Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/The Antecedents of the Study of Character and Temperament
|Popular Science Monthly Volume 86 (1915)
The Antecedents of the Study of Character and Temperament
by Joseph Jastrow
THE strong practical interest in the sources and varieties of human powers and their proper direction and training, may be utilized in behalf of the retrospective aspects of the subject. The antecedents of “character and temperament” concern in the main the story of false and ambitious leads and venturesome solutions of the sources of human nature. However completely discredited, they belong to the irrevocable stages of our intellectual heritage, and show how uncertain has been the occupation of the psychological realm. The historical connection between the antecedents and present-day views is irregular; the succession of opinion is largely by replacement and outgrowth. None the less the points of connection are frequent with the body of knowledge which we draw upon so readily for the satisfaction of our systematized and rationalized inquiries.
The popular interest in human nature is itself an expression thereof. Actions are largely regulated as well as interpreted by psychological considerations; and these turn attention to the nature of the mind. The feeling of strong impulse, the sense of conflict between emotions as also between desire and sanctioned conduct, the search for motives, as well as the shrewdness of the battle of wits, and the reading of another’s intentions shape psychological insight. “Know thyself” is an ancient precept—at once a moral injunction and an invitation to psychological study. The early contributions to the field to be surveyed came from the learning aptly called “the humanities,” and reflected the insight of experience, directed by an unschooled but worldly-wise analytical temper. Quite as science is glorified common sense, so is literature elevated common sentiment; either may fail to rise above a suggestive type of opinion or pleasing conjecture. The delineation of character springs from the impressionistic attitude towards the products of nature and the vicissitudes of fortune. It is animated by a fundamental interest in one’s kind. It trains men to be practitioners, empirics in large measure, in the arts of human intercourse, and tends to establish man as the proper study of mankind.
The distinctive service of Greek thought was to launch the permanently engaging intellectual problems; to this rule the problem of character is no exception. It presents the two tendencies—the impressionistic and the analytic—in characteristic form. Theophrastus (370-288 b.c.) is the prototype of the impressionistic delineators, yet is not without an analytic strain. He sets forth his intentions thus: That although all Greece is of one
clime and temperature of air, and Grecians in general bred and trained up after one fashion, should notwithstanding, in manners and behavior be so different and unlike. I therefore, O Polycles, having a long time observed the divers dispositions of men, having now lived ninety-nine (?) years, having conversed with all sorts of natures good and bad, and comparing them together: I took it my part to set down in this discourse their several fashions and manners of life. For I am of the opinion, my Polycles, that our children will prove the honester and better citizens, if we shall leave them good precedents of imitation: that of good children they may prove better men.
The “Characters” of Theophrastus form a group of sketches of human foibles, holding the mirror up to nature, comprising the dissembler, the flatterer, the gossip, the toady, the fop, the miser, the superstitious, the mistrusting, the querulous, the bully, the coward, the stubborn, the pompous, the boor and the bore, the malaprop of either sex, the well-intentioned fool and the public-disregarding autocrat. This gallery of mental and moral shortcomings served as a model for distant ages. A group of delineations of character appeared in England in the seventeenth century; and the model was still suggestive when George Eliot chose the title for her “Impressions of Theophrastus Such.” The modern delineations emphasize circumstance, the vocations and social stations, reflect a more varied, a more specialized, and a more complicated world. The “idle gallant,” the “meer dull physician,” the “upstart country knight,” the “pot-poet,” the “plodding student,” the “down-right scholar,” as well as the “self-conceited man,” the “vulgar-spirited man,” the “too idly reserved man,” and men of other dispositions are subjected to keen strictures in the “Microcosmography, or a Piece of the World Discovered in Essays and Characters” by John Earle (1628). Such portraitures of human peculiarities, gauged by their moral or social desirability as examples to be followed or avoided, form an attractive compendium for the interpretation of men and their ways. Their consideration, ranging from gossip to philosophy, supplies the common touch of nature that makes the world of every time and clime akin, and presents graphically for our psychological contemplation the outward issues of disposition as shaped by opportunity and circumstance.
This vein of character-mining failed to yield the native ore of disposition. The more fundamental problem was early recognized in the venerable doctrine of the temperaments as the alleged determinants of the original yet distinctive natures of men, and in the general notion that outward uncontrollable forces, such as climate, and directive ones, such as breeding and training, were responsible for the types of individuals and races—as duly indicated by Theophrastus. The doctrines of the school of Hippocrates (fifth century b.c.) formulated the Greek point of view. Its philosophical procedure followed that of Empedocles in the search for elements and in the explanation of manifold appearance as their variable combination. The elements of creation were regarded as fourfold: Air, fire, earth and water. These are distinctive by virtue of elemental qualities: namely, dry and moist, hot and cold, heavy and light, which by combination yield the qualities of the elements: fire as hot, dry and light; water as cold, moist and heavy, and so on. The fourfold elements of the body are the humors or fluids: the blood, the (yellow) bile, the phlegm, and the black bile. (3) Subjected to the play of analogy and correspondence in the speculative manner then employed, blood becomes related to air, has the quality of being warm and moist; the season which it typifies is Spring, and its temperament is the sanguine. Its direct opposite is earth, which is cold and dry, finds its bodily correspondent in the black bile and its season in the Fall of the year; its temperament is the melancholic. Fire as warm and dry has special relations to Summer, is represented in the body by the yellow bile, and produces the fiery or choleric temperament; while water as cold and moist is allied to the phlegm, to the sluggish season of Winter, and to the languid temperament which we still, in deference to Hippocrates, call phlegmatic.
These views were held as much more than speculative possibilities; they were practically applied. Diseases were regarded as defects in the composition of the humors, to be counteracted by appropriate applications of heat and cold, or of dry and moist, to restore a favorable equilibrium. Winter was held to be the dangerous season for a temperament lacking in fire; the body must not be too full of humors nor yet be too dry and sapless. The several ages of man, from childhood to senility, reflected the natural sequence of dominance of the several humors.
