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The following remarks can pretend to be nothing more than a few loose and undigested thoughts upon a subject, which has recently occupied the attention of many men, and obtained an extraordinary vogue in the world. It were to be wished, that the task had fallen into the hands of a writer whose studies were more familiar with all the sciences which bear more or less on the topic I propose to consider: but, if abler and more competent men pass it by, I feel disposed to plant myself in the breach, and to offer suggestions which may have the fortune to lead others, better fitted for the office than myself, to engage in the investigation. One advantage I may claim, growing out of my partial deficiency. It is known not to be uncommon for a man to stand too near to the subject of his survey, to allow him to obtain a large view of it in all its bearings. I am no anatomist: I simply take my stand upon the broad ground of the general philosophy of man.
It is a very usual thing for fanciful theories to have their turn amidst the eccentricities of the human mind, and then to be heard of no more. But it is perhaps no ill occupation, now and then, for an impartial observer, to analyse these theories, and attempt to blow away the dust which will occasionally settle on the surface of science. If phrenology, as taught by Gall and Spurzheim, be a truth, I shall probably render a service to that truth, by endeavouring to shew where the edifice stands in need of more solid supports than have yet been assigned to it. If it be a falshood, the sooner it is swept away to the gulph of oblivion the better. Let the inqui
. sitive and the studious fix their minds on more su stantial topics, instead of being led away by gaudy and deceitful appearances. The human head, that crowning capital of the column of man, is too in. teresting a subject, to be the proper theme of every dabbler. And it is obvious, that the professors of this so called discovery, if they be rash and ground. less in their assertions, will be in danger of producing momentous errors, of exciting false hopes never destined to be realised, and of visiting with pernicious blasts the opening buds of excellence, at the time when they are most exposed to the chance of destruction.
I shall set out with acknowledging, that there is, as I apprehend, a science in relation to the human head, something like what Plato predicates of the statue hid in a block of marble. It is really contained in the block; but it is only the most consummate sculptor, that can bring it to the eyes of men, and free it from all the incumbrances, which, till he makes application of his art to it, surround
the statue, and load it with obscurities and disfigurement. The man, who, without long study and premeditation, rushes in at once, and expects to withdraw the curtain, will only find himself disgraced by the attempt.
There is a passage in an acute writer“, whose talents singularly fitted him, even when he appeared totally immerged in mummery and trifles, to illustrate the most important truths, that is applicable to the point I am considering.
“Pray, what was that man's name,-for I write in such a hurry, I have no time to recollect or look for it,—who first made the observation, “That there was great inconstancy in our air and climate?' Whoever he was, it was a just and good observation in him. But the corollary drawn from it, namely, * That it is this which has furnished us with such a variety of odd and whimsical characters ;'—that was not his ;-it was found out by another man, at least a century and a half after him. Then again, that this copious storehouse of original materials is the true and natural cause that our comedies are so much better than those of France, or any others that have or can be wrote upon the continent;that discovery was not fully made till about the middle of king William's reign, when the great Dryden, in writing one of his long prefaces (if I mistake not), most fortunately hit upon it. Then, fourthly and lastly, that this strange irregularity in
Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. I.
our climate, producing so strange an irregularity in our characters, doth thereby in some sort make us amends, by giving us somewhat to make us merry with, when the weather will not suffer us to go out of doors,—that observation is my own; and was struck out by me this very rainy day, March 26, 1759, and betwixt the hour of nine and ten in the morning
“Thus—thus, my fellow-labourers and associates in this great harvest of our learning, now ripening before our eyes ; thus it is, by slow steps of casual increase, that our knowledge physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, ænigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and obstetrical, with fifty other branches of it, (most of them ending, as these do, in ical,) has, for these two last centuries and more, gradually been creeping upwards towards that acmé of their perfections, from which, if we may form a conjecture from the advantages of these last seven years, we cannot possibly be far off.”
Nothing can be more true, than the proposition ludicrously illustrated in this passage, that real science is in most instances of slow growth, and that the discoveries which are brought to perfection at once, are greatly exposed to the suspicion of quackery. Like the ephemeron fly, they are born suddenly, and may be expected to die as soon.
Lavater, the well known author of Essays on Physiognomy, appears to have been born seventeen years before the birth of Gall. He attempted to reduce into a system the indications of human character that are to be found in the countenance. Physiognomy, as a subject of ingenious and probable conjecture, was well known to the ancients. But the test, how far any observations that have been made on the subject are worthy the name of a science, will lie in its application by the professor to a person respecting whom he has had no opportunity of previous information. Nothing is more easy, when a great warrior, statesman, poet, philosopher or philanthropist is explicitly placed before us, than for the credulous inspector or fond visionary to examine the lines of his countenance, and to point at the marks which should plainly shew us that he ought to have been the very thing that he is. This is the very trick of gipsies and fortunetellers. But who ever pointed to an utter stranger in the street, and said, I perceive by that man's countenance that he is one of the great luminaries of the world? Newton, or Bacon, or Shakespear would probably have passed along unheeded. Instances of a similar nature occur every day. Hence it plainly appears that, whatever may hereafter be known on the subject, we can scarcely to the present time be said to have overstepped the threshold. And yet nothing can be more certain than that there is a science of physiognomy, though to make use of an illustration already cited, it has not to this day been extricated out of the block of marble in