Hence probably it is that this expression is not even alluded to, as far as I have noticed, in any work of fiction, with the exception of ‘Red Gauntlet’ and of one other novel; and the authoress of the latter, as I am informed, belongs to the famous family of actors just alluded to; so that her attention may have been specially called to the subject.

The ancient Greek sculptors were familiar with the expression, as shown in the statues of the Laocoon and Arretino; but, as Duchenne remarks, they carried the transverse furrows across the whole breadth of the forehead, and thus committed a great anatomical mistake: this is likewise the case in some modern statues. It is, however, more probable that these wonderfully accurate observers intentionally sacrificed truth for the sake of beauty, than that they made a mistake; for rectangular furrows on the forehead would not have had a grand appearance on the marble. The expression, in its fully developed condition, is, as far as I can discover, not often represented in pictures by the old masters, no doubt owing to the same cause; but a lady who is perfectly familiar with this expression, informs me that in Fra Angelico’s ‘Descent from the Cross,’ in Florence, it is clearly exhibited in one of the figures on the right-hand; and I could add a few other instances.

Dr. Crichton Browne, at my request, closely attended to this expression in the numerous insane patients under his care in the West Riding Asylum; and he is familiar with Duchenne’s photographs of the action of the grief-muscles. He informs me that they may constantly be seen in energetic action in cases of melancholia, and especially of hypochondria; and that the persistent lines or furrows, due to their habitual contraction, are characteristic of the physiognomy of the insane belonging to these two classes. Dr. Browne carefully observed for me during a considerable period three cases of hypochondria, in which the grief-muscles were persistently contracted. In one of these, a widow, aged 51, fancied that she had lost all her viscera, and that her whole body was empty. She wore an expression of great distress, and beat her semi-closed hands rhythmically together for hours. The grief-muscles were permanently contracted, and the upper eyelids arched. This condition lasted for months; she then recovered, and her countenance resumed its natural expression. A second case presented nearly the same peculiarities, with the addition that the corners of the mouth were depressed.

Mr. Patrick Nicol has also kindly observed for me several cases in the Sussex Lunatic Asylum, and has communicated to me full details with respect to three of them; but they need not here be given. From his observations on melancholic patients, Mr. Nicol concludes that the inner ends of the eyebrows are almost always more or less raised, with the wrinkles on the forehead more or less plainly marked. In the case of one young woman, these wrinkles were observed to be in constant slight play or movement. In some cases the corners of the mouth are depressed, but often only in a slight degree. Some amount of difference in the expression of the several melancholic patients could almost always be observed. The eyelids generally droop; and the skin near their outer corners and beneath them is wrinkled. The naso-labial fold, which runs from the wings of the nostrils to the corners of the mouth, and which is so conspicuous in blubbering children, is often plainly marked in these patients.

Although with the insane the grief-muscles often act persistently; yet in ordinary cases they are sometimes brought unconsciously into momentary action by ludicrously slight causes. A gentleman rewarded a young lady by an absurdly small present; she pretended to be offended, and as she upbraided him, her eyebrows became extremely oblique, with the forehead properly wrinkled. Another young lady and a youth, both in the highest spirits, were eagerly talking together with extraordinary rapidity; and I noticed that, as often as the young lady was beaten, and could not get out her words fast enough, her eyebrows went obliquely upwards, and rectangular furrows were formed on her forehead. She thus each time hoisted a flag of distress; and this she did half-a-dozen times in the course of a few minutes. I made no remark on the subject, but on a subsequent occasion I asked her to act on her grief-muscles; another girl who was present, and who could do so voluntarily, showing her what was intended. She tried repeatedly, but utterly failed; yet so slight a cause of distress as not being able to talk quickly enough, sufficed to bring these muscles over and over again into energetic action.

The expression of grief, due to the contraction of the grief-muscles, is by no means confined to Europeans, but appears to be common to all the races of mankind. I have, at least, received trustworthy accounts in regard to Hindoos, Dhangars (one of the aboriginal hill-tribes of India, and therefore belonging to a quite distinct race from the Hindoos), Malays, Negroes and Australians. With respect to the latter, two observers answer my query in the affirmative, but enter into no details. Mr. Taplin, however, appends to my descriptive remarks the words "this is exact." With respect to negroes, the lady who told me of Fra Angelico’s picture, saw a negro towing a boat on the Nile, and as he encountered an obstruction, she observed his grief-muscles in strong action, with the middle of the forehead well wrinkled. Mr. Geach watched a Malay man in Malacca, with the corners of his mouth much depressed, the eyebrows oblique, with deep short grooves on the forehead. This expression lasted for a very short time; and Mr. Geach remarks it "was a strange one, very much like a person about to cry at some great loss."