The doctrine of temperaments is historically important quite beyond any illumination which it affords. It is obvious that the philosophers of the school of Hippocrates had no means of ascertaining that cheerfulness was resident in the blood, laziness in the phlegm, testiness in the yellow bile, and low-spiritedness in the black bile; nor that any such fundamental vital basis was afforded by the “humors” thus distinguished. Their habits of mind inclined them to such an opinion; and their sense of plausibility was gratified (where we see only far-fetched and irrelevant analogy) by observing the hot moist fluidity of blood and the damp cold sluggishness of phlegm. The originators of the doctrine of temperaments were empirical psychologists, who observed that differences of mental disposition, like cheerfulness and testiness, were common and conspicuous traits of men. They were also medical practitioners with a fair knowledge of the body and its ills, and recognized that mental dispositions were intimately related to bodily condition. Their philosophical temper found satisfaction in connecting these two varieties of information through the doctrine of the temperaments. This doctrine does not stand alone as such an attempt. The “spirit” theory of disease has a like basis and purpose; it reaches from primitive medicine to Christian exorcism and beyond. The reference of epilepsy or other mental invasion to a foreign and malignant spirit is not unrelated to the notion of animal spirits coursing through the body and finding a local habitation in the ventricles—literally, breathing-spaces—of the brain. Again, the doctrine of signatures, in accordance with which red flowers were considered efficacious in the treatment of blood diseases and yellow ones in the treatment of jaundice, or “heart’s-ease” was prescribed for heart trouble, and walnuts for mental disorders (by virtue of the resemblance of their outer shell to the skull and of their convoluted kernels to the brain) illustrate the force of native analogy in cruder practises.
When notions of this order, instead of being carried along as the folk-lore products of primitive thought, assume a systematic form, they become more fantastic in the analogies employed as well as more remote from a corrective common sense. Astrology is the most ambitious of such efforts in both design and scope of application. The three persistent motives in this world-wide and world-old expression—a composite of primitive culture, superstitious survivals, and pseudo-scientific elaboration—seem to be the cure of disease, the reading of character, the fore-knowledge of the future and in all, the control of fate. The motives combine. Astrology aims to determine the character as well as the careers of men, to predict their liability to disease and its issues, and to prescribe the set of disposition—making one of jovial temperament if the hour of birth showed favorable relations to Jupiter, or gloomy (saturnine) if Saturn ruled the critical moment. These and related notions and systems form a vast background of belief, continuously influencing the views of character and its sources. Whether the causes or the signs of dispositions were regarded as resident in the fluids of the body, or in the stars and planets, or in the detailed contours of the features of the face and head—as in the later physiognomy, itself a revival of classic and popular lore—or with more modern but no less fanciful elaboration, in the “bumps” of phrenology, or again in the creases of the hand upon which palmistry specializes, there appears in all a common practical motive in the control of fate through insight or revelation, and a common quasi-logical attempt to establish its basis by reading the secret of its conditioning—the insignia of its dominion. The logic of the procedure, as judged by our standards, is of the feeblest, but these standards are the issue of many generations of experience, each critically testing the conclusions, revising and enlarging the data, of its predecessors. The stress of practise, we must bear in mind, is insistent. Men will apply what knowledge they have; they can not await its perfection. Ideals and systems support the intercourse with reality, but they also express the progress attained in reading its meaning; the ideal "has always to grow in the real, and often to seek out its bed and board there in a very sorry way" (Carlyle).
The ancient and honorable place of the doctrine of the temperaments in the evolution of psychological knowledge warrants its further consideration. Most influential were the contributions of Galen (a.d. 130-200), who developed the views of Hippocrates and whose authority dominated the medical world for centuries. The doctrine became a classical heritage through its incorporation in the Galenic system of medicine. Its survival in the transfer of Greco-Roman science and tradition across the desert of unprogressive ages, with their uncertain and irregular caravans of learning, was due largely to its association with the "humoral" theory of disease. This remained a central as well as a controversial issue in medieval and renaissance medicine, and was effectively retired only by the complete transformation of physiological conceptions inaugurated by Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood (1628). Along with this decisive reform in knowledge and method there was established the clinical temper of the practise of medicine, which was as largely set by Sydenham (1624-1689), as were the experimental standards by Harvey, as similarly the anatomical prerequisite had been supplied by Vesalius (1514-1564). Cumulatively these advances served to cast off the spell of Galen and to install verification and observation in place of authority. As a herald of the new learning, the philosopher John Locke, a friend of Sydenham’s, wrote:
These considerations show to what extent practises kept alive systems precariously supported by principles. Symptoms such as fevers and chills, parching and perspiration, substantiated the hot and cold, the dry and moist as clinical realities. Remedies were prescribed to counteract them, diets were arranged according to degree of dryness and moisture. Even when the classic doctrines were discarded, they were replaced by others developed in like manner. It is fortunate that the older currents of thought, medical and otherwise, were summarized at the very period at which they were destined to retirement by Harvey’s fundamental discovery. Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” is a collection of all the mystic, fantastic, engaging and (to our minds) incredible procedures of an ambitious science, suggestive of the waste-products of the mind. Burton anatomizes the humors, recognizing the four primary juices
and so on, with a like conjectural anatomy and acrobatic physiology for the other humors. Burton’s appetite for the occult inevitably made him a believer in astrology. It is a fact that his horoscope is pictured on his tombstone, but it is presumably but a rumor that he assisted the fulfillment of the prediction of the time of his death by hanging himself. Burton’s work is suggestive in view of the career of the doctrines which superceded the “temperaments” as practical exponents of character. It indicates the ready temptation for views of this nature to degenerate into vain pseudo-science, and under a common enthusiasm and prepossession to bring together in mutual tolerance diverse
notions of like conjectural basis. Their common motive is a strong leaning towards the occult.
The parent view that mental traits are conditioned by bodily composition affiliated with views of similar ancestry holding that the traits were revealed in bodily signs. Such is the principle of physiognomy,—a doctrine as old as Aristotle, and older. There is the traditional story that the physiognomist Zopyrus, in reading the character of Socrates, pronounced him full of passionate tendencies, thus showing in the opinion of the disciples of Socrates, the vanity of his art. But Socrates came to his defence and confessed the reality of the impulses, which, however, he was able to resist. Aristotle’s advocacy of physiognomy was not very pronounced; it may have been little more than an inclination to recognize the reflection of emotion in feature, or the coordinate growth of body and mind. But the tractate on “Physiognomy” ascribed to him served as the text to the renaissance adepts in occult lore. Thus restated, even more than in its original setting, it presents the characteristic dependence upon weak analogy in connecting specific bodily features with specific mental traits. Coarse hair, an erect body, a strong sturdy frame, broad shoulders, a robust neck, blue eyes and dark complexion, a sharp but not large brow, were together regarded as marks of the courageous man, while the timid man showed opposite characteristics. The doctrine was reënforced by such analogies as that timid animals, like the rabbit and the deer, had soft fine hair; while the courageous ones, like the lion and the wild boar, were coarse-haired.
A mental trait may have at once a natural bodily cause and a manifest or covert sign. The “humorist” may also be a physiognomist, may both account for and read human character, may prescribe for its ailments according to the one set of influences, and advise as to course and career according to the other.
