Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/February 1911/Physiognomy and Genius




SAYS Edwin Miller Wheelock in that great prose epic of evolution which he called Proteus:

Our humanity has been evolved out of the lower and coarser types of life and faces still hang out the signs of this experience in the vulture beak, the bull-dog visage, the swinish aspect. This face is a bear's muzzle; that a snout. This one is written over with a foulness that needs no label; here is a rat and there an abject thing cringing for leave to be. The old brutehood lurks in each cerebellum and the nobler faculties of man sleep in their shell.

Since the uprise of the theory of evolution with its emphasis upon the physical tokens of kinship between man and the animals, the old science of physiognomy, which formed a favorite study of the ancients, and to which the great Aristotle himself devoted six weighty chapters, has come forth from its hiding amidst the discarded superstitions of the past. The time-worn rules for determining character from countenance have gained a genuine interest for the scientific mind, and even the old saws and proverbs—crystallizations of mankind's observation of faces and features for unnumbered generations—have taken on a dignity and value which they could not else have borne.

It is to the criminologists, however, that we are indebted for the first distinct step toward a scientific study of physiognomy, and their labors give hint of the large results which might be possible to an investigation of wider scope. Thus, we are informed by Havelock Ellis, in his interesting and instructive work "The Criminal," that the receding forehead, prognathous jaw, and long, projecting and voluminous ears are in general characteristics of the criminal, while, according to Lombroso, the homicide may be known by his cold, fixed and glassy eye, beaked nose, prominent jaws and cheek bones, thin lips, and, not infrequently spasmodic contractions on one side of the face. "Among petty criminals, those who are criminals by weakness," says Ellis, "a type of receding chin is found," and he adds," the typical thief's nose is rectilinear, often incurved, short and twisted, with lifted base."

Deep-rooted as is the instinct for inferring character from countenance, it is not a little remarkable that the one ripe and ready field for the study of physiognomy has remained thus long unexplored. The pages of biography should afford rich spoil for the curious delver after hidden laws of mind and morals, and it seems that a tabulation of the faces and figures of eminent personages should long since have suggested itself as desirable, if not indispensable.

Truth to say, however, no ingathering of such data appears to have been made, or, if made, to have been given publication; and, failing statistics at second hand, we have endeavored by search at first hand through some two hundred biographies, to supply the want—less, be it added, as a basis for generalization upon our own part than as an offering of material for study and analysis by others.

The feature of the countenance which first strikes the observer is the eye—the "lamp of the body" as it is called in the new testament, but more fitly, perhaps, the "lamp of the soul," for in very truth the eyes are the lighted portals to man's inner nature. The most noteworthy circumstance which our data offer is the very large predominance of blue, gray and bluish-gray eyes among personages of distinction. Thus, of seventy-six eminent men whose biographies afforded the information, twenty-five appear to have had blue eyes, seventeen gray and thirteen bluish-gray, making a total of fifty-five. Boasting eyes of blue—the color-symbol of goodness, according to the mystics—were Samuel Adams (dark blue), Matthew Arnold, Charles XII. of Sweden (dark blue), Longfellow, Stephen A. Douglas (dark blue), Eugene Field, Stonewall Jackson ("as a child, blue-eyed "), Charles George Gordon (pale blue), Patrick Henry, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Andrew Jackson, Charles Godfrey Leland, "Washington Irving (given as gray by some biographers), Washington Alston, James Monroe (blue, approaching gray), Napoleon ("steel blue"), John Ruskin, Savonarola (dark blue), Wm. H. Seward, Shelley, Chas. Sumner ("deep blue"). General Thomas, Grieg, Weber. Among gray eyes—"deep and sly" if we are to heed an old proverb—we have Michael Angelo ("light eyes"). Browning, Caesar (variously given as dark gray and black), Carnegie, Coleridge (described by other authorities as light hazel), Columbus (light gray). Sir Thomas More, Wm. Hazlitt, Ibsen (pale eyes), Washington Irving (dark gray but, according to others, blue), Thomas Jefferson ("gray flecked with hazel"), Milton (dark gray), Francis Parkman, S. S. Prentiss (dark gray), Robespierre ("pale greenish gray"), Tolstoy, Tennyson (this according to Caroline Fox, but, according to Carlyle, hazel). As representing a blend or play of both colors we have the names of George William Curtis, Charles Darwin, Frederick the Great, U. S. Grant (according to some biographers "dark gray"), Walter Savage Landor, Sidney Lanier, Napoleon (given by others as steel blue), Longfellow (given by other authorities as blue), Theodore Parker, Rossetti (between hazel and blue gray), Thoreau, George Washington, Whitman. It will have been noted that the same name appears occasionally in two of these lists This is owing to a conflict between biographers and the same circumstance will explain a like duplication in future lists.

