Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 3, March 1836, 2:286-287


[page 286, column 1, continued:]


Phrenology, and the Moral Influence of Phrenology: Arranged for General Study, and the Purposes of Education, from the first published works of Gall and Spurzheim, to the latest discoveries of the present period. By Mrs. L. Miles. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, and Blanchard.

Phrenology is no longer to be laughed at. It is no longer laughed at by men of common understanding. It has assumed the majesty of a science; and, as a science, ranks among the most important which can engage the attention of thinking beings — this too, whether we consider it merely as an object of speculative inquiry, or as involving consequences of the highest practical magnitude. As a study it is very extensively accredited in Germany, in France, in Scotland, and in both Americas. Some of its earliest and most violent opposers have been converted to its doctrines. We may instance George Combe who wrote the “Phrenology.” Nearly all Edinburgh has been brought over to belief — in spite of the Review and its ill sustained opinions. Yet these latter were considered of so great weight that Dr. Spurzheim was induced to visit Scotland for the purpose of refuting them. There, with the Edinburgh Review in one hand, and a brain in the other, he delivered a lecture before a numerous assembly, among whom was the author of the most virulent attack which perhaps the science has ever received. At this single lecture he is said to have gained five hundred converts to Phrenology, and the Northern Athens is now the strong hold of the faith.

In regard to the uses of Phrenology — its most direct, and, perhaps, most salutary, is that of self-examination and self-knowledge. It is contended that, with proper caution, and well-directed inquiry, individuals may obtain, through the science, a perfectly accurate estimate of their own moral capabilities — and, thus instructed, will be the better fitted for decision in regard to a choice of offices and duties in life. But there are other and scarcely less important uses too numerous to mention — at least here.

The beautiful little work now before us was originally printed in London in a manner sufficiently quaint. The publication consisted of forty cards contained in a box resembling a small pocket volume. An embossed head accompanied the cards, giving at a glance the relative situations and proportions of each organ, and superseding altogether the necessity of a bust. This head served as an Index to the explanations of the system. The whole formed a lucid, compact, and portable compend of Phrenology. The present edition of the work, however, is preferable in many respects, and is indeed exceedingly neat and convenient — we presume that it pretends to be nothing more.

The Faculties are divided into Instinctive Propensities and Sentiments and Intellectual Faculties. The Instinctive Propensities and Sentiments are subdivided into Domestic Affections, embracing Amativeness, Philoprogenitiveness, Inhabitiveness, and Attachment — Preservative Faculties, embracing Combativeness, Destructiveness, and Gustativeness — Prudential Sentiments, embracing Acquisitiveness, Secretiveness, and Cautionness — Regulating Powers, including Self-Esteem, Love of Approbation, Conscientiousness, and Firmness — Imaginative Faculties, containing Hope, Ideality, and Marvellousness — and Moral Sentiments, under which head come Benevolence, Veneration, and Imitation. The Intellectual Faculties are divided into Observing Faculties, viz: Individuality, Form, Size, Weight, Color, Order, and Number — Scientific Faculties, viz: Constructiveness, Locality, Time, and Tune — Reflecting Faculties, viz: Eventuality, Comparison, Casuality and Wit — and lastly, the Subservient Faculty, which is Language. This classification is arranged with sufficient clearness, but it would require no great degree of acumen to show that to mere perspicuity points of vital importance to the science have been sacrificed.

At page 17 is a brief chapter entitled a Survey of Contour, well conceived and well adapted to its purpose which is — to convey by a casual or superficial view of any head, an idea of what propensities, sentiments, or faculties, most distinguish the individual. It is here remarked that “any faculty may be possessed in perfection without showing itself in a prominence or bump,” (a fact not often attended to) “it is only where — one organ predominates above those nearest to it, that it becomes singly perceptible. Where a number of contiguous organs are large, there will be a general fulness of that part of the head.”

Some passages in Mrs. Miles’ little book have a very peculiar interest. At page 26 we find what follows.

“The cerebral organs are double, and inhabit both sides of the head, from the root of the nose to the middle of the neck at the nape. They act in unison, and produce a single impression, as from the double organs of sight and hearing. The loss of one eye does not destroy vision. The deafness of one ear does not wholly deprive us of hearing. In the same manner Tiedman reports the case of a madman, whose disease was confined to one side of his head, the patient having the power to perceive his own malady, with the unimpaired faculties of the other side. It is no uncommon thing to find persons acute on all subjects save one — thus proving the possibility of a partial injury of the brain, or the hypothesis of a plurality of organs.”

In the chapter on Combativeness, we meet with the very sensible and necessary observation that we must not consider the possession of particular and instinctive propensities, as acquitting us of responsibility in the indulgence of culpable actions. On the contrary it is the perversion of our faculties which causes the greatest misery we endure, and for which (having the free exercise of reason) we are accountable to God. [page 287:]

The following is quoted from Edinensis, vol. iv.

“All the faculties are considered capable of producing actions which are good, and it is not to be admitted that any one of them is essentially, and in itself – evil — but if given way to beyond a certain degree, all of them (with the sole exception of Conscientiousness) may lead to results which are improper, injurious, or culpable.”

The words annexed occur at page 102.

“Anatomy decides that the brain, notwithstanding the softness of its consistence, — gives shape to the cranium, as the crustaceous tenement of the crab is adjusted to the animal that inhabits it. An exception is made to this rule when disease or ill-treatment injure the skull.”

And again at page 159.

“By appealing to Nature herself, it can scarcely be doubted that certain forms of the head denote particular talents or dispositions; and anatomists find that the surface of the brain presents the same appearance in shape which the skull exhibits during life. Idiocy is invariably the consequence of the brain being too small, while in such heads the animal propensities are generally very full.”

To this may be added the opinion of Gall, that a skull which is large, which is elevated or high above the ears, and in which the head is well developed and thrown forward, so as to be nearly perpendicular with its base, may be presumed to lodge a brain of greater power (whatever may be its propensities) than a skull deficient in such proportion.





[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (March 1836)