In India Mr. H. Erskine found that the natives were familiar with this expression; and Mr. J. Scott, of the Botanic Gardens, Calcutta, has obligingly sent me a full description of two cases. He observed during some time, himself unseen, a very young Dhangar woman from Nagpore, the wife of one of the gardeners, nursing her baby who was at the point of death; and he distinctly saw the eyebrows raised at the inner corners, the eyelids drooping, the forehead wrinkled in the middle, the mouth slightly open, with the corners much depressed. He then came from behind a screen of plants and spoke to the poor woman, who started, burst into a bitter flood of tears, and besought him to cure her baby. The second case was that of a Hindustani man, who from illness and poverty was compelled to sell his favourite goat. After receiving the money, he repeatedly looked at the money in his hand and then at the goat, as if doubting whether he would not return it. He went to the goat, which was tied up ready to be led away, and the animal reared up and licked his hands. His eyes then wavered from side to side; his "mouth was partially closed, with the corners very decidedly depressed." At last the poor man seemed to make up his mind that he must part with his goat, and then, as Mr. Scott saw, the eyebrows became slightly oblique, with the characteristic puckering or swelling at the inner ends, but the wrinkles on the forehead were not present. The man stood thus for a minute, then heaving a deep sigh, burst into tears, raised up his two hands, blessed the goat, turned round, and without looking again, went away.

 

On the cause of the obliquity of the eyebrows under suffering.—

During several years no expression seemed to me so utterly perplexing as this which we are here considering. Why should grief or anxiety cause the central fasciae alone of the frontal muscle together with those round the eyes, to contract? Here we seem to have a complex movement for the sole purpose of expressing grief; and yet it is a comparatively rare expression, and often overlooked. I believe the explanation is not so difficult as it at first appears. Dr. Duchenne gives a photograph of the young man before referred to, who, when looking upwards at a strongly illuminated surface, involuntarily contracted his grief-muscles in an exaggerated manner. I had entirely forgotten this photograph, when on a very bright day with the sun behind me, I met, whilst on horseback, a girl whose eyebrows, as she looked up at me, became extremely oblique, with the proper furrows on her forehead. I have observed the same movement under similar circumstances on several subsequent occasions. On my return home I made three of my children, without giving them any clue to my object, look as long and as attentively as they could, at the summit of a tall tree standing against an extremely bright sky. With all three, the orbicular, corrugator, and pyramidal muscles were energetically contracted, through reflex action, from the excitement of the retina, so that their eyes might be protected from the bright light. But they tried their utmost to look upwards; and now a curious struggle, with spasmodic twitchings, could be observed between the whole or only the central portion of the frontal muscle, and the several muscles which serve to lower the eyebrows and close the eyelids. The involuntary contraction of the pyramidal caused the basal part of their noses to be transversely and deeply wrinkled. In one of the three children, the whole eyebrows were momentarily raised and lowered by the alternate contraction of the whole frontal muscle and of the muscles surrounding the eyes, so that the whole breadth of the forehead was alternately wrinkled and smoothed. In the other two children the forehead became wrinkled in the middle part alone, rectangular furrows being thus produced; and the eyebrows were rendered oblique, with their inner extremities puckered and swollen,-- in the one child in a slight degree, in the other in a strongly marked manner. This difference in the obliquity of the eyebrows apparently depended on a difference in their general mobility, and in the strength of the pyramidal muscles. In both these cases the eyebrows and forehead were acted on under the influence of a strong light, in precisely the same manner, in every characteristic detail, as under the influence of grief or anxiety.

Duchenne states that the pyramidal muscle of the nose is less under the control of the will than are the other muscles round the eyes. He remarks that the young man who could so well act on his grief-muscles, as well as on most of his other facial muscles, could not contract the pyramidals.[5] This power, however, no doubt differs in different persons. The pyramidal muscle serves to draw down the skin of the forehead between the eyebrows, together with their inner extremities. The central fasciae of the frontal are the antagonists of the pyramidal; and if the action of the latter is to be specially checked, these central fasciae must be contracted. So that with persons having powerful pyramidal muscles, if there is under the influence of a bright light an unconscious desire to prevent the lowering of the eyebrows, the central fasciae of the frontal muscle must be brought into play; and their contraction, if sufficiently strong to overmaster the pyramidals, together with the contraction of the corrugator and orbicular muscles, will act in the manner just described on the eyebrows and forehead.

