Monday, 23 March 2015


Last evening Dr. Spurzheim commenced his course of Lectures on Phrenology, at the Crown and Anchor Tavern. He began by explaining the Greek etymology of the word Phrenology, which signified the doctrine of the mind, but whatever the title of his science might seem  to imply, the Phrenologist did not undertake to explain the nature of the mental faculty. There was nothing in the universe of which we know the intimate constitution ; we were ignorant of the elementary nature of bodies which were present to our senses ; then how could it be expected that we should be acquainted with the nature of mind. But in the absence of all positive knowledge with respect to its nature, we should observe the operations of mind, and trace their connexion with cerebral organization. All manifestations of of mind were made by the intervention of the brain; without the brain there was no indication of mental power ; so that it must be considered as the origin of the intellect. This point was easily and universally admitted ; but if the brain were defined the organ of intellect, that definition would constrict within too narrow limits the extent of its functions and the range of its proper actions : in truth, mind was not confined to intellect, it had other and abundant sources of activity ; sentiments, feelings, and passions— whatever, in short, could actuate a sentient being, were considered by the Phrenologists as the result of cerebral organization; the word Mind being taken with this latitude of interpretation. Phrenology might be defined "the manifestations of mind, of conditions under which they are developed, and of the measures of their energy." Was not this, he asked, an interesting study ?
If it was gratifying to observe how the vital functions were carried on, or to anatomise the organs of sense, how much more interesting might to be the examination of the brain, the organization of which was so delicate. There were many systems invented to explain the science of mind, but no satisfaction could attend on moral or metaphysical researches, amidst so many and conflicting opinions. Phrenology, however, promised fair to build up the science of mind on the solid basis of experience. Phrenology deserved also the particular attention of the medical profession. It was necessary that a medical man should be well acquainted with the organs and functions of the human system, before he could pretend to understand its derangements ; hence he could not understand the nature of insanity without a competent knowledge of Phrenology. Thus it appeared that this science was one of practical utility, and likely to become the foundation of a branch of medicine. But Phrenology was likely to be of use not only in teaching us how to remedy the derangements of the mind, by showing us how to rear and strengthen its natural powers. It was a general complaint that education was very ineffective. From this it was to be concluded, either that the human mind could not be improved by instruction, or else that the proper system had not been adopted. This last was the truth, and a more appropriate mode of instruction, founded on a knowledge of the organs, would be the result of Phrenology. He then proceeded instate the first principle of the science. A defective brain indicated a detective mind ; this be exemplified by two casts of the heads of idiots, both of which were remarkably deficient in the forehead. There was no examples he said of a defective brain connected with any manifestation of talent. As the brain decreased, the manifestation of mind became proportionally feeble. It was said by some that talents were the result of circumstances, but this he denied ; external circumstances might develope, exercise, and strengthen, but they could not give birth to them. As the brain diminished, the mind faded away, although the other functions remained quite perfect.
In opposition to the heads of the idiots, he instanced, in the bust of Lord Bacon, the great development of brain, as shown by the size of the forehead. He believed, however, that that feature in the bust of our great philosopher was exaggerated, it was not natural ; but we might safely conclude that Lord Bacon was remarkably large, and his forehead capacious. This peculiarity characterised all who had ever distinguished themselves, either as conquerors or, philosophers; who had ever exerted a paramount influence on human affairs, or had enlarged the boundaries of human knowledge. Those first principles of Phrenology were known to the ancients, and observed by them in their statuary. The sculptors never gave similarly formed heads to gladiators and to philosophers. Among then divinities they observed the same discrimination, and gave to Jupiter the greatest development of forehead. These opinions were also favoured by ordinary language. It was usual in common conversation to make a reference to cerebral organization —in such expressions as a narrow mind, a low mind,and unelevated mind. The preference given by the ancients and by poets, to high and ample foreheads, had in those phrases been sanctioned by the people. It was, however, to be understood, that the form of the head and brain varied in the same individual from infancy to age. It also differed in the sexes, so that all the principles laid down were subject to modifications, arising from age, sex, or nation. He next proceeded to distinguish between the result of cerebral organization and temperament; the latter was for a long time believed to be a main source of character; thus it used to be said that a man of lymphatic or bilious temperament might have solid judgment, but no memory ; or that one of sanguineous temperament was lively, and bad a good memory, but no judgment. But the Phrenologists rejected those opinions. At the same time they acknowledged the influence of temperament, they denied that temperament could be the source of any of the mental powers, while they admitted that it might modify the health and activity of those powers, just us any modification of one of the vital functions will effect the health and vigour of the whole constitution.