The brown-eyed men among the celebrities of history were Captain Cook, Goethe (dark brown), Keats (hazel brown), Charles Lamb, E. L. Stevenson, Bayard Taylor (dark brown), William the Silent and Chopin. The eyes of Rufus Choate, Alexander Hamilton, Fielding, Sir Arthur Sullivan, Beethoven and John G. Whittier are described as "dark," Whittier's being described by most biographers as black. Hazel-eyed were S. T. Coleridge (given variously as hazel and gray), Farragut, Albert Gallatin, Hobbes, Keats (hazel brown), Walter Pater (light hazel, almost gray green), Southey (dark eyes, in youth light hazel), Tennyson (gray, according to Caroline Fox). Black eyes gleamed, according to biographers, from the brows of Cæsar (by others, however, spoken of as dark gray), Leigh Hunt, Paul Jones, John Marshall, Peter the Great, George Ripley, Daniel Webster and John Greenleaf Whittier.

With Agassiz, Peter the Great, E. L. Stevenson and George Washington, the eyes were set well apart, but precisely the reverse was true in the case of Robespierre. The eyes of Browning, Charlemagne, Coleridge, G. W. Curtis, Eugene Field, N. Hawthorne, Paul Jones, Napoleon, Peter the Great, Shelley and Tennyson were large—betokening, according to the "Encyclopedia of Superstitions," a faculty for talking and "for the use of effective language"; whereas those of Captain Cook, Patrick Henry, Ibsen, John Marshall, Tolstoy, Whitman, Chopin, Beethoven and Michael Angelo were small. As poseessed of deep-set eyes—surrounded in the majority of instances by high arching eyebrows—we have the names of George W. Curtis, Darwin, Stephen A. Douglas, Eugene Field, Fielding, Gladstone, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Huxley, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Paul Jones, Landor, Thoreau, Tolstoy, George Washington, Daniel Webster and Whitman. A profound power of observation appears to link with these names—an impression made more marked by shaggy eyebrows in the cases of Curtis, Darwin, Douglas, Jackson, Tolstoy and Whitman.

Next after the eyes, perhaps, the feature of the countenance which impresses the beholder is the formation of the jaw. Even before the lines of the mouth this aspect of the face engages attention. By no mere coincidence, doubtless, does a powerful jaw—the emblem of indomitable will—form the distinguishing marks of such physiognomies as those of Carnegie, Stonewall Jackson, Frederick the Great, Chinese Gordon, Grant, Alexander Hamilton, W. S. Landor, Walter Pater, George Washington, Arthur Sullivan and Schumann, nor does it seem without significance that in the case of Robespierre "an insufficient development of the jaw" is noticeable, and that in the case of Michael Angelo the "lower part of the face was much smaller than the upper." Quite suggestive, moreover, of something primitive, akin perhaps to ferocity, are the high cheek bones of the great navigators Columbus, Captain Cook and Farragut, on the one hand, and Robespierre and Daniel Webster on the other.

The lines of the mouth we never neglect. We naturally scrutinize the lips for impressions of power or weakness, coldness or affection, sensuality or delicacy. Our data here are less full than could be wished. We have no means of trying by the testimony of biography the dislike we feel for lips that are excessively full or which, when smiling, turn upward at the corners, nor can we verify the impression of extreme narrowness and obstinacy which we gain from feminine lips that are thin and bloodless and drawn downward at the end. We seem, however, to discern a marked austerity in the meager lips of Rufus Choate, Farragut, Stonewall Jackson, Frederick the Great, Ibsen, Robespierre, Thaddeus Stevens ("thin upper lip"), U. S. Grant and Paul Jones, whereas in the ampler labia of Coleridge, Cromwell ("strict yet copious"—Carlyle), Nathaniel Hawthorne (full under lip), Oliver Wendell Holmes (protruding under lip), Julian (full lower lip), Peter the Great, Savonarola (full under lip), Beethoven (protruding under lip) and Schubert we might suspect a proneness to self-indulgence. The long upper lip of Landor gives a suggestion of assertiveness and tenacity which seems unmistakable.

Quite disappointing are our data with reference to the chin. That feature would seem entitled to greater weight in any estimate of character than biography appears to warrant. Thus, the chin of long, square, shovel-like structure always drives in upon us a vague shrinking, as from something fanatical, and so a thin and pointed or receding chin carries a suggestion of weakness which moves our pity or contempt; yet such inferences seem unjustified when applied to the distinguished individuals of history, though even our scant data are not without a testimony to general characteristics of disposition as associated with set types of chin.