There is no more instructive instance to illustrate how the old learning was reinstated with slight alteration in precept and practise than the career of Jerome Cardan (1501-1576). Esteemed by his contemporaries, shrewd and able, he was urged in one direction by his taste for science and in another by his credulity. His autobiography reveals his analytic bent as well as his strong personality. It has been said of him that for all for which his contemporaries thought him wise, we should think him mad; and for what we think him wise, they would have thought him mad. So great was his reputation that he was invited and then inveigled to travel from Naples to Scotland to treat the bishop of St. Andrews. The prelate’s ailment had been described as a periodic asthma due to a distillation of the brain into the lungs, which left a “temperature and a condition too moist and too cold, and the flow of the humors coinciding with the conjunctions and oppositions of the moon.” With the characteristic prestige that results 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 manuals sold to simple folk to teach them the art of reading faces and futures.
All this would be as irrelevant retrospectively as it is to our central purpose, were it not that it indicates the presence throughout the ages of a considerable body of popular lore and systematized doctrine—both saturated with flimsy analogy and engaging prepossessions—which was available for the ambitious renaissance of the interest in character and its signs in the face, through its best known apostle, Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801). The contrast between Lavater and such men as Cardan and Porta is as marked as that of the spirit and scope of the scientific study of their respective times. The vagaries of the sixteenth century may have stood measurably aloof from the real, if slow and uncertain, advances in the knowledge of mind and nature then maturing; but they were not wholly remote, not wholly tangential to its orbit. This was no longer true of the eighteenth century. Lavater, despite his reputation and associations and the imposing effect of his ambitious publications, failed to affect seriously or to divert the increasing stream of scientific discovery to which the early eighteenth century gave momentum. The scientific contemporaries of Lavater judged his views as critically, appreciated their wholly subjective basis in a personal predilection and their lack of objective warrant quite as justly as we of today. The contrast of attitude appears equally in the all but complete desuetude of the old persistent pseudo-sciences, astrological and others.
Lavater had nothing new to offer in principle or data or method. He was an impressionistic enthusiast setting forth conclusions with a minimum of argument, and convictions with a minimum of proof. His system was based upon subjective interpretation. His delineation of character has a direct reading of detailed mental traits by an interpretation of their equivalents or representatives in features and expression. Lavater’s activities were manifold. Preacher, orator, philanthropist, political reformer, dramatist, writer of ballads, he was a conspicuous man of his times, highly regarded by his eminent contemporaries—among them Goethe, whose contribution to the Fragments of Physiognomy have been identified. He was quite without scientific bent or training. Yet his name was so commanding in the annals of physiognomy as to distract attention from the slightness of the foundations upon which his elaborate superstructure was raised. Indeed, the impressiveness of elaborate plates and luxurious editions, and the support of distinguished but uncritical patrons, were responsible for much of his fame. The reader who desires first-hand acquaintance with Lavater must be prepared for tedious assertion, for generalities that do not even glitter, for persistent avoidance of real issues, for the futile contention and misunderstanding of a propagandist. Of method he had little, and for the most part translated directly and by use of a dictionary of fanciful etymologies, from the language of a superficial anatomy into that of a wholly arbitrary psychology. He presented a popular, empirical grouping of feature-interpretation by virtue of a certain common-sense shrewdness, which he elevated to the dignity of a universal physiognomical sense—“those feelings which are produced at beholding certain countenances, and the conjectures concerning the qualities of the mind,” which the features suggest. The extensive collection of portraits alone offset the tedium of the text. Lavater was an expert draftsman, and a diligent collector of engravings, outline drawings, and the silhouettes then in vogue. To each picture he attached a character-reading, which reflected little more than his personal impression or knowledge of the subject, to which occasionally were added special correlations of such traits as prudence, cunning, industry, caution, determination or what not, with the forehead, the eye, the nose, the mouth, the chin.
It was inevitable that the practical interest, lacking the compensations of Lavater’s serious purpose, rapidly turned physiognomy into vulgar quackery. The followers of Lavater developed a craving for handy recipes by which to interpret the meaning in terms of character, of chin, forehead, eyebrows, and of the several distinctive combinations of feature, by an arbitrary or plausible system of signs. Physiognomy degenerated into a baseless and senseless empiricism. Oblique wrinkles in the forehead were held to indicate an oblique or suspicious mind; small eyebrows with long concave eyelashes were made the sign of phlegmatic melancholia; long high foreheads were advised not to contract friendships or marriages with spherical heads; such was the detailed but arbitrary correlation oracularly set forth with no more analysis or understanding of facial traits than of mental ones.
Lavater’s work supplies a convincing and not too ancient example, if such be needed, of the limitations of impressionism as a basis for the study of character and of its utter futility for the purposes of a sound psychology; and that apart from the like disqualifications resulting from an ignorance of the significance of such somatic features as those which formed the basis of the system. It shows how readily an enthusiastic but unintelligent industry may build a monumental construction upon a hollow foundation. It illustrates as well a specific psychological fallacy: that of exaggerating the significance of traits in which we have an interest. It is the general human appeal of the face and its expression and its place in human intercourse that supplies the interest so readily abused by popular writers or commercial charlatans. It is just this realm of loose analogy and unchecked ambitious conclusions that attracts feeble minds with a taste for speculation and an inclination for the occult, the bizarre, the esoteric; such a taste, as if to appease a neglected, logical conscience, usually finds refuge in a practical semblance of verification. It is this combination of interests that supports physiognomy or phrenology, palmistry or fortune-telling, and (with an altered complexion) Christian Science or Theosophy,—in which latter examples cures or miracles instead of readings supply the realistic support.
A possible redeeming feature of Lavater’s work is his recognition of facial expression as worthy of study; in this he followed the leadership of the artist LeBrun. Expression is much more generic and more readily interpreted than are peculiarities of feature. In such biblical maxims as “though a wicked man constrain his countenance, the wise can distinctly discern his purpose,” Lavater found a text for his exposition. Of the true meaning of expression, so far as it was possible before Darwin, he had slight understanding. His physiognomical sense conferred no physiological comprehension. Indeed, so far as he ventured into the biological territory, he reverted to the older notions, and made fish and fowl and even insects reveal their character by their effects upon the human impression. In an engraving of the heads of snakes he pointed out the reprobate qualities distinguishable in their form, the deceit of their colors, and the naturalness with which we shrink from such a countenance. The logic of physiognomy, ancient or modern, learned or ignorant, is of one kinship; it is the family associations that in time and circumstance come to be less and less respectable.
The next and last stage in the antecedents of the study of character presented a new role, or, it may be, an old one in a new and distinctive costume. In its practical effect and later career it resembles the system of Lavater, and invited yet greater popular abuse. Its founder was Dr. Franz Joseph Gall (1757-1828); and it achieved popularity under the name of Phrenology. While Lavater stood beyond the pale of the scientific activity of his day, Gall was an influential part of it. Gall’s scientific service must be acknowledged even if he be held responsible for the extravagances of phrenology. The system was extended and popularized by Dr. Johann Caspar Spurzheim (1776-1832), Gall’s associate, and his successor as leader of the movement.
