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by John van Wyhe

Cornelius Donovan, A Handbook of Phrenology. London, Longmans & Co, 1870. pp. 192, chapter XVII.

In this phrenological extract Cornelius Donovan, a prominent London phrenologist from the 1840s to the 1870s, details, with illustrations, how to read a head with the hands and a tape measure.




THE theory of Phrenology-its principles and knowledge of the Mental Faculties and their functions-may be learned from books. The manipulatory part can hardly be so learned: indeed, most works are silent on this part, leaving the student without any instruction-as if it mattered not how the head was handled. But it does matter very much how the head is manipulated.

In all arts into which manipulation enters, a certain mode of handling is indispensable-from the simplest operation to the most complex. In such a manner the pen is held or handled, in such a manner the violin, the piano, the harp, the flute, are handled. If we were to see a person holding a pen awkwardly, we should say that he was not properly taught to write. The same of a musical instrument.

Among its numerous uses, the hand is specially adapted to the work of feeling the head. The normal head is the width of the person's hand with the thumb extended ; it is the height of the hand with the thumb extended ; it is the length of the hand from the wrist-bones to the tip of the middle finger. These relations between the hand and the head are very curious ; and they specially adapt the hand to the operation of feeling the head.

An examination of a head should be conducted systematically. The person to be examined should be seated at a table, and the examiner at the right side, so that he may have his right hand to note the sizes of the Organs. The person examined should sit steadily looking forward, the head being neither raised nor depressed from its ordinary position, nor turned aside as if to meet the manipulator's hand. The examiner manipulates, with his


left hand, the four Organs, in succession, of the Domestic Group. How these Organs should be handled is shown in Plate I.

These Organs being steadily and repeatedly manipulated and their sizes noted, the sides of the head come next. Here the two hands come into operation : feeling the pair of Organs, not with the tips but with the inside of the fingers, and this gently and softly, " as if you loved them."

" Combativeness " is immediately behind the ear, above the mastoid bone-it is felt with both hands. It requires a good deal of practice to estimate this Organ correctly ; usually it is in the middle state. " Destructiveness " is inside the helix of the ear- two-handed also. Time will be required to judge it correctly. " Secretiveness " lies above " Combativeness " and " Destructiveness ;" and when the hands are laid softly along the sides of the head-the tip of the little finger to the tip of the ear-a full development of the Organ throws the fingers outwards. (See Plates.) " Acquisitiveness " lies in front of " Secretiveness," and is rather easily estimated, as is " Constructiveness " directly in front. Still, it will take much practice before anything like adroitness can be gained.

" Alimentiveness " is a very important Organ. In its extreme states-the hollow and the protuberant, immediately in front of the ear-it is not very difficult to estimate, but it is a study-as, indeed, is every Organ. " Self-esteem," " Love of Approbation," and " Caution " demand nice handling : the two latter from the front with two hands. " Sympathy," "Veneration," and " Firmness " take but one hand-the right ; whilst " Conscientiousness," "Hope," "Faith," "Ideality," and " Imitation " call for two hands from the front. " Firmness " should be the apex of every head in its natural and erect position, looking forward at right angles. Each of these Organs is a study for weeks, and as such it should be treated.

When Phrenology was first introduced it was thought enough to qualify a manipulator of heads that he had attended a lecture on the science. " I was at a lecture on Phrenology last night." " Oh ! do come and feel, my head and tell me all about


myself." " Well, you have large ' Caution.' " " Dear me, how true ! a cow on the road does so frighten me. Now go on-tell me more. I declare you are quite an oracle." And so the great Phrenologist proceeded in his work, much to the lady's delight and astonishment. In those days " great Phrenologists " were plentiful. In these it is known that to be a good Phrenologist is the work of a life. People begin with a notion of bumps on the head, for which they feel with the tips of their fingers. Development, as has been already mentioned, means fulness, roundness, plumpness, such as can be felt and appreciated only with the inside of the fingers being gently moved about the part. And it is only after a considerable time that power to estimate development correctly can be acquired. To many hands, from defective perceptives and peculiarity of temperament, this power is impossible. Persons with delicate-feeling hands are rather scarce.

