Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/836

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ogy, or the art of deducing mental characteristics from physical indications, would have been recognized as a true science if its apologists had not wasted their efforts in the propaganda of their craniological crotchets.

Pliny, and his countryman Campanella, already observed that the art of interpreting the features of the human face is a universal one, practiced by unformulated but well-understood rules, ever since man tried to fathom the soul of his fellow-man. "Every one," says Addison, "is in some degree master of that art which is generally known by the name of Physiognomy, and naturally forms to himself the character or fortune of a stranger from the features of his face. We are no sooner presented to any one we never saw before, but we are immediately struck with the idea of a proud, a reserved, an affable, or a good-natured man. For my own part, I am so apt to frame a notion of every man's humor 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. I can not recollect the author of a famous saying to a stranger who stood silent in his company, 'Speak, that I may see thee.' But with all submission I think we may be better known by our looks than by our words, and that a man's speech is much more easily disguised than his countenance." Even in their present crude and incoherent condition the rules of this art of symbol-reading have a far greater interest than those of our dogmatic skull-systems, which, besides minor confirmations, lack the important one of the vox populi. There is a deep meaning in the humorous remark of Professor Vogt, that, "if the tenets of Spurzheim were founded on fact, instinct would have taught us long ago to finger the occiput of a suspicious stranger instead of scrutinizing his face"; and the study of a phrenological bust somehow obtrudes the idea that a good deal of this cranial topography was suggested by verbal analogies, such as the location of our higher faculties in the attic of the skull while the baser propensities occupy the basement, or George Combe's conception that an elongated head must denote sagacity—anglicè, "long-headedness." Lavater's, Winckelmann's, Cuvier's, and Dr. Redfield's observations, on the other hand, are often indorsed by a multitude of analogous impressions which social studies or self-examination has left in our minds.

The comparison of modern physiognomic theories with the opinions of the ancients suggests many curious reflections, and may frequently serve to confirm one of those semi-conscious notions of our own which we derive from experience but neglect to "formulate." "Whitish hair, which at the same time is soft and thin," says Baron Cuvier, "denotes a feeble organization, a temper yielding and easily alarmed. It is commonly combined with an oval face and gently rounded head. Such heads are never found in the descriptions of malefactors. Black, frizzled hair the ancients considered as a sign of a