There are two distinct aspects to the work of Gall and Spurzheim; and it is not easy to understand or to set forth just how the connection stood in the minds of these contributors to the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system, and advocates of the locations of elaborate mental faculties by means of cranial prominences. The two orders of contributions are difficult to reconcile either in spirit or in method. The motive of “character-reading” was operative, though restricted by scientific considerations. It was forcibly made the consummation of a system quite irrelevant to the purpose. In the end, the practical temper prevailed; and phrenology allied with physiognomy, palmistry or other character-reading pretences, degenerated to the woeful state of a declassè pseudo-science. Its nearness to the illuminating truth served but to intensify the obscurity of its shadows. The contrast in the two spheres of the career of Gall and Spurzheim serves to explain why, as they travelled about Europe, they were by some called “a pair of vain-glorious mountebanks,” and by others placed with Newton and Galileo as illustrious contributors to science. Yet the fact that phrenology called larger attention to the study of character than had any other movement gives it an important place in a retrospective view.
The impressionistic origin of his phrenological interests is thus recounted by Gall. When at school, he was struck by the fact that his schoolmates had facilities independent of instruction; that one was musical, another artistically endowed, and that this innate ability rather than application was most decisive in determining progress. He seems to have been annoyed at being surpassed by schoolmates who had a capacity for memorizing; and in an inauspicious moment he observed that these schoolmates all had prominent eyes. At the university he directed his attention to students with prominent eyes, and persuaded himself that in every case such men had exceptionally good verbal memories; and thus was the fatal correlation made. Not unlike Lavater, he trusted to his “physiognomical sense” to recognize the prominences which were to find a local habitation and a name upon the phrenological chart. At church he observed the most devout of the attendants, detected what portions of the skull were well-developed in them, and discovered the organs of veneration. He compared the heads of murderers and found an organ of murder, and similarly studied the heads of thieves and located the organ of theft. He had organs for the preeminent quality of each of the five senses; an organ of tune for the musical, and one of number for the mathematical. He thus accumulated a group of some twenty-four organs (which Spurzheim enlarged to thirty-five or more), and in this contribution disclosed with strange unconcern at once his self-deception and the shallowness of his psychological notions. The common assumptions of physiognomy and phrenology (as we readily detect, though not thus obvious to the minds of their defenders) are these: (1) that there are distinct mental traits, qualities or capacities, which ordinary human intercourse and observation reveal; (2) that these are caused by (or correlated with) prominent developments of parts of the brain; (3) the critical assumption (presumably least explicit of all) that we may accept as established the relation whereby the one, the bodily feature, becomes the index of the other, the mental trait. The assumed principle of relation was plainly empirical, had no warrant in principle. The clue in all such systems was merely a sign or trade-mark displayed, in Lavater’s theological view, by a beneficent Providence to indicate the virtues and vices of men. For phrenology the alleged principle was wholly different. It grew out of the subdivision of the functions of the brain. The evidence, it must be admitted, was sought by approved scientific methods. But the stupendous assumption was made that the presumption in favor of the existence of such specialized brain-areas included a knowledge of their terms, and that their nature was indicated by the specific differences in the observed traits of men; further, that such mental traits, giving rise to or conditioned by marked local development of brain-areas, could be detected in the corresponding prominences of the skull. So supremely unwarranted was this cumulative series of assumptions that the scientific knowledge and procedure associated with its alleged establishment failed to confer upon phrenology any more respectable status or accredited position than were accorded to the far more extravagant assumptions of physiognomy. Clearly, if the assumptions of phrenology held—itself an extravagant supposition—the study of character and temperament would be completely shaped by its conclusions. Since they are neither pertinent nor illuminating, physiological and psychological studies still have a message for the student of human nature.
The chief warrant for a further consideration of the position of Gall and Spurzheim is that their views came into direct contact with the advances in the knowledge of the nervous system, which—as will duly appear—became the requisite for true psychological progress. The central question at issue was whether the brain functioned as a whole, or whether distinct functions could be assigned to its several parts. The former position was defended by Flourens (1794-1867), who maintained that the removal of a part of the brain of a pigeon weakened the general intelligence, but that the intact portion still exercised the complete range of brain-functions, though with diminished efficiency. Gall’s position required a detailed and specialized division of function. He drew attention to the fact that the mutilated pigeon, while retaining physical sight and hearing, became mentally blind to the meaning of what it was clearly able to see, and mentally deaf to the meaning of sounds; he drew attention to the important evidence supplied by the association of mental symptoms with injury or disease of different portions of the brain, and noted that these were very different according to the region affected. His contentions proved to be correct in fact, in interpretation, and in method. In this controversy Gall argued physiologically, not phrenologically. In another controversy the reverse was the case. Flourens restricted his conclusions of the unity of function to the cerebrum, and confirmed the experiments on pigeons which showed that the cerebellum regulated locomotion. Gall had made the cerebellum the organ of amativeness; if it regulated the love-affairs, it could not regulate the gait. He replied first physiologically, that the experiment was defective, and the motor impairment due to concomitant injury of other parts of the brain; and then phrenologically, that if the cerebellum were the organ of locomotion, it would follow that persons with large cerebellums should be acrobats, and asked whether women (who in Gall’s view possessed a small cerebellum) “walked and danced with less regularity, less art, less grace than men.” Controversies of this kind were futile in view of the wholly irreconcilable positions of the advocates. In the end, the phrenological position became an obsession.
At one other point phrenology came in contact with the advances leading to modern psychology; this is in its alliance with the study of hypnotism in the career of James Braid (1795-1860). The remarkable insight of this investigator enabled him to recognize under disadvantageous conditions the true nature of this mental state as a partial disqualification of the nervous system; but it did not prevent his temporary subjection to the phrenological fallacy. He refuted the position that the hypnotic state was a histrionic deception; he demonstrated its reality, but unwittingly brought it within range of suggestion or self-deception. Later he realized the error of his earlier work; but his association with phrenology injured his reputation, and delayed the recognition of his pioneer work in a difficult field. The following suggests the course of the experiments:
I placed a cork endwise over the organ of veneration and bound it in this position by a bandage under the chin. The patient thus hypnotized at once assumed the attitude of adoration, arose from his seat and knelt down as if engaged in prayer. On moving the cork forward, active benevolence was manifested, and on its being pushed back veneration again manifested itself.