If he were asked whether the size of the brain could be assumed as a measure of talent, he would answer no ; the quality was to be regarded as well as the quantity ; just as the muscular strength of a man could not be accurately estimated from his size, without taking into account his nervous irritability, so the constitution of the brain was as much to be considered as its magnitude. Physiologists were ready to admit, that the brain was essentially necessary to intellectual operations, but they denied that it was necessary to feeling or sentiment. If any one, however, would endeavour to satisfy himself on this point by observation, he would sooner be convinced of the latter proposition than of the former, for he would find that a larger portion of the brain was destined to sentiment and feeling than to the purely intellectual operations. Superficial observers were led to suppose that certain viscera, as the heart, the spleen, or the liver, were the seats of certain feelings, from the pains which some emotions caused in those parts ; but these might be better explained by the derangements of emulation or nervous affections originating in the brain. It is a rule of Physiology that all the animal functions have a mutual influence ; as, for instance, anger and other emotions will cause a change of colour in the skin; an over-loaded stomach will cause a head-ache, and reciprocally, mental labour or anxiety will impede the digestive process ; some affections of the mind will produce disarrangements of the senses, such as smells or even blindness. This general sympathy would sufficiently explain the effects of certain emotions on the viscera, supposing that those viscera were the seats of the feelings. A confirmation of this principle may be found in idiots, who have seldom any feelings, though all their physical functions are perfect, and their viscera unimpaired.
 But, returning to the original proposition, he said we could not measure talents by the size of the the brain either in animals of different species, or in different individuals of the same species, the dog had less brain, in mass, than the ox, and man less than the elephant, but in these instances the smaller brains of the dog and of man have greater energy. Any small insects have frequently great muscular force ; the eagle had a smaller optic nerve than man, yet saw much better, and that same might he said of the turkey. So that the size of organs was not the only thing to be considered, and what was here said of animals of different species might be equally applied to individuals. 
It had been objected to Phrenologists that the brain might receive injuries, and yet the manifestations of mind continue. The answer to this was,that the cerebral organs were all double, a fact which was known to Hippocrates, so that, if one side were taken away, the other might still continue to support the same mental action. In like manner it had been said that, in cases of hydrocephalus the brain had been wholly absorbed in water, and yet the indications of mind remained, but he denied the destruction of the brain so long as there remained a vestige of mind. In the case of James Cardinal, a patient of St Bartholomew's, whose head he had seen opened on his first visit to this country, the cranium was swollen to an immense size, but the brain, instead of being absorbed, sunk to the bottom. Experiment had convinced him that alterations in the convolutions of the brain might take place, without any destruction of their substance. The proportion which the head bore to the body was by some considered of great importance ; it certainly deserved the attention of the artist, but yielded no certain indication to the Phrenologist. There was no constant proportion found in the species; the heads of middle-sized men were usually larger in proportion to their bodies, than those of larger men.
   He then adverted to the head of the Venus de Medicis, which was too small. The face was extremely beautiful, but could hardly be called expressive while so totally deprived of brain. Talent, therefore, it was evident, could not be measured by the proportion to his size, yet this animal was thought remarkably sagacious ; on the other hand, many small birds, which evinced no particular activity of mind had comparatively large brains.
 The Doctor then proceeded to describe the facial angle of Keemper. If a line be drawn from the middle of the orifice of the external ear to the upper lip, and another from that last point to the external protuberance of the forehead, the obtuseness of the angle contained  by these two lines would be a measure, it was said, of intellecttual eminence, but he denied that assertion ; the advocates of the facial angle overlooked all the modifications which the scientific Phrenologist weighed carefully. He made no distinction between the European idiot and the intellectual negro ; for the facial angle would be acute from the projection of the jaw as well as from the retreat of the forehead.
The Doctor then briefly recapitulated the substance of his lecture, concluding with the simple truth that the brain is the organ of the mind.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser  9 September 1826

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