The chin of Oliver Wendell Holmes, as we find, was decidedly retreating, that of Hawthorne is pronounced "weak"; Defoe and Robespierre had sharp chins, while that of Fielding is described as "unusually long," that of Napoleon "projecting" and that of Parkman as "of unusual prominence." As round or full—a contour pleasing to the eye—we have those of Captain Cook, Charles XII. of Sweden, Eugene Field, Washington Irving, Sidney Smith and Thoreau, which last is described as "strong."

The nose we seem instinctively to look upon as a decisive index to character. We never think highly of the character or capacity of persons with small pinched noses. Pug noses, moreover, we associate with pertness, and long, pointed noses with inquisitiveness. So, the hawk-nose, to most observers, is a sign of an aggressive, self-sufficient nature, not troubled overmuch with moral scruple. We never look for a placid temper among persons whose noses roughen easily into wrinkles, and in those whose noses wrap into long folds down the sides we expect evidences of a sordid make-up. Fine Greek noses, however, we take to be sure indications of good taste—large, shapely Roman noses as signs of solid character, inclining to generosity and capable of wise leadership.

These characterizations, however, seem but dimly borne out by the pages of biography. Thus, as possessed of small noses, we find Stephen A. Douglas, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Jefferson, James Russell Lowell, Peter the Great, Robespierre, Bayard Taylor and Thackeray (that of Schubert is spoken of as "upturned" and was doubtless small), while the large nose finds representation in the case of Charles XII. of Sweden, Eugene Field, Albert Gallatin, Washington Irving, Rossetti ("large distended nostrils"), Thoreau ("huge"), Tolstoy ("broad"), George Washington ("long in proportion to his face"), William the Silent ("long with wide nostrils"), Beethoven ("rather broad"). The hawk-nose was a characteristic of the warriors Charlemagne, Cromwell, Farragut and Frederick the Great, as also of Columbus ("aquiline"), Defoe, Fielding, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lamb, Lanier, Savonarola, Sidney Smith, Thaddeus Stevens, Bayard Taylor and Chopin. The straight nose is found in the cases of Captain Cook, Albert Gallatin ("long and prominent"), Alexander Hamilton ("long and rather sharp"), Washington Irving, Paul Jones, Julian, Napoleon and Whitman.

Far more interesting and significant is our material with reference to the foreheads of great men—that popular test of intellect and capacity. Remarkable for high foreheads were Bunyan, Charlemagne, Charles XII. of Sweden, Darwin, Hazlitt, Patrick Henry, Hobbes, Leigh Hunt, Ibsen, Washington Irving, Andrew Jackson (high but narrow), Peter the Great, Robespierre, Walter Scott, Daniel Webster, Beethoven and Schubert. As "broad" we find the foreheads of Carnegie, Agassiz, Charles XII. of Sweden, Captain Cook, Stephen A. Douglas ("massive"), Nathaniel Hawthorne ("massive"), Washington Irving, Paul Jones, Keats (but not high). Lamb, Monroe, Robespierre, Rossetti, Savonarola, Walter Scott, Stevenson, Beethoven. The forehead of U. S. Grant is described as "square"—usually accepted as a proof of fearlessness—while those of Coleridge, Whitman and Michael Angelo are described as "overhanging." The foreheads of Frederick the Great and Robespierre were receding, while those of Keats and John Marshall were low.

It is not without interest that among the physiognomies of the distinguished individuals whose biographies we have examined, we note as conspicuously absent the "prognathous jaw" and "long, projecting and voluminous ears," which according to Ellis are characteristics of the criminal class, and which, it may be observed, are likewise tokens of recurrence to the primitive human type; nor in our studies of the nose have we met the peculiarities of that organ which make up what Ellis calls the "typical thief's nose." An occasional mark of the lesser criminal, such as the receding forehead and retreating chin, make their appearance in our data, and those signs of power in the homicide—the prominent jaw and cheek bones, hawk nose and thin lips—are not without place in the faces of great historic characters, but with a single exception we find no example of the "cold, fixed and glassy eye" which according to Lombroso betokens the murderer. That exception, it is needless to say, is Robespierre, and it is no mean commentary upon the value of such studies as we have been pursuing that the face of Robespierre presented as strange a compound as his soul—that with the signs of strength afforded by the capacious forehead and firmly compressed lips there mingled so many features which the specialists in criminology accept as indications of criminality. His head, we learn, was small, brow retreating, nose diminutive and quite without an arch, jaw insufficiently developed, cheek bones high, eyes set close and in hue a "pale, greenish gray," shadowed by eyelids which trembled spasmodically.