This observation seems the very parody of science. It illustrates that prepossession, even in men of shrewd observation and ability, is disastrous to logical integrity; and further that not until the true nature of nervous functioning was established as a fundamental directive position in all psychological considerations, were false leads of this kind entirely discredited.
In view of the fact that the vogue of phrenology in the middle of the nineteenth century represents the largest collective interest in the study of character that ever gained a temporary foothold, it seems proper to consider the nature of its pretensions and their following. Propagandists have an enviable if perilous vigor and enthusiasm—an element of reckless abandon not unrelated to the extravagances of mania in the exaggeration and self-deception which it entails. Lavater had the simpler problem of collecting drawings and engravings in imposing array to enforce the principles of physiognomy. Gall collected skulls and casts, and induced persons with marked mental peculiarities to have their heads shaven so that their replicas in plaster might be at his service. He asked that
every kind of genius make me heir of his head. . . . Then indeed (I will answer for it with my own) we should see in ten years a splendid edifice for which at present I only collect materials.
The critical peril of false theories lies in their applications. Gall’s interests seem to have remained for the most part scientific and objective; but in association with Spurzheim, whose direction of the phrenological movement largely determined its course, they took a more practical turn, and therein found their degradation. The extension of the phrenological principle to races and animals as a zoological problem appealed to Gall. He tells with ludicrous if pathetic simplicity of his baffling attempt to interpret the prominence of a part of the cranium which monkeys and women have in common. Finally,
in a favorable disposition of mind, during the delivery of one of my lectures, I was struck with the extreme love that these animals have for their offspring. Impatient of comparing immediately the crania of male animals, in my collection, with all those of females, I requested my class to leave me, and I found, in truth, that the same difference exists between the male and female of all animals, as existed between man and woman.
Thus was the cranial localization of “love of offspring” discovered.
Phrenology similarly offered the clue to racial differences.
The foreheads of negroes are narrow, and their musical and mathematical talents are in general very limited. The Chinese are fond of colors, and have their eyebrows much vaulted. According to Blumenbach, the heads of the Calmucks are depressed from above, but very large laterally, about the organ which gives the inclination to acquire; and this nation’s propensity to steal, etc., is admitted.
It was seriously set forth that the dog, the ape and the ox do not sing because the shape of their heads shows the absence of the faculties for music; that the thrush or the nightingale had heads with developed musical faculties, and the hawk and the owl lacked these parts; that in the male nightingale or mocking bird the head was square, angular, and more prominent above the eyes, while in the female these parts were conical, thus endowing the male and not the female with the gift of song. “Observe the narrow forehead of the dog, the ape, the badger, the horse, in comparison with the square forehead of man, and you will have the solution of the problem why these animals are neither musicians, nor painters, nor mathematicians.” Extravagant as this may appear to our scientifically minded generation, it yet represents the more sober conclusions of men conversant with the science of the day. In the hands of system-mongers and quacks the doctrines were carried to far more capricious conclusions.
It was the practical tendency to read character and predict capacity or even career that was responsible for the rapid deterioration of phrenology. This course was set by Spurzheim, under whose influence phrenological societies were founded in England and America, and the world deluged with books, pamphlets, manuals, lessons, exhibitions, charts, plaster-casts, institutes, parlor talks and street demonstrations for the dissemination of character-reading by the bumps of the head—a movement the waves of which still beat feebly along the remote frontiers of intellectual venture. An excursion into these disorderly by-paths—suggestive of the slums of psychology—would have little profit; it would but indicate that slight deviations in principle lead to the widest divergence of result. An intellectual degradation ensues as the movement descends to lower strata,—an issue not unlike the social degradation of sections of cities where questionable occupants inhabit the dwellings that sheltered the respectable citizens of other days. Though we can not hold the founders responsible for this issue, it is yet true that they prepared the way for it by their own practises. Gall and Spurzheim conducted tours in prisons and asylums, reading from the shapes of the heads of the inmates the propensity to forgery, theft, violence or lack of thrift which brought them to their fate. One prisoner showed the “organs of theft, murder, and benevolence all well developed, and, true to his organs, robbed an old woman and had the rope around her neck to strangle her, when his benevolence came to the surface,” and prevented the fatality.
Such was the practical degeneration and such the fallacious principles by which phrenology attempted to oust physiology from its domain. At the time psychology was not sufficiently developed to assert its claim against the phrenological pretensions. Spurzheim had a stronger psychological bent than Gall, and developed an arbitrary psychology to fit the scheme. He distinguished between the emotional and the intellectual powers, dividing the former into propensities, which were direct impulses to action (like the desire to live, the tendency to fall in love, destructiveness) and sentiments which were complex human powers (like self-esteem, hope, mirthfulness, ideality); the latter were either perceptive (like size, tune, time), or reflective (like causality and comparison). This construction was distorted and confused, but yet not so strikingly divergent from other contributions as to arouse suspicion of its forced adjustment to the alleged findings. It was these latter, apparently substantiated by anatomical evidence, that kept the system alive. In the actual procedures of proof the simple psychology of self-deception was the dominant factor. Either the trait was marked and the phrenologist readily persuaded himself that the prominence—at best slight and not clearly defined—was present; or in the presence of a marked “bump,” he was readily convinced that the required trait—as a rule a matter of uncertain and variable judgment—was conspicuous. As a contribution to the temptation that allegiance to theory offers to the self-deception in the determination of fact, the retrospective view of the subject has permanent value. Prepossession, though unrecognized by the phrenologists, is likewise a quality of human nature, with an interesting psychology of its own.
At this juncture we turn from the antecedents to the more direct line of descent of modern psychology. The successive claimants to the domain of “character and temperament” may be said to have momentarily triumphed and passed away, without accredited issue. The new sovereignty represents a very different allegiance. It shares in the common heritage of modern science. The notable extension of knowledge through experiment is ever paralleled by a development of logical method and critical interpretation, as well as by an extension of technical resources. To this general movement psychology owes its present status, and shares in its benefits. It finds a concrete expression in the psychological laboratory, and a yet more comprehensive one in the transformation of the entire range of accredited problems, and the introduction of new realms of inquiry. The technical advance in the knowledge and control of physical, biological and psychological forces characterizes the modern world of science. These divisions of intellectual enterprise, though differently directed, are mutually corroborative. They progress by the application of a common logic. Standards of evidence, extension of data, and the basis of interpretation develop together. Jointly they determine the spirit of modern science, from which psychology along with the rest of the sciences, receives its directive bent and the temper of its pursuit. A coordinate factor is the dominance of an expanding practical philosophy—a worldly wisdom born of a larger experience in social, political and economic relations. It is expressed in the standards of intercourse and living, and more particularly in the cosmopolitan outlook, reflecting the insight into the determination of events and careers as of the qualities of men shaped by, and shaping them. This influence extends to literature, philosophy and the arts of life; it provides the background against which the technical pursuits are projected, from which they emerge.
