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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/December 1882/Brain-Weight and Brain-Power

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 22‎ | December 1882

By J. P. H. BOILEAU, B. A., M. D.

ALTHOUGH the connection between the relative weight of man's brain and his intellectual development is very well known, and several illustrations of this connection have been published, I feel assured that the following notes of a remarkable case may not only well be added to the list of those already recorded, but that it is desirable that this should be done. It is the case of an officer who died at Netley last year, and I am indebted to a published memoir for some particulars of his life.

A Scotchman by birth and parentage, he received his early education in Edinburgh, and afterward went to Wimbledon School previous to entering Addiscombe, where his career was exceptionally brilliant. At the final examination there, he scored an unusual total of marks, gained the sword of honor and Pollock medal, and several prizes for specific subjects. On leaving Addiscombe in 1858 he proceeded to India, where he was employed altogether in civil duties. At the time of his death he was superintendent of the telegraph department. With no military distinctions, he was, nevertheless, one of the foremost men in his corps. Highly gifted intellectually, duty no less than inclination prompted him to cultivate his mind as a preparation for advancement, for he held strongly that no one is fit for highly responsible positions who fails to keep himself as far as possible on a level with current events, and with the thoughts, investigations, and discoveries of the day. His wide reading and tenacious memory made him a man of mark in any society. His opinions were his own, formed independently, expressed, if necessary, forcibly, and followed always courageously. He was an exceptional man, and his large-hearted and wide-reaching sympathy won him admiration and love among high and low. His remarkable qualities were as conspicuous in his earlier as in his later years. He was a standard of conduct to his schoolfellows, and, when at Addiscombe, the governor did him the extraordinary honor of making a private report to the Board of Directors of the East India Company, which was quoted by the chairman on the examination day. The reputation with which he started increased daily, and was sustained to the last. But the strain was too great. Exposure to a pernicious climate—and his physical strength led him to expose himself only too carelessly—for twenty-four years, with but eighteen months' leave, weakened a naturally magnificent constitution, and he was compelled to take furlough. His intellectual vigor, however, was shown nearly to the last, and only a few days before death he expressed his capability of undertaking difficult mental work. But a sudden change set in, and in a few days proved fatal.

During his stay at Netley he suffered from extreme debility, induced probably by intractable diarrhoea. A day or two before death he complained of severe headache, and his axillary temperature rose from 101°-102° to 106° Fahr.

It is very much to be regretted that, at the time I was called upon to make the autopsy, I was not in possession of the facts narrated, for, had I been, the examination would have been more complete in many points. The diagnosis of the case was very obscure; but hepatic abscess was suspected, and it was to clear up this point that the examination was made. The severe headache, however, and the rise of temperature, pointed to some cerebral or meningeal mischief, and it was thought advisable to find out if such existed. For this purpose the cranium was opened.

Abstract of Autopsy (made not only with the full permission of relatives, but, I believe, by request).—Cranial bones very dense; dura mater extremely vascular; brain-substance generally firm and normal. On opening the left ventricle pus was observed in the anterior cornu; the origin of this was in the anterior part of the intraventricular portion of the left corpus striatum, which here was quite destroyed and broken down into soft shreds. Before dissection the brain weighed 26,130 grains avoirdupois, or 59·72 ounces. After examination, a portion of it, weighing 22,785 grains, was found to displace eighty-six cubic inches of water; the specific gravity was, therefore, 1·049. The lungs were perfectly healthy, with the exception of the lower lobe of the right. In this there was a circumscribed abscess-cavity, measuring in its longest diameter three inches. It communicated with a small abscess in the liver, through an opening, about the size of a florin, in the diaphragm. The heart was quite normal. The lining membrane of the great blood-vessels was deeply blood-stained, that of the aorta being very much roughened, in patches, by atheromatous degeneration. Jejunum, ileum, and colon normal; no trace of ulceration, but the solitary glands of the latter were large and prominent. The liver presented a uniformly brown color throughout, and was much softened. In the upper portion of the right lobe there was a small abscess, about one inch in diameter, and nearly surrounded by a dense, thick, fibrous envelope. This abscess communicated with the lung. The spleen was slightly enlarged, weighing 4,375 grains. The kidneys appeared to be quite normal; they were enveloped in a large amount of fat.

The chief interest in this case lies in the great weight of the brain, and its high specific gravity, in relation to the highly gifted intellectual power exhibited by the individual during life. As this brain weighed very nearly 60 ounces, it exceeds that of all others usually quoted, with the exception only of Cuvier's, which weighed 64½ ounces, and that of Dr. Abercrombie, which weighed 63 ounces.[1] Sir J. Y. Simpson's brain weighed 54 ounces, and that of Agassiz 53·4 ounces. It is well known that the average weight of the adult male brain is under 50 ounces. The specific gravity of the brain I examined was 1·049, and this is as high as any recorded. From Professor Aitken's work I find that the average specific gravity of the brain is 1·036, and the highest specific gravity of the densest part of a brain ever taken by Professor Aitken, or any one else, I believe, is 1·049.

The weight of the brain in this case was, in the first instance, taken by the orderly corporal in charge of our microscope room, and recorded by him on the blackboard in the mortuary. I immediately verified its accuracy by weighing the organ myself, and I also verified the correctness of the weighing-machine. The specific gravity was taken very carefully. Surgeon-Major Hogg, Army Medical Department, was present at the time.

The average cranial capacity of the adult male head is, I believe, about 90 cubic inches. Cuvier's is reported to have been about 118, In the case which I now record it must have been about 108.—Lancet.


  1. A case is recorded in the "British Medical Journal," October 26, 1872, by Dr. Morris j in which a brain examined at University College, London, weighed 67 ounces. It was that of a bricklayer, who could neither read nor write.