Romantic Circles Gallery
Phrenological Head


The image depicts a hairless head, with numbers mapped upon the exposed skin and face, indicating the location of the organs. The corresponding text identifies which characteristic or faculty is associated with each number.

Primary Works: 

Fowler's Practical Phrenology

Accession Number: 

BF 870.F6

Height (in centimeters): 


Width (in centimeters): 

Created for Fowler's Practical Phrenology
Fowler'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 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).
The 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").
Phrenology. Science.
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 mapped head was essential in a non-expert examination as it allowed even the lay “reader” to “project upon the living body a whole network of anatomo-pathological mappings: to draw the dotted outline of the future autopsy” in order “to bring to the surface that which is layered in depth” (Foucault 200). Ultimately, however, 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).
“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.

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.

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.