The establishment of the principles and the body of knowledge determining the present study of character and temperament is the convergent product of a complex development; it forms an integral part of the general advance for which the nineteenth century—the culmination setting in with marked acceleration in the second half thereof—is notable. Our purpose will be served by considering broadly the contributory branches of investigation to which psychology is particularly indebted. Among these the establishment of the relation between body and mind is clearly central. Equally fundamental is the interpretation of the vital processes and provisions through a unifying and illuminating principle. This was supplied by the master-key of evolution, and at once rationalized and vitalized the conception of origins and transformations of natural processes and products—including the manifestations and endowments of the mental nature. Interpretation became possible in a convincing language—quieting the babel of tongues. Both of these guiding principles—the latter particularly—were revolutionary in their influence, not primarily by the new extension of knowledge and interest (which was in the main a consequence of the new insight), but by the introduction of a new interpretation. Familiar facts were given a distinctive and a richer meaning. The perspective of significance was notably altered. This momentous reconstruction of the biological realm indicates in a few words the decisive factors that made modern psychology possible. The brevity of the record should not diminish the appreciation of its vital importance.
The development of the knowledge of nervous function has a venerable history. The recognition of sensation and movement in relation to the nerves occurs sporadically and irregularly in Greek, Roman and medieval medicine, at times with a shrewd interpretation of symptoms. It seems never to have been made a leading principle, but was held in detachment from the general notions in terms of which conclusions were stated. Hippocrates, Galen and their followers occasionally record observations in which a limited loss of movement (paralysis) and loss of sensation (anesthesia) were referred to interference with the action of certain nerve-trunks. Such observations remained casual and incidental. The usual explanation of the bodily accompaniments of mental action were given in terms of the flow of the “vital” spirits, with the veins (supposed to contain air) as the true channels of the flow that determined sensation; while the ventricles (literally breathing spaces—actually the channels for the cerebro-spinal fluid) were assigned the central part in the vital service. Vesalius, founder of modern anatomy, knew by experiment apparently as well as through inference from observation, that section of the nerves abolished muscular control and that the loss of the medulla deprived an animal of sensation and movement. He contested the notion that faculties like memory could reside in such spaces as the ventricles of the brain. But such views were heretical to the scriptural authority of Galen and Hippocrates, and were timidly expressed and pursued. As a type of conception matured under philosophical pursuits critically maintained and in relation to the science of the day, may be cited the view of Descartes. He looked upon the nervous system as a mechanical automaton—somewhat after the manner of an elaborate and fantastic “playing” fountain, whose ingenious streams turned windmills and started miniature water-spouts. The nerves were conceived as tubes for the flow of “animal spirits,” or of some similar agency, with the pineal gland in the center of the system as a controlling valve directing the flow—the flow according to the course resulting in one kind or another of mental process. Even Willis, despite his insight into the structure and function of the brain and the complex provisions for its circulatory system, could speak of it as an instrument which the “soul inhabits and adorns with its presence.” He conceived the blood as a vital flame, through which products of combustion arose and in turn gave rise to mental processes. Each variety of physical change which the physiologists and chemists discovered in the laboratory of the body—such as distillation and absorption, or fermentation and evaporation, along with the older conception of animal spirits (the latter term used confusedly at once in a psychological and a chemical sense; hence “spirits” of ammonia, turpentine, etc.) were in turn called upon to account for the transformations responsible for the elementary mental processes.
There is nothing notably distinctive in the successive formulations of “nervous” function from the days of Harvey, who gave the directive impetus to physiological conceptions, to those of Haller, who first applied them with marked success to develop the conception of nervous responsiveness (irritability) through specific adaptation of the organism to the stimulus. Haller was not free from the speculative vagaries of his predecessors; yet he thought of the problem of the physiological basis of mental processes consistently and clearly. His contributions so decidedly advanced the conception of nervous function that it was relatively easy to make the transition to the true interpretation given first by a group of physiologists in the early nineteenth century (Marshall Hall, Charles Bell, Majendi) and culminating in the actual measurement of the rate of nervous impulse by Helmholtz in 1850. The position of Haller is notable not only for the general correctness of his conclusions and the experimental evidence upon which they were based, but equally because he separated so clearly what was conjectural from what was established. In a number of cases the task of his successors was merely to follow his lead and transform conjecture into proof. This account of one strand in the network of data indispensable to the establishment of a psychological point of view is presumably typical of parallel movements. It indicates how recent are the steps of direct bearing upon present-day problems, and in so far justifies the slight consideration (in the present connection) of the remoter and more fragmentary historical antecedents. It will also make it easy to understand how readily in the absence of an accredited and established view of the bodily correlates of mental action, the ambitious innovations as well as the traditional survivals of beliefs could gain a foothold. This is true in part of even so late a propagandum as that of Lavater—which in large measure was operative before the day of the most decisive discoveries—and to the careers of Gall and Spurzheim, whose contributions in part came after them. The spirit of nineteenth-century science was not then sufficiently disseminated to make obvious the irrelevancy of such pretensions as phrenology, nor indeed to offer a satisfactory consideration of the problems which that system professed to solve.
In the collateral ancestry of “character and temperament” the anthropological attitude occupies an important place,—in a new sense making mankind the proper study of man. It forms part of the broadening outlook upon the constitution of nature in general and human nature in particular, that characterizes modern thinking. It doubtless has a relation to the closer study of the political struggles of nations and to economic expansion, though the relation is not intimate. It aimed at a philosophical interpretation of the structure and motive sources of human society and institutions. The anthropological interest extended to the characteristics of the social groups, particularly of races and peoples in different stages of development and under the sway of distinctive cultures. The enlargement of outlook resulted from the spirit of exploration and inquiry, which brought knowledge of peoples and habitations and other systems of culture, and in another direction extended the reconstruction of the past of man. A similar enterprise resurveyed the story of the intellectual past and traced the slow control of the forces of nature through invention, and the equally laborious attainment of a social control through the organizations of men. The larger intercourse with varieties of mankind together with the broader interpretation of the forces responsible for the development resulting from the same spirit of exploration and inquiry that led to the technical scientific advances, brought with it a more thorough knowledge of the diversity of men and civilizations, and traced in the latter the issues of the interplay of desires, capacities and beliefs, by which to interpret our own and (with allowance) foreign natures. Culture acquired a more real and a richer meaning as a psychological product, and therewith conferred a new insight and a new obligation upon the psychologist. The diversity of men was thus related to their divergent solutions of the problem of shaping their lives to satisfy needs, impulses and desires; and the environment, so largely a psychological one, acquired its full significance. The study of human nature embraced more than that of one time and region and status. The still more recent and independent emphasis of the sociological aspects of life is in the larger view an issue of the anthropological interpretation, but is yet more characteristic of the attitude now dominant, and properly called modern. The psychology of the social relations was thereby made an integral part of the study of human character.
