Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/601

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597
THE STUDY OF CHARACTER

sults from finding others in the wrong, Cardan promptly found that the Archbishop’s brain was too hot and too dry. He put his distinguished patient on a cold and humid diet to resist the attraction of the brain, yet had him sleep on a pillow of dry straw or sea-weed, and had water dropped upon his shaven crown; in addition, however, he prescribed a regimen of simple food, much sleep and cold showers. The improvement that resulted—naturally ascribed to the “humoral” procedures,—added much to the glory of Cardan’s reputation and the profit of his purse. This physician, learned and wise for his day, was yet the very embodiment of all things superstitious. Every trivial occurrence was an omen or potent. He cast horoscopes, wrote on all manners of cosmic influences, and espoused the rôle of a physiognomist. His distinctive contribution was an astrological physiognomy, based upon the underlying notion that the furrows or lines of the forehead correspond to the seven dominant celestial bodies; and that the qualities which they denoted were those connected with the powers and virtues conferred by Venus, or Jupiter, or Saturn, or Mercury, etc., in the current astrological system. Across the forehead he drew seven parallel lines, the spaces in succession dedicated to the moon and the six planets, and by the proportions and prominences of these lines he read the fortune of the subject, not hesitating in one case to predict from the grouping of these wrinkles that the owner thereof was doomed to die by hanging or drowning.

In such manner the humoral doctrine served to determine the diagnosis of disposition and ailment, while from astrology and physiognomy were drawn further indications of personal character and probable fortune. Hardly less significant for the logical temper of these pre-Harveian days were the contributions of Giovanni Baptista della Porta (1538-1615). He was impressed by the comparative physiognomy sketched in the Aristotelian writings—a field in turn indicating the strong impression that the traits of animals make upon the thought-habits of primitive people; it appears in totemic practises, as well as in animal fables from Æsop to Br’er Rabbit. The notion that stubborn persons will carry the outward sign of their obstinacy by having features in common with the face of a mule, or that foolish ones will show a like resemblance to a sheep, impresses the modern reader as a strange joke. The analogy will barely support a pleasantry or a metaphor. We are fully conscious of the metaphor of our epithets, when we call an obstinate person mulish, or a shy one sheepish, or a man of sly ways an old fox, or speak of a social lion or a wise owl or a gay butterfly; it is significant that what was once serious logic is now playful figure of speech. It is also in accord with the principle of survivals in culture that the notions made current by generations of credulous “physiognomists” continue to be circulated in the popular