‘Dr Gall, the anatomist, who gives lectures on the skull’
Phrenology in Britain during the first decade of the nineteenth century
in The dome of thought
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The origins of phrenology are Continental rather than British. The opening chapter therefore surveys the earliest theories of an identifiable phrenology – those formulated by the German physician Franz Joseph Gall in Vienna – as they were reported in the British press. The religious controversy surrounding Gall’s studies, which were ostensibly associated with a form of secularism incompatible with Roman Catholic spirituality, is noted for its prominence in British popular reportage, where authors were quick to avail themselves of the opportunity to enjoin in xenophobic mockery. Gall’s extensive tour of Europe, which followed the apparently hostile reception by the Austrian authorities, is then considered, and hitherto unreprinted reports of the doctor’s earliest phrenological experiments are quoted and analysed. These include both favourable accounts and others which dismissed phrenology as a fad already in decline, and thus not likely to attract any following in Britain. The possibility of Gall travelling to Britain, and of his analysing the crania of the upper classes, was similarly the subject of mocking journalism. The chapter reproduces some of the earliest graphic images of the phrenological model of the skull and discusses and explains the significance of the earliest tabulation of the phrenological organs to appear in the English language. Notably, the fluid and developing nature of the phrenological map of character is acknowledged, and the debate about the function and location of different organs is played out in the popular press. This is an important chapter as it outlines the earliest incarnation of phrenology in anglophone culture.

The dome of thought

Phrenology and the nineteenth-century popular imagination


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