Two further aspects of the qualities of which character and temperament form the realistic composite, are the genetic aspect, and the abnormal—the pathological aspect. The growth of traits is an essential part of their nature. It implies a reference to the setting in which they operate, to which they are adapted, by which they have been shaped. It implies equally the reference to the vital course, the maturing unfoldment of native endowment, which makes the biological aspect of human nature the most comprehensive and the most elemental. Within this compass the determination of hereditary forces and their mode of operation assumes a special importance. The traits forming the composite of Character and Temperament are part of the biological inheritance, are the issues of forces whose fundamental significance is the biological one. Accordingly (despite or in addition to our more detailed interests in other aspects) they must reflect and conserve the allegiance to this underlying relation. More specifically, the genetic aspect differentiates the outlines of the stages of growth; in its terms are described the orbit of the psychological cycle. It yields the psychology of infancy, of adolescence, of maturity, of senescence, and presents the course of the included qualities in mutual illumination. The genetic argument emphasizes a progressive environment and a progressive purpose; it enlarges the scope of adaptation, and it interprets the impetus and goal of varying interests and endeavors. It was never absent from the accredited psychology of human nature, but in the modern view it assumes an explicitness and a directive position that constitutes it a notable factor among the available resources. It has powerfully affected our entire view of human qualities, has extended our data and enriched their interpretation.
A parallel statement may be made of the argument from the decay, the faulty development, the inherent liability to perversion, of natural qualities, which are responsible for the pathological, the abnormal, the divergent aspects thereof. Useful adaptation, due proportion, tempered blending, related emphasis of traits stand as the normal issue; the divergence or failure thereof becomes the abnormal. The abnormal in excess or defect takes its place as an instrument of analysis and an enlargement of data. It is a distinctively modern resource, particularly in the refinement of its application.
It is in such general terms that the line of descent of the present psychological interpretation of human endowment proceeds. The more specific history of the attempts to formulate the resultant positions is brief. The classic chapter (Book VII., Chapter V.) “Of Ethology, or the Science of the Formation of Character,” in John Stuart Mill’s “System of Logic” (1843), though a programme rather than a contribution, still has significance. The project was undertaken by Alexander Bain in a volume bearing the title “On the Study of Character” (1861). Though Bain wrote at a time when psychology had made rapid advances and the vagaries of phrenology had been retired to their proper place, he devoted a considerable portion of his book to a refutation of the phrenological position. He thus conferred an undeserved dignity upon these findings and gave his constructive views an unfortunate setting. The subject was independently pursued by a group of writers (mainly in France and Italy), whose contributions in part belong to the living literature of the subject.
It remains to touch upon the collateral streams of interest which in modern times maintained the study in one or another aspect, thus bridging the gap between the old and the new learning. Among these is the attempt, never wholly absent in practical ages, to guide training, to indicate on the basis of an analysis of character the promise of youth, and the direction of vocation—all in the spirit of a worldly wisdom. As an example of the earlier period, the work of the Spaniard, Huarte (1530-1592) “The Trial of Wits,” may be cited, since it seems to have attained a large circulation, was translated into several languages (the English edition appearing in 1698), and the German so late as 1752 by the great Lessing (1729-1781). There were other writings of similar import both before and after Huarte. It is, however, difficult to estimate their influence in the current of thought destined to be redirected in a more scientific analytic interest. There is no hesitation, however, in recognizing in the works of Kant (1724-1804) a dominant influence in the rehabilitation of the subject. This appears not alone in his recognition of the claims of the practical reason, but notably in his “Anthropology” (1798). Indeed Kant’s use of this term corresponds more closely to a study of the individual differences of men—which the problems of character and temperament consider—than to the content of the science which now bears that name. Special attention should also be directed to his “Observations on the Sense of the Beautiful and Sublime,” in which is given in a modern vein a detailed analysis in the field of the emotions, with excursions into the comparative psychology of the sexes and of nations. It shows the shrewd analyst in an engaging light. Of the writers affected by the Kantian position, who realized that the study of character offered a great field for the applications at once of philosophy, of anthropology and of education, Julius Bahnsen is the most representative. His work on “Charakterologie” (1867) both in method and scope represents the attempt to reach general and practical conclusions in the spirit of the early nineteenth century. It does not incorporate the views of the bases or sources of character which were even then available and which were represented by a group of German physiologists, such as Johannes Müller (1801-1858), K. F. Burdach (1776-1847) (and in a different temper Lotze and K. G. Carus)—who as sympathetic with the life of the practitioner brought to their philosophical generalizations the spirit of exact knowledge.
The establishment of modern psychology is the culmination of many interests; in no aspect is this historical development more significant than in regard to the sources of the view of the qualities of men as applied in modern life. The attempt to short-circuit the route from theory to practise, from understanding to application, has always ended disastrously. The correctness of the foundations determines the strength of the edifice. The study of the nervous system and the recognition of the subjection of all human traits to an evolutionary process laid the foundations. The sociological expressions of human qualities were related to their biological significance. The competition of human qualities received a psychological interpretation. Narrow views were avoided by considering the varieties of human culture and expression. Institutions, though dominantly an environmental product, became significant as embodiments of psychological needs and their satisfaction. Vocations became directions of special endowments. National characteristics were similarly interpreted. Education was seen to be a transformation of original trends as well as a direct preparation for the situations of an artificial life. Human nature was at once the material upon which all desired ends had to build, while yet to be remodeled for such cherished purposes. A closer knowledge of the mode of working of the human endowment resulted from the experimental study of the underlying processes of the mind. Language, art, science, customs, social institutions, political relations, reflected the spirit of a collective mind, though often articulate through the original contributions of favored individuals. With this combined equipment the psychologist of to-day proceeds to the interpretation of the traits of men summarized in the study of character and temperament. The antecedents of this view form a notable chapter in the development of the human mind, in the story of the control of the psychic forces of which culture is a record.