When children scream or cry out, they contract, as we know, the orbicular, corrugator, and pyramidal muscles, primarily for the sake of compressing their eyes, and thus protecting them from being gorged with blood, and secondarily through habit. I therefore expected to find with children, that when they endeavoured either to prevent a crying-fit from coming on, or to stop crying, they would cheek the contraction of the above-named muscles, in the same manner as when looking upwards at a bright light; and consequently that the central fasciae of the frontal muscle would often be brought into play. Accordingly, I began myself to observe children at such times, and asked others, including some medical men, to do the same. It is necessary to observe carefully, as the peculiar opposed action of these muscles is not nearly so plain in children, owing to their foreheads not easily wrinkling, as in adults. But I soon found that the grief-muscles were very frequently brought into distinct action on these occasions. It would be superfluous to give all the cases which have been observed; and I will specify only a few. A little girl, a year and a half old, was teased by some other children, and before bursting into tears her eyebrows became decidedly oblique. With an older girl the same obliquity was observed, with the inner ends of the eyebrows plainly puckered; and at the same time the corners of the mouth were drawn downwards. As soon as she burst into tears, the features all changed and this peculiar expression vanished. Again, after a little boy had been vaccinated, which made him scream and cry violently, the surgeon gave him an orange brought for the purpose, and this pleased the child much; as he stopped crying all the characteristic movements were observed, including the formation of rectangular wrinkles in the middle of the forehead. Lastly, I met on the road a little girl three or four years old, who had been frightened by a dog, and when I asked her what was the matter, she stopped whimpering, and her eyebrows instantly became oblique to an extraordinary degree.

[5] Mecanisme de la Phys. Humaine, Album, p. 15.

Here then, as I cannot doubt, we have the key to the problem why the central fasciae of the frontal muscle and the muscles round the eyes contract in opposition to each other under the influence of grief;--whether their contraction be prolonged, as with the melancholic insane, or momentary, from some trifling cause of distress. We have all of us, as infants, repeatedly contracted our orbicular, corrugator, and pyramidal muscles, in order to protect our eyes whilst screaming; our progenitors before us have done the same during many generations; and though with advancing years we easily prevent, when feeling distressed, the utterance of screams, we cannot from long habit always prevent a slight contraction of the above-named muscles; nor indeed do we observe their contraction in ourselves, or attempt to stop it, if slight. But the pyramidal muscles seem to be less under the command of the will than the other related muscles; and if they be well developed, their contraction can be checked only by the antagonistic contraction of the central fasciae of the frontal muscle. The result which necessarily follows, if these fasciae contract energetically, is the oblique drawing up of the eyebrows, the puckering of their inner ends, and the formation of rectangular furrows on the middle of the forehead. As children and women cry much more freely than men, and as grown-up persons of both sexes rarely weep except from mental distress, we can understand why the grief-muscles are more frequently seen in action, as I believe to be the case, with children and women than with men; and with adults of both sexes from mental distress alone. In some of the cases before recorded, as in that of the poor Dhangar woman and of the Hindustani man, the action of the grief-muscles was quickly followed by bitter weeping. In all cases of distress, whether great or small, our brains tend through long habit to send an order to certain muscles to contract, as if we were still infants on the point of screaming out; but this order we, by the wondrous power of the will, and through habit, are able partially to counteract; although this is effected unconsciously, as far as the means of counteraction are concerned.

 

On the depression of the corners of the mouth.—This action is effected by the depressores anguili oris (see letter K in figs. 1 and 2). The fibres of this muscle diverge downwards, with the upper convergent ends attached round the angles of the mouth, and to the lower lip a little way within the angles.[6] Some of the fibres appear to be antagonistic to the great zygomatic muscle, and others to the several muscles running to the outer part of the upper lip. The contraction of this muscle draws downwards and outwards the corners of the mouth, including the outer part of the upper lip, and even in a slight degree the wings of the nostrils. When the mouth is closed and this muscle acts, the commissure or line of junction of the two lips forms a curved line with the concavity downwards,[7] and the lips themselves are generally somewhat protruded, especially the lower one. The mouth in this state is well represented in the two photographs (Plate II., figs. 6 and 7) by Mr. Rejlander. The upper boy (fig. 6) had just stopped crying, after receiving a slap on the face from another boy; and the right moment was seized for photographing him.

[6] Henle, Handbuch der Anat. des Menschen, 1858, B. i. s. 148, figs. 68 and 69.

[7] See the account of the action of this muscle by Dr. Duchenne, ‘Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine, Album (1862), viii. p. 34.

The expression of low spirits, grief or dejection, due to the contraction of this muscle has been noticed by every one who has written on the subject. To say that a person "is down in the mouth," is synonymous with saying that he is out of spirits. The depression of the corners may often be seen, as already stated on the authority of Dr. Crichton Browne and Mr. Nicol, with the melancholic insane, and was well exhibited in some photographs sent to me by the former gentleman, of patients with a strong tendency to suicide. It has been observed with men belonging to various races, namely with Hindoos, the dark hill-tribes of India, Malays, and, as the Rev. Mr. Hagenauer informs me, with the aborigines of Australia.