The forehead needs close inspection. First, the distance between the eyes should be noticed. All good draughtsmen in particular have a good space between the eyes. But width in this respect will not give the talent for drawing. To produce this, " Constructiveness " must be well developed. It is this Organ that chiefly communicates a dexterous use of the hands in any operation. " Size " is indicated by the manner in which, the radix nasi, the root of the nose, is developed. A feeble development of this part is a great drawback to practical observation. " Weight " is just where the eyebrow terminates, near the centre of the forehead, and its full development causes a protrusion of this part. " Individuality "-the centre-the glabella-is a study. Its very large development is by no means desirable. It is this Organ that brings all the Observing Faculties to a focus, and presents to the mind the observed object, be it large or small, as a total, a single unit, be it made up of ever so many units. This " Individuality " can do only when the preceding organs perform their functions effectively.

" Colour " is the central Organ of the eyebrow. When the thumbs are placed on it, its small development suffers the ball


of the eye to be felt at the same time. It is a difficult Organ to estimate. " Order " forms the outer angle of the brow, and " Number " is just under it, acting on the upper and outer part of the eye. " Locality " is rather hard to estimate when in its medium state. " Eventuality," just over " Individuality," is small in a great number of persons. Hence the few who are good at narrative and anecdote. It is the Historical Faculty.

" Time," at either side of " Eventuality," is rather hard to judge. It is enough if the Intellectual Organs are in a medium and an educable state. They grow under proper exercise, and often become active even though no outward development of the Organ should be obvious. As to growth of Organs, this never can be ascertained unless casts are taken-at various times. " Time " is not easy to estimate. It may, as may other Organs, have an inward development though not an outer. When active it is sure to give active manifestations. " Language " is indicated by a certain fulness in the lower half of the eye in particular, and by fulness of the eye in general. It requires time to know it well. It gives fluency of speech, but not the talent of tracing words to their grandfathers, The philological talent has other dependencies as well as this.

The undesirableness of an overhanging state of the Reflective Organs has been frequently mentioned. It is enough if they raise and finish the forehead with a graceful slant-particularly in the female head. In the male head they may be larger than in the female. Arguing women are formidable.

Then comes the work of measuring the head, first with a tape as to its circumference. A twenty-one inch adult male head holds a humble position. These small brains have no work in them. They may be lively and active, and have all the appearance of efficiency, but they have no lasting power. They soon wear out, and never live to old age.

Height of head must, till the eye gets trained, be measured with the calipers. It requires no small share of handiness to make this measurement correctly. The leg of the calipers must be close by the opening in the ear, not in the opening ; the


other leg, estimating the height, should touch the head, at top. This touching is of little use if the arches of the head be not well formed. More width in these arches than height is morally unsafe. A good and prominent posterior lobe is of great value. It gives womanly softness of character. Lacenaire, the French assassin, had this. lobe large. He would not, for any money, lay his murderous hand on a child. There is much beauty in the high and projecting posterior lobe.

The student is strongly recommended to limit his observation to the heads of persons well known to him, and in the family circle. Let him quietly see how the conduct and the organisation agree, for agree they must, though he may not be able to see it at first. This detailed and narrowed mode of study is the only one likely to instruct. It may be slow, but it is sure. To compare head and conduct is a work of time. Strange heads should be let alone till known ones have been well and patiently considered. Three months given to the family circle will not be too much. What good could a man do in learning the piano or violin in three months P The head is a more complex instrument than either, and is by far more worthy of attention.

Casts and marked heads are at the outset anything but desirable. In no art can it be good to substitute an image of the object to be dealt with when the object itself can be procured. Who would teach riding on a plaster horse ? Doubtless the young equestrian would ride more at ease on his artificial steed, but he would make very little progress in the art of riding.

The student will do well to confine himself at first to the head of a person well known, who will freely answer all inquiries, for an inquirer, not a judge, the student should be. The attempt to be oracular, or to form sweeping conclusions, is extremely injudicious. The last and crowning work is the study of the various types of the head and the combinations that produce each type.

In the European head the types are the most varied, and their sub-types are endless.

The savage races will have to be studied after the civilised


are well known. It is a remarkable fact that in most of the savage races the sutures of the skull are very little interlaced or drawn out.

