The dome of thought examines how phrenology and phrenologists were represented in British daily newspapers, popular magazines and serious journals from the opening of the nineteenth century to its conclusion, before tracing the residual influence of the pseudoscience across the twentieth century and, surprisingly, into the second decade of the twenty-first century. The book opens with a consideration of how phrenology was deployed to explain literary celebrity in the Victorian period with particular attention being directed to the interpretation of the skulls of William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. The book then continues by recalling the manner in which the doctrine of phrenology was introduced to British culture in the early nineteenth century, and the manner in which the Continental activities of Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gasper Spurzheim were reported. The lecture tour of Britain and Ireland subsequently undertaken by Spurzheim is discussed, and the book reassess the controversy which surrounded his encounter with the Scottish medical establishment in 1816. Spurzheim’s influence upon George Combe, the Scottish lawyer who was the popular face of British phrenology for much of the century, is then considered, as is the interface of phrenological thought with mesmerism in the work of John Elliotson. The final chapter of the book surveys the declining years of speculative and theoretical phrenology and its transformation into a primarily commercial activity under the particular influence of the American Fowler brothers. The conclusion surveys phrenology in the twentieth century, and its resurgence in political satires directed against Donald Trump.
My first information concerning the system of Drs Gall and Spurzheim, was derived from No. 49 of the Edinburgh Review . Led away by the boldness of that piece of criticism, I regarded the doctrine as contemptibly absurd, and the authors of it as the most disingenuous of men.
George Combe, Essays on Phrenology ( 1819 )
I intend to go to Scotland to attack my adversaries … One of the medical men there is suspected as the author of the article in the Edinburg [sic] Review against us and our doctrine. I shall take a letter of introduction to him, for perhaps he will [illegible] attend, then at least I have [the] opportunity of seeing him and his cerebral organization.
Letter from Johann Gaspar Spurzheim to Honorine Pothier (26 November 1815
becoming as much a sideshow as the fortune-teller palmists so often encountered at such gala events. Some practitioners, like Hubert and the ‘Celebrated Lady Palmist, Madame Martino’ of Cardiff, appeared to have offered insights into character through the inspection of hand or head with no thought as to whether one method might appear questionable in the context of the other.
The system of Gall and Spurzheim, announced a century earlier with so many intimations of immanent scientific credibility, had thus arguably
about cognitive difference to the present day.
However, Gall was a pre-evolutionary thinker who assumed that organisms, placed within the Great Chain of Being, were static.
In contrast, Gall's dissectionist, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, introduced ‘practical phrenology’ to Britain in the 1810s, with a new emphasis on training and education as a way to develop positive faculties and support social reform.
Phrenology in Britain during the first decade of the nineteenth century
du cerveau en particulier , written with his associate Johann Gaspar Spurzheim in 1809 – but rather by a range of more extensive translations and summaries which served to facilitate the transformation of a Continental mode of thought into an increasingly British one.
These were still, admittedly, early days for British phrenology, by whatever name it might be called. Systematic examinations of British crania – or even of crania in Britain – are not recorded in the published writings of this period. Phrenology was very
Mesmerism, celebrity practitioners and the schism of 1842–3
converted into phrenological madhouses, and clergymen into the keepers of lunatic asylums – that a bumpological dictionary must immediately issue from the press – and to end all, Dr Spurzheim was denounced as a blasphemer and an infidel for stating ‘that true Christian morality is the morality of nature announced in a positive manner’.
Staniland's immoderate tirade speaks for itself. Though there are recollections here that have some relationship to the aspirations and writings of
Regina Maria Roche, the Minerva Press, and the bibliographic spread of Irish gothic fiction
example of Roche's bibliographic consciousness. In that novel, O’Neil repeatedly finds himself in trouble on account of his misreading of both books and people. Before embarking on his literary career, O’Neil enters the Royal Navy but is quickly dismissed in the belief that he is ‘of incompetent judgment’ ( The castle chapel , vol. 1, p. 109). This assessment is made in light of O’Neil's attempts to defend his assault on a commanding officer by reference to the theories of Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776–1832), which he has evidently
, far more than a biography.
It is, though, necessarily concerned with the Continental exposition of Gall's theories and his complex relationship with his one-time demonstrator and later collaborator, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776–1832). In dwelling on the specialist writings of Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828), it excusably eschews British popular contemplations of nascent phrenology, though these are admittedly acknowledged by Finger and Eling as a context worthy of consideration. The reception and reputation of Gall
, the practice of reading psychological traits
from the size and shape of the human skull. Dubbed
by Carlile ‘an infidel science’, phrenology grew in
popularity on both sides of the Atlantic in the early nineteenth
century. 20 He was
familiar with the seminal work of the German phrenologists Drs Gall and
Spurzheim, whose works and lectures are frequently referenced in