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The lineaments of the body will discover those natural inclinations of the mind which dissimulation will conceal or discipline will suppress.
I knew by his face there was something in him.
I am so apt to frame a notion of every man's humour or circumstances by his looks, that I have sometimes employed myself from Charing-cross to the Royal Exchange in drawing the characters of those who have passed by me. When I see a man with a sour rivelled face, I cannot forbear pitying his wife and when I meet with an open ingenuous countenance, think on the happiness of his friends, his family and relations.
PHYSIOGNOMY is a science which most people smile at, and which all practise. It is more easily ridiculed than abandoned. The old and the young, the wise and the foolish, the shrewd and the simple, the suspicious and the confiding, all trust more or less, either for good or for evil, to the outward and visible signs of the internal spirit. The philosophical testimonies in favor of this science are sufficiently respectable both in character and number. In the olden sages of Egypt and of India cultivated it with enthusiasm, and it is supposed that it was from those countries that Pythagoras introduced it into Greece.
Aristotle treated largely of the Physiognomy, not only of man, but of the brute creation. After his time many Greek authors wrote treatises upon the subject, of which a collection was formed and published in 1780. Like Medicine and Astrology it was for a long time associated with divination, and they who followed it as a profession did not confine their scrutiny to the mental charac
ter of the countenance, but endeavoured to trace in its lineaments the destiny of the individual, as the fortune-teller of the present day peruses the lines of the hand. It subsequently fell into a temporary disrepute.
It was about the commencement of the eighteenth century that the science was revived. Several treatises on the subject were then published, both in England and on the Continent, by able and learned men; but Lavater was the first writer of eminence in modern times who made it fashionable and popular. His work on the subject was got up in so splendid a style and with such numerous illustrative engravings, and the author himself was so much esteemed for his many personal virtues, that though he was opposed by a few of the critics of the day he speedily obtained a large body of disciples, and his writings were translated into various languages. A man more truly pious, or more candid and benevolent, the world has rarely known. His character would suffer nothing by a comparison even with that of Fenelon, whom he in many respects resembled. He was not a profound philosopher, but that he was a man of genius no one can have a moment's doubt who has read his celebrated work on Physiognomy, and the autobiographical notices of his early life. It is true that the former is often much too fanciful. It is also too verbose and desultory, and abounds in useless repetitions. These defects must be at once admitted; but they are redeemed by so many acute and ingenious observations, by so many noble sentiments, and by such a pervading spirit of philanthropy and religion, that the author's enthusiasm is almost irresistibly contagious. Though his ardour in the illustration of his favorite science beguiles him occasionally into very untenable positions, and leads him to speak somewhat too decidedly upon points that are purely speculative, his frank acknowledgments of error, and the curious avowal, more than once repeated, that he knows little or nothing of the subject notwithstanding his long study and experience, disarm the
anger of the reader, and prepare him to make a liberal allowance for every imperfection.
Lavater introduced the study of osseal physiognomy. All preceding authors confined themselves chiefly to a consideration of what has been called pathognomy, which includes only those moveable or accidental or transient appearances in the muscles or soft parts of the human face which betray the vicissitudes of feeling and of thought, while they neglected those permanent outlines which indicate the general and fixed character of the heart and mind. He was not only a physiognomist in the ordinary and limited sense of the term, but as much of a craniologist as Gall or Spurzheim, though he did not pretend to the same degree of preternatural knowledge; nor attempt, as they did, to divide the mind into distinct and opposite faculties, and assign them their several little bumps or cells.
Lavater advises the student to place a collection of sculls or casts of heads of celebrated or well known persons in one horizontal row. After comparing these sculls or casts carefully with each other, and each with the intellectual or moral character of the individual, the student may proceed to the consideration of the external conformation of unknown persons. He who after comparing the heads of men of various degrees of mental power can remain of opinion that there is no difference between the sculls of the highest and lowest order of intellect, or in other words that mind leaves no fixed and legible traces upon matter, whether bone or flesh, must have a cranium of his own that would be a puzzle to the phrenologist, were it to indicate any portion of intelligence beyond the merest instinct. Perhaps there is no instance in the whole history of human greatness of a man of magnificent genius with a head, of which the frontal portion was at once both low and narrow. We occasionally indeed. meet with persons of considerable capacity whose foreheads may exhibit either the one or the other of these defects; but never
both and the defect is invariably redeemed by the opposite advantage of height or breadth. But though genius refuses to reside in a forehead at once both low and narrow, it is not every high or broad one that is honored by its presence. A large forehead is not always intellectual. Its peculiarity of shape and inclination is of great importance. If it either falls too far back from the face or too much overhangs it, though in other respects of fair proportion, it is indicative of mental imbecility, and approaches too nearly in character to the heads of animals. The old Grecian artists had so strong an impression of the unintellectual aspect of a violently retreating forehead, that in their anxiety to avoid it in their ideal portraits they almost ran into the opposite extreme; and though they never allowed it to bulge out and overhang the lower features, they made it nearly perpendicular, which in the living subject denotes dulness and incapacity. The forehead of an idiot generally either hangs clumsily, like a projecting rock, over a wild and dreary face, or falls directly back, as we find it in the lower animals.
It is very rarely that we find amongst those who deny the truth of Physiognomy, a man of much acuteness or reflection. The few reasonable persons who are met with in the ranks of its opponents are generally influenced more by a mistrust of their own physiognomical discernment, or an apprehension of the mischief and injustice which follow erroneous judgments, than by any serious conviction that the mind is not generally stamped upon the features. To those who object to the science on the ground of its uncertainty, as regards human skill, there are two answers. In the first place truth itself is not to be rejected or denied, because its followers are occasionally at fault and in the second, let us reason as cautiously and as coldly as we may, we can never wholly resist the impressions which we receive from the perusal of a human face.
There is no science, however useful or important, the professors
of which have not fallen into egregious errors. It is not less unreasonable to reject Physiognomy because the physiognomist is occasionally mistaken, than it would be to reject theology, medicine, and even mathematics on similar grounds. The teachers and students are alike liable to error in them all. Science is fixed, but man is fallible. Lavater acknowledges his repeated blunders, without supposing that his own mistakes form an argument against the truth of his favorite science; but Gall and Spurzheim seem to think themselves as infallible as the Pope, and have so completely identified themselves with the science which they teach, that to confess an error, however slight, in their minutest details or their wildest speculations, would be tantamount to an admission that all the broad principles of phrenology, are like the baseless fabric of a vision. In a lecture delivered by the latter at Liverpool in May 1822, he said that if but one tender and affectionate mother could be proved to be deficient in the organ of philoprogenitiveness or the love of children (a bump at the back of the head), or not have it strongly developed, he would give up Phrenology at once! A decision of this nature is equally unphilosophical and presumptuous. It is like the dogmatism of a religious enthusiast, who stakes the cause of Christianity on the accuracy of his own interpretation.
A profound study of Physiognomy would perhaps enable us to trace the origin of our ideas of beauty. It is a problem that has excruciated many subtle intellects. I may hazard an opinion, that it is not a quality of matter. The face, per se, has probably no more relation to beauty or ugliness than a lamp or transparent vase that betrays the light or colour from within. Beauty is a moral or intellectual quality shining through material forms. Those forms are the most pleasing to the eye which are commonly the medium of the mental quality that we most admire. Mr. Burke, with all his ingenuity and acuteness, seems to have been more successful in showing what beauty is not, than what it is.