Phrenological bust by LN FowlerPhrenological bust by LN FowlerThe History of Phrenology on the Web

by John van Wyhe

George Combe's The Constitution of Man in Relation to External Objects (8th ed., 1847).

"No book published within the memory of man, in the English or any other language, has effected so great a revolution in the previously received opinions of society... The influence of that unpretending treatise has extended to hundreds of thousands of minds which know not whence they derived the new light that has broken in upon them, and percolated into thousands of circles that are scarcely conscious of knowing more about Mr. Combe than his name, and the fact that he was a phrenologist." "the appearance of which created a sensation unparalleled by any philosophical work ever published in the language." Illustrated London News, 1858.

George Combe in 1836

George Combe's Constitution of Man sold approximately 350,000 copies between 1828 and 1900, an astounding number at the time and scarcely matched by any other book regardless of genre. In contrast, Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) sold only 50,000 between 1859 and 1900 (in the UK). Over 100 publishers produced the book continuously until 1899. Constitution's remarkable sales and the even larger number of people who read or were familiar with its philosophy of natural law, the amount of critical attention it received, and its influence make Constitution, and the phrenological naturalism it catered, anything but peripheral to the history of nineteenth-century Britain. Few book's were more widely distributed or were so influential in changing the way people conceived of themselves and Nature.
The book's fame did carry a word for phrenology with it; but Constitution is not a book about phrenology, instead it is a book of natural philosophy which teaches that Man is as subject to natural laws as the rest of Nature- Physical, Organic, and Moral. Ignorance of or disobedience to the natural laws led to "punishment"- such as catching a cold from exposure to the elements. The first steps towards the good life were to study and obey the distinct natural laws (notably excluding the Bible). Combe's book was hugely controversial from the 1820s through the 1850s. Evangelicals founded societies to oppose it, wrote books and articles against it, and sometimes even burned it! Thus fuss popularly believed to have resulted from Darwin's Origin of Species pales in comparison to that of Combe's Constitution, one of the most influential books of the 19th century. The 8th was the final edition revised by Combe.

-The Constitution of Man in Relation to External Objects (8th ed. 1847).

(The formatting has been carefully preserved wherever possible. Signature letters have also been preserved. Line breaks have not been preserved as this would impair searching of the text. Pagination has also been preserved to make the text as quotable as the original. Please inform me of any errors found.)

Also available:

-The Constitution of Man in relation to External Objects. 3rd American edn Boston 1834 [partially corrected rtf].

For more on Combe and other phrenologists see:

George and Andrew Combe

Review of Combe's System of Phrenology in Medico-Chirurgical Review. 1831.

Combe's phrenological opus: A system of phrenology, 2 vols. 1853.

Beale, The Laws of Health, in Relation To Mind and Body, 1851. (uncorrected text) Final chap only- interesting influences of Combe's Constitution of Man apparent here.

M'Cosh, James, Rev., The Method of the Divine Government, Physical and Moral. 1850. See the 4 page note on Combe's Constitution. (uncorrected text).

See also: Other phrenological texts on-line.



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