Cornhill Magazine,  4 (1861), 472–81.

On Physiognomy  [1/2]

[Eneas S Dallas]


Essay, Serial


Physiognomy, Photography, Phrenology, Boundary Formation, Prognostication

People mentioned:

Franz J Gall , Johann C Spurzheim , George Combe

    Complains that 'physiognomy, as a science, has advanced not a step' beyond the condition in which it was left by Johann K Lavater at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Although it has long 'been held by close observers that there is an inevitable correspondence between the mind and the outward form', they have 'never discovered what is the nature of the correspondence'. (472) Lavater's own 'fragmentary and disjointed' writings, which have 'No order, no logic, no finish—nothing but a dense tangled shrubbery of facts', have also 'done something to discredit the science' (472–73). Hopefully, the 'discovery of the photograph will prove to be the dawn of a new day' for physiognomy, by allowing, for the very first time, the systematic classification of the human form. However, even more than 'the want of adequate collections' of accurate images of the body, the 'false start made by phrenology has retarded the progress of physiognomy', and, although it considers only the 'physiognomy of the skull', phrenology has given 'its own bad name' to the whole subject. (475) While the 'strange topography' and 'still stranger psychology' of phrenology 'makes a pretence of science where there is none at all, affects precision, and leaps to conclusions', physiognomy represents 'the very opposite [...] spirit' and remains 'modest [and] emphatically disclaims the name of science, and pretends only to collect the bricks from which the house is to be built'. Although 'Based on good intentions', phrenology is now 'At last [...] confessed to be a failure and a mock science'. (476) At the same time, ever increasing 'testimony in favour of physiognomy' is found in the very latest works by 'brilliant novelists' (480) such as George Eliot and Charles J H Dickens (477). Although the 'established principles of physiognomy are as yet but few', acceptance of its 'cardinal doctrine', that 'the human form is homogeneous, not heterogeneous [...] that there is a unity of character and of testimony in all the parts', will help to finally 'vindicate the possibility of the science' (480–81).

See also:

Taylor 1988, 50–51

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