- Medical theories and practices were reflected in popular lore. To recall the spirit of the ministrations it is sufficient to cite the venerable Chaucerian diagnosis made by Pertelote of Chanticlere’s affrighting dream. This was ascribed to "the grete superfluitie Of your reede colera, parde, Which causeth folk to dremen in her dremes Of arwes, and of fyre with reede leemes, Right as the humour of malencolie Causeth ful many a man, in sleep, to crye, For fere of beres, or of boles blake, Or elles blake develes woln him take. Of othere humours couthe I telle also, That wirken many a man in slep ful woo; But I wxol passe as lightly as I can. . . ." She then advises digestives and laxatives to purge him of "choler" and of "melancolie," though she bids him remember that he is "full colerick of compleccioun" and should beware of the "sonne in his ascensioun." Among the artists, Albrecht Dürer reflected the current belief that temperament was responsible for the differences of men. He urged that artists should present the features and proportions suitable to the characters of their subjects. One of his ripest productions, commonly known as "The Four Apostles," also bore the title of "The Four Temperaments,"—St. John representing the melancholic, St. Peter the phlegmatic, St. Paul the choleric, and St. Mark the sanguine.
The affiliation of "humors" and temperaments appears in the transferred use of the former term. The dramatic material of the age of Elizabeth, with its free emphasis of personality, was typically staged in Ben Johnson’s (1574-1637) "Every Man in His Humour" and "Every Man Out of His Humour." The following is from the induction to the latter.
To give these ignorant well-spoken days some taste of their abuse of this word humour," the argument proceeds: "Why, humour as ’tis ens, we thus define it. To be a quality of air, or water, And in itself holds these two properties, Moisture, and fluxure: as, for demonstration, Pour water on this floor, ’twill wet and run: Likewise the air, forced through a horn, or trumpet, Flows instantly away, and leaves behind A kind of dew; and hence, we do conclude, That whatsoe’er hath fluxure, and humidity, As wanting power to contain itself, Is humour. So in every human body, the choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood, By reason that they flow continually In some one part, and are not continent, Receive the name of Humours. Now thus far It may, by metaphor, apply itself Unto the general disposition: As when some one peculiar quality Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw All his affects, his spirits and his powers, In their confluctions, all to run one way, This may be truly said to be a humour."
- Nothing less than a glance at the illustrations which the earlier physiognomists employed will convey an adequate impression of the vagaries of Porta and his kind. They show that what was once pictorial proof has become the artist’s pastime. The material presented for amusement in Lear’s “Nonsense Botany” or Wood’s “Animal Analogues” is hardly more remote than that which served Porta as a serious instrument of research. Thus a portrait of Plato is printed side by side with that of a dog, and one of Vitellus Caesar is paralleled by that of a stag; and in each case some of the most deserving qualities of the animal are regarded as typical of the human embodiment. Similarly distorted illustrations show human resemblances to a lion, or a bull, or a donkey, or a deer; while the picture of a girl is ungallantly made to approach the features of a pig. These and yet more capricious ventures in animal physiognomy were incorporated into later systems, often in complete ignorance of their source.
- For the general subject I may refer to my volume: “Fact and Fable in Psychology,” 1900.
- The excursion would indeed serve to justify the general conclusion that the sporadic survival or revival of such systems as physiognomy, astrology, phrenology, palmistry, fortune-telling, dream-interpretation, etc., is due not to the appeal of their evidence, but to the persistence of the attraction of the occult as well as to the promise of practical revelation. For it is characteristic that this class of latter-day compendium upon “character” through the reading of heads, faces, hands, etc., combines and resurrects with curious ignorance of their source, with a strange insensitiveness to their mutually contradictory positions, all the varied bypaths of obscure and discredited lore which we have cursorily surveyed. Aristotle, Porta, Cardan, Lavater, Gall, Spurzheim reappear in doctrines, without assignment of source, in support of “systems” purporting to reveal the secrets of human nature for the small consideration of the purchase of the volume. The occult—representing poverty if not misery of mind—like misery, makes strange bedfellows.
- It is characteristic of the wave-like oscillations of movements of this kind that in periods after the desertion of the position by the scientific world, an occasional reaction appears and gains a considerable adherence. An Ethological Society, which publishes the Ethological Journal, was founded in 1903 and attempts to reinstate the phrenological position, though in a wholly modified form and with an attempt at reconciliation with the established localization of function in the brain; the latter is in a legitimate sense the new and true phrenology. There is no reason, except the historical one (which, however, is adequate), for giving the term phrenology any less respectable status than that of psychology itself. It is clear that the doctrine of the localization of function in the cortex of the brain represents a chapter in the development of physiology which replaces the series of conjectural and extravagant views that belong to the antecedents of our subject. It should not be inferred that the Ethological Society is wholly devoted to this reinstatement of phrenology; it considers the entire range of topics bearing upon character and temperament, but presents a leaning toward the impressionistic and obscure interpretations. It may be added that so distinguished a contributor to the principles of modern evolution as Alfred Russel Wallace believed that the neglect of phrenology was one of the intellectual crimes of the nineteenth century, and maintained that this aspect of physiological and psychological research is central in its promise for the regulation of mental affairs in the future. The attempts to restate certain aspects of the phrenological position in modern form should be mentioned. They undertake a “Revival of Phrenology” and are represented by Hollander “The Mental Functions of the Brain” (1901).
- An admirable statement of the development of knowledge of the nervous system is found in Sir Michael Foster’s “Lectures on the History of Physiology” (1901), Chapter X. G. Stanley Hall’s “History of Reflex Action” (American Journal of Psychology, January, 1896) should also be consulted. Andrew D. White’s “History of the Warfare of Science and Theology” (1896) provides an illuminating commentary upon the movement of thought through which the present subject reached its modern stage. Of the histories of psychology that of Dessoir (1912) contains the most distinctive appreciation of the “character and temperament” movement. Of the more recent studies the most noteworthy are: A. Levy, “Psychologie du Caractère” (1896); Malapert, “Temperament et Caractère” (1902), “Les elements du Caraetère” (1906); Alfred Fouillé, “Temperament et Caractère, etc.”; Paulhan, “Les Caraetères” (1894); Th. Ribery, “ Essai de Classification Naturel des Caractères” (1902); L. Klages, “Prinzipien der Characterologie” (1911); Sternberg, “Characterologie als Wissenschaft” (1907); C. J. Whitby, “The Logic of Human Character.” These works are by no means of comparable value, scope or treatment; nor does any one of them interpret accurately the message of modern psychology upon the subject. The literature bearing upon the training of character is large, but not pertinent to the present survey. Of books of other purpose with important bearing upon the subject may be mentioned MacDougall, “Social Psychology” (1908) and Wallas, “The Great Society” (1914). A peculiarly notable volume is A. F. Shand, “The Foundations of Character” (1914). No reference is made in the retrospective view or in the recent literature to the several modern attempts to develop “readings of character” from signs and systems of appearance or expression. The best-known of these is palmistry and graphology. That handwriting has a modest place as an expression of the neuro-muscular function is an admission that in no sense qualifies it to serve as an index to “Character.” That a few students of handwriting have appreciated the physiological and psychological aspects of their findings is to be recorded.
- See previous note.
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