When infants scream they firmly contract the muscles round their eyes, and this draws up the upper lip; and as they have to keep their mouths widely open, the depressor muscles running to the corners are likewise brought into strong action. This generally, but not invariably, causes a slight angular bend in the lower lip on both sides, near the corners of the mouth. The result of the upper and lower lip being thus acted on is that the mouth assumes a squarish outline. The contraction of the depressor muscle is best seen in infants when not screaming violently, and especially just before they begin, or when they cease to scream. Their little faces then acquire an extremely piteous expression, as I continually observed with my own infants between the ages of about six weeks and two or three months. Sometimes, when they are struggling against a crying-fit, the outline of the mouth is curved in so exaggerated a manner as to be like a horseshoe; and the expression of misery then becomes a ludicrous caricature.

The explanation of the contraction of this muscle, under the influence of low spirits or dejection, apparently follows from the same general principles as in the case of the obliquity of the eyebrows. Dr. Duchenne informs me that he concludes from his observations, now prolonged during many years, that this is one of the facial muscles which is least under the control of the will. This fact may indeed be inferred from what has just been stated with respect to infants when doubtfully beginning to cry, or endeavouring to stop crying; for they then generally command all the other facial muscles more effectually than they do the depressors of the corners of the mouth. Two excellent observers who had no theory on the subject, one of them a surgeon, carefully watched for me some older children and women as with some opposed struggling they very gradually approached the point of bursting out into tears; and both observers felt sure that the depressors began to act before any of the other muscles. Now as the depressors have been repeatedly brought into strong action during infancy in many generations, nerve-force will tend to flow, on the principle of long associated habit, to these muscles as well as to various other facial muscles, whenever in after life even a slight feeling of distress is experienced. But as the depressors are somewhat less under the control of the will than most of the other muscles, we might expect that they would often slightly contract, whilst the others remained passive. It is remarkable how small a depression of the corners of the mouth gives to the countenance an expression of low spirits or dejection, so that an extremely slight contraction of these muscles would be sufficient to betray this state of mind.

I may here mention a trifling observation, as it will serve to sum up our present subject. An old lady with a comfortable but absorbed expression sat nearly opposite to me in a railway carriage. Whilst I was looking at her, I saw that her depressores anguli oris became very slightly, yet decidedly, contracted; but as her countenance remained as placid as ever, I reflected how meaningless was this contraction, and how easily one might be deceived. The thought had hardly occurred to me when I saw that her eyes suddenly became suffused with tears almost to overflowing, and her whole countenance fell. There could now be no doubt that some painful recollection, perhaps that of a long-lost child, was passing through her mind. As soon as her sensorium was thus affected, certain nerve-cells from long habit instantly transmitted an order to all the respiratory muscles, and to those round the mouth, to prepare for a fit of crying. But the order was countermanded by the will, or rather by a later acquired habit, and all the muscles were obedient, excepting in a slight degree the depressores anguli oris. The mouth was not even opened; the respiration was not hurried; and no muscle was affected except those which draw down the corners of the mouth.

As soon as the mouth of this lady began, involuntarily and unconsciously on her part, to assume the proper form for a crying-fit, we may feel almost sure that some nerve-influence would have been transmitted through the long accustomed channels to the various respiratory muscles, as well as to those round the eyes, and to the vaso-motor centre which governs the supply of blood sent to the lacrymal glands. Of this latter fact we have indeed clear evidence in her eyes becoming slightly suffused with tears; and we can understand this, as the lacrymal glands are less under the control of the will than the facial muscles. No doubt there existed at the same time some tendency in the muscles round the eyes at contract, as if for the sake of protecting them from being gorged with blood, but this contraction was completely overmastered, and her brow remained unruffled. Had the pyramidal, corrugator, and orbicular muscles been as little obedient to the will, as they are in many persons, they would have been slightly acted on; and then the central fasciae of the frontal muscle would have contracted in antagonism, and her eyebrows would have become oblique, with rectangular furrows on her forehead. Her countenance would then have expressed still more plainly than it did a state of dejection, or rather one of grief.

Through steps such as these we can understand how it is, that as soon as some melancholy thought passes through the brain, there occurs a just perceptible drawing down of the corners of the mouth, or a slight raising up of the inner ends of the eyebrows, or both movements combined, and immediately afterwards a slight suffusion of tears. A thrill of nerve-force is transmitted along several habitual channels, and produces an effect on any point where the will has not acquired through long habit much power of interference. The above actions may be considered as rudimental vestiges of the screaming-fits, which are so frequent and prolonged during infancy. In this case, as well as in many others, the links are indeed wonderful which connect cause and effect in giving rise to various expressions on the human countenance; and they explain to us the meaning of certain movements, which we involuntarily and unconsciously perform, whenever certain transitory emotions pass through our minds.

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Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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