Romantic Circles Gallery
Various Phrenological Models
This image provides multiple illustrations of skulls and famous busts, providing measurements for each by which organ size can be determined. Note especially the famous political figures, as well as the attention paid to notorious criminals.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Fowler's Practical Phrenology
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Printing ContextCreated for Fowler's Practical Phrenology
Associated TextsFowler's Practical Phrenology (1847)
Fowler’s handbook was described by one reviewer as “the best work now extant on the elementary principles and practical part of the science” (“Article VI” 187). The book, which had sold almost ten thousand copies by 1841, incorporated the work of Franz Joseph Gall, Johann Spurzheim, George Combe, and others into a single comprehensive guide to phrenology (“Article VI” 187). An examination of Fowler’s handbook reveals the extent to which he drew on these preceding thinkers: the names, locations, and descriptions of the organs of interest to phrenology are similar, as is the larger discussion on the uses of phrenology. Fowler also expanded on the work of British phrenologists, discussing physiognomy as well as its sub-science phrenology, providing accounts of the effects of diet and habit on an individual’s character, offering clear directions for the process of phrenological examination, and narrating accounts of successful examinations. The work also included letters objecting to phrenological truths, accompanied by Fowler's own responses in defence of those truths. Furthermore, Fowler expanded the discussion of organs of phrenology; his descriptions span nearly 150 pages. The description of the organ of approbativeness, for example, is given six pages. An individual with a large organ of approbativeness “is extremely sensitive upon every point connected with his honour, his character, his reputation, &c., and, in all he does, will have an eye to the approbation and the disapprobation of his fellow men” (Fowler 108).
Outlines of Phrenology (1824)
Although any of the didactic literature on phrenology might be appropriate here, George Combe’s Outlines of Phrenology is especially appropriate. Combe was one of the earliest advocates of phrenology in the UK; he initiated both the Edinburgh Phrenological Society and its journal, the Phrenological Journal and Miscellany. Combe published several phrenological tracts on the philosophical and scientific backgrounds of phrenology and on its use in education, criminal investigation and correction, and theology (Spencer 292). Combe’s books were sold widely in the United States; he also lectured in the United States from 1838 to 1840 (“Advertisement” 76; “Article VI” 187).
Outlines of Phrenology was first published in 1824 and was reprinted in additional editions throughout the nineteenth century (Spencer 292). The pamphlet provided a short explanation of the history of phrenology and its main claims before turning to the methodology of phrenological examination. The majority of the text is concerned with descriptions and illustrations of each organ of interest to phrenologists. The discussion of organ 21, imitation, is typical. After providing the location of the organ (“on the two sides of benevolence”), Combe gives a short discussion of the faculty the organ controls: “The faculty gives the talent for Imitation in general. It contributes to render a poet or author dramatic . . . It aids the portrait-painter, sculptor, and engraver; and it gives the tendency, in speech and conversation, to suit the action to the words” (17). He further provides illustrations of head shapes with large or small organs of imitation (Combe 17).
SubjectThe choice of heads displayed in Fowler’s Practical Phrenology (1847) is suggestive of the larger issues towards which phrenology was applied. Note especially the famous literary figures. The illustrations invite a comparison of humans to animals as well as a comparison of classes, ethnic groups, and levels of adherence to social norms.
SignificanceThe mapped head was associated with phrenology from its earliest publications throughout the nineteenth century. It provided a useful map of the locations on the skull discussed in phrenological tracts. One contemporary reviewer explained, “The author’s mode of treating the subject is illustrated, and rendered very intelligible, by a plate of the human head having the organs delineated” (“The Phrenological System"). Phrenological illustrations published by Fowler and Wells and others allowed untrained Americans to conduct their own phrenological readings. Similar illustrations were available to a British audience throughout the 1800s. The choice of heads displayed here is suggestive of the larger issues toward which phrenology was applied. By choosing to include “Le Blanc, the murderer” and “Philip, a notorious thief and liar,” the illustrator and Fowler record the public’s interest in using phrenology to identify criminals—an interest further documented in news articles and phrenological tracts like The Phrenological Journal (“Further Particulars of Thurtell, &c.”; Phrenological Journal). The application of phrenology to a photographic archive of criminals is well-documented by Allen Sekula (11ff). Similarly, the inclusion of Washington and Franklin is part of a larger phrenological tradition in which key historical figures are used as types in phrenological writing: Combe, for example, compares the large “animal organs” and small “organs of the moral sentiments and intellect” of Pope Alexander VI (15th C) to the large “organs of the moral sentiments and intellect” of Philipp Melancthon (16th C). In doing so, he seeks to contrast the former’s disposition towards "animal indulgence” and tendency “to seek gratification in the directest way” with the latter’s exemplary role as a “great and virtuous reformer” (Combe 30). Finally, phrenological guides trained the nineteenth century reader in a gaze which privileged the exterior and the scientific—a gaze Michel Foucault identified as the “clinical gaze” (Foucault 103ff).
Bibliography"Advertisement 2 -- no Title." Christian Register and Boston Observer (1835-1843) May 13 1843: 76. ProQuest. Web. 1 May. 2009.
“Article VI.” American Phrenological Journal. (1841): 185-9. Print.
Colbert, Charles. A Measure of Perfection. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1997. Print.
Combe, George. Outlines of Phrenology. 5th ed. London: Longman & Co., 1835. Print.
Dames, Nicholas. "The Clinical Novel: Phrenology and 'Villette.'" NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 29.3 (1996): 367-390. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Fowler, Orson Squire. Fowler’s Practical Phrenology: Giving a Concise Elementary View of Phrenology. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1847. Print.
“Further Particulars of Thurtell, &c.” Examiner 18 Jan. 1824: 40-41. Print.
Paley, Morton D. Portraits of Coleridge. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
The Phrenological Journal and Miscellany Vol. 3. (August, 1825 – October, 1826): Edinburgh, 1826. Print.
“The Phrenological System.” The Bristol Mercury 1697 (September 30, 1822). Print.
Sekula, Allen. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39 (1986): 3-64. Print.
Spencer, Frank. History of Physical Anthropology. New York: Garland Pub., 1997. Print.
Wrobel, Arthur. "Whitman and the Phrenologists: The Divine Body and the Sensuous Soul." PMLA 89.1 (1974): 17-23. Print.
Long TitleEXPLANATION OF THE CUTS. (abbreviated c.)…4, frontal views of the organs: 5 is a profile cut of Washington: 6, of Franklin: 7, of Herschel: 8,9, of Le Blanc, the murderer of Judge Sayre and family, of N. J.:…16, 17, of an Indian chief: 18, of De Witt Clinton: 19, of Brunell, engineer of the Thames tunnel, Engl.: 20, of Philip, a notorious thief and liar, (p. 320): 21, 27, of a skull found on the British lines at York town, Va,: 22, 23, of a remarkably intelligent monkey: 24, 32,