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

by John van Wyhe

Reading phrenology
Frontispiece to Combe's Lectures on phrenology, 1839.

As a wide-spread cultural phenomena, phrenology coloured many aspects of life in the 19th century. This is reflected in countless works of fiction and non-fiction from the period. Many writers found phrenological language useful for describing personality or put familiar phrenological terms in the mouths of their characters.

The main-stream British phrenologists, under the leadership of the Edinburgh lawyer George Combe, developed a philosophy of natural laws which, through the books on this site, spread naturalism into every niche of Victorian Britain and America. When Darwin published his Origin of Species (1859), natural selection was received by a readership already well-versed in doctrines esteeming the authority of natural laws. Rather than overturning this scheme, Darwin's views meshed with them readily.

This philosophy, almost a religion, of natural laws was predominantly spread by two books which almost everyone who could read (and many who couldn't) knew of in the 19th century. These were: Combe's The Constitution of Man (1828) and Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844). Constitution is about how natural laws are the ultimate authorities which Man must obey, and their action leads to progress; disobeying them leads to automatic punishment. Vestiges takes these same natural laws and makes them the engine of a universal evolution. Vestiges is now usually remembered as the big evolution book before Darwin. The controversies over both of these books surpassed those over Darwin's Origin and converted countless thousands to belief in natural laws and naturalized humanity.

Traces and influences of phrenology may also be seen in the writings of the following authors. To my knowledge this is the largest list of phrenology in literature ever assembled, though it is naturally very far from complete.

Cover of Lundie, Phrenological Mirror

Adams, John S., Town and country; or life at home and abroad, without and within us. 1855,
Arnim, Achim von, Die Grfin Dolores,
Bacon, J. M., (The Dominion of the Air),
Balzac, Honoré, de, (Ursula; Louis Lambert; Cousin Pons; The Deputy of Arcis; Sons of the Soil; Father Goriot),
Barbour, Maynard, (That Mainwaring Affair),
Bierce, Ambrose,
Bird, Isabella L., (A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains),
Bremer, Frederika, (Homes of the New World; Impressions of America),
Brentano, Clemens, & J. G rres, Wunderbare Geschichte von Bogs, dem Uhrmacher,
Brontë, Anne, (The tennant of Wildefell Hall),
Brontë, Charlotte, (Jane Eyre),
Briggs, Charles Frederick, (The Adventures of Harry Franco),
Bchner, Georg, Dantons Tod
Bulwer-Lytton, Edward, (The Coming Race),
Cickton, Henry, (The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist),
Coke, Henry J., (Tracks of a Rolling Stone),
Collins, Wilkie, (The Evil Genius, Legacy of Cain, The Moonstone),
Conrad, Joseph, (Heart of Darkness),
Coombs, Norman, (The Black Experience In America),
Cooper James Fenimore, (The Pathfinder),
Cooper, Susan Fenimore, (Elinor Wyllys),
Darwin, Charles, (The Voyage of the Beagle),
Dickens, Charles, (David Copperfield; Great Expectations, Life And Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit; Sketches by Boz; Bleak House; The Holly-Tree; The Uncommercial Traveller; American Notes; Dombey and Son; A Message From the Sea; The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, The Mystery of Edwin Drood),
Disraeli, Isaac, (Flim-flams! or, The life and errors of my uncle, and the amours of my aunt!),
Doyle, A.C., (The hound of the Baskervilles, 'The final problem'... and other stories),
Drummond, William Hamilton, (The Pleasures of Benevolence, A Poem (1835)
Dumas, Alexandre, (The Count of Monte Cristo),
Elliot, George, - she was a friend of Combe's, many of her works mention the natural laws,
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, (Fate, The Conduct of Life),

Ferber, Edna, (Buttered Side Down),
Fern, Fanny [Sara Payson Willis], Ruth Hall (1854),
Flaubert, Gustave, (Madam Bovary),
Frederic, Harold, (The Damnation of Theron Ware),
Gilbert, W. S., (The Bab Ballads),
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins Stetson, (Herland),
Gutzkow, Karl, (Die Ritter vom Geiste, Die Nihilisten, Der Emporblick),
Hardy, Thomas, (The Woodlanders),
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, (Fanshawe, The Scarlet Letter),
Hoffman, E.T.A., (Nachricht von einem gebildeten jungen Mann; Milos, eines gebildeten Affen, an seine Freundin Pipi in Nordamerika; Lebensansichten des Katers Murr),
Hogg, James, (The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner),
Hood, Thomas, ('Craniology', in his Whims and Oddities),
Hugo, Victor, (Les Miserables),
Kingsley, (Alton Locke),
Kellogg, John Henry,
Larcom, Lucy, (A New England Girlhood),
Lermontov, M. Y., (A Hero of Our Time),
Leroux, Gaston, (The Mystery of the Yellow Room),
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, (Kavanagh),
Marryat, Frederick, (Mr. Midshipman Easy),
Mason, Mary Murdoch, (Mae Madden),
May, Karl, (Die Sklavenkarawane, Der Ölprinz, Durchs wilde Kurdistan, Von Bagdad nach Stambul, Der Sohn des Bärenjägers),
Mayhew, Henry,
Mellville, Herman, (Moby Dick, The confidence-Man, Billy Budd),
Mitchell, S. Weir, (The Autobiography of a Quack),
Moore, Clement Clarke,
Moultrie, John,
Myerson, Abraham, (The Foundations of Personality),
Nation, Carrie A., (The Use and Need of the Life of Carrie A. Nation),
Noble, James Ashcroft, (The Pelican Papers),
Parlette, Ralph, (The University of Hard Knocks),
Peacock, Thomas Love, (Headlong Hall ),
Poe, Edgar Allen, (Some words with a mummy, The imp of the perverse, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, et al),
Pückler-Muskau, Hermann Fürst von, (Briefe eines Verstorbenen),
Raine, William MacLeod, (Wyoming),
Riley, James Whitcomb,
Sand, George, (Mauprat),
Sedgwick, Catharine Maria, (Hope Leslie),
Simms, William Gilmore, (Beauchampe),
Sinclair, Upton, (The Profits of Religion),
Smiles, Samuel, (Physical Education & Self-Help were inspired by The Constitution of Man.)
Southey, Robert, (The Doctor, etc.),
Stevenson, Robert Louis,
(Lay Morals),
Tennyson, Charles, ('Phrenology' in Poems By Two Brothers),
Thackeray, William Makepeace, (The Notch on the Ax),
Tressell[Noonan], Robert, (The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist),
Trollope, Francis, (The domestic manners of the Americans),
Trotter, John, (Travels in Phrenologasto),
Twain, Mark, (The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer; Huckleberry Finn),
Wade, Thomas, (The Phrenologists: a farce, in two acts),
Ward, Frederick William Orde
Whibley, Charles, (A Book of Scoundrels) -mentions Combe and Haggart,
Whitman, Walt, ('Leaves of Grass', 'Good-Bye my Fancy', 'Memoranda'),
...and many others. *


Digitized books by many of these authors are available free on the internet. To find a book, begin searching at Books On-line - if you don't find what you are looking for there try Google.

See also: Electronic texts available only here and Other phrenological texts on-line.

 The next page is: Ridiculing Phrenology No science was ever abused so much- but what effect did that have?

See also: Time line of phrenology

* This list of authors and their works was compiled by John van Wyhe. If you make use of it, kindly acknowledge the source.

-Thanks to Sarah Hall, Marc Falkoff, Tamara Wagner, and Mary Bell for pointing out additional works.


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