The substance of all that can be said as to the mode of studying Phrenology may be condensed into the following :-

1st. Learn the Propositions so as to be able to repeat them in their order.

2nd. Learn the names and more obvious functions of the Faculties and their classification. It will be well to know each Faculty by its number.

3rd. Learn the seats and boundaries of the Organs, and the proper mode of manipulating them.

4th. Put down the estimate formed of the sizes of the Organs, of the measurements and the temperament, in a tabulated form, and see how far such estimate agrees with the main characteristics of the person examined.

Of all things avow that you are only a learner of a difficult art-be modest, for as yet you know but little. Phrenology is not an exact, but an approximate, science, leaving much to be learned by ordinary observation. It forms a scientific basis for the study of individual character, and the degree to which it can be learned depends on the natural acuteness of observation and sagacity of induction on the part of the student. In fine, Phrenology is so easy that any one can easily get a smattering of it ; and so difficult that it requires a good organisation of brain to go beyond smattering. By no royal road can excellence be reached.

By the general public the view of a Phrenologist is that he can at once form an estimate of the state of each Mental Organ, and of the shape and activity of the Head or Brain, and then and there describe a person's natural character. This opinion is, to a certain extent, correct as regards the duly-educated and experienced practitioner of the science ; and he is consulted with this expectation, the person consulting usually remaining silent, whether as regards himself or his children. This silence tends to a great extent to defeat the object in view, and it would not be practised towards the bodily physician, to whom one freely


imparts all possible information, for only then is the physician's skill believed to be available. Equal confidence should be reposed in the Phrenologist, who is the Physician of the Mind. The practitioner of Phrenology is, under such circumstances, duly guarded in his predictions, venturing little further than will justify the pretensions of his science, which have their limitations and qualifications when thus practised. When a more correct estimate of Phrenological skill comes to be arrived at a different mode of practice will result.

So much for the professional Phrenologist, from whom little short of necromantic skill is expected. But the amateur Phrenologist is altogether differently placed. There is no pressure on him to read off a person's character at sight. He reads only for himself, and he may read as slowly and as cautiously as he pleases, and get such confirmatory information as he can. The organisation of the Brain forms the basis of his study, and when he can read this correctly it tells him a great deal ; but it does not tell him all. The rest he must get through other sources. Whether or not a person has " Time," or " Tune," or " Language" in full development may be ascertained by a simple ordinary experiment, but whether such person be of a high, or a low, or a middling moral state, whether his or her temper be good or bad, these are researches requiring something more than mere avowal, and from non-phrenological observation they may often conceal themselves. The Phrenological observer never loses sight of the size and shape of the head, nor pays any regard to whatever may contradict these informers. In this work he can take his time, or, in certain cases, and of all, in the work of self-study, he may have the aid of an experienced practitioner. It is in its Reflective aspect as an exposition of the Mental System that Phrenology has the greatest charm, and will be of the highest practical uses in self-study, in government, and in education. Only by slow degrees can it make headway.

It may be well to conclude this chapter with a Scale of the Measurements of the Head.

The circumference of the adult male head should not be

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under twenty-one inches at least, nor over twenty-four inches, the tape being passed over " Philoprogenitiveness " and the Perceptive Organs.

The width of the male head varies from five inches and a half to six inches and a half, measured with the calipers, from just above the ears.

The height of the head should be exactly the same as the width, measured with the calipers from the opening of the ear to the vertical point in the coronal region. The length of the head from " Individuality " to " Philoprogenitiveness " should be one-third more than its width-that is, if the width be six the length should be eight inches.

The tape measurement from the opening of the ear, at each side, over the coronal region, should be one-third less than the circumference, and the measurement from " Individuality " over the coronal region to the occipital spine-the bottom of the skull at the back-should be the same as that from ear to ear.

The female head is, as a general rule, from an inch to an inch and a half less in circumference than the male, and less also by an inch in width and height. The posterior lobe of the female usually projects more than that of the male.

Cornelius Donovan, A Handbook of Phrenology. London, Longmans & Co, 1870. pp. 192, chapter XVII.


Text prepared by John van Wyhe.

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