One thing you could say about phrenologist and author, Orson Squire Fowler, he certainly knew how to grab your attention.
Part of my collection of rare psychology books is an 1875 volume by Fowler. The title certainly leaves little to the imagination:
"Creative and Sexual Science: or Manhood, Womanhood, and Their Mutual Interrelations; Love, Its Law, Power, ETC.; Selection, or Mutual Adaptation; Courtship, Married Life, and PERFECT CHILDREN; Their Generation, Endowment, Paternity, Maternity, Bearing, Nursing and Rearing; Together with Puberty,, Boyhood, Girlhood, ETC.; SEXUAL IMPAIRMENTS RESTORED, Male Vigor ad Female Health and Beauty Perpetuated ad Augmented, ETC., as Taught By PHRENOLOGY AND PHYSIOLOGY "
(Fowler was showman enough to make sure that the most important words were carefully capitalized).
Got all that? Good. But more on that later after I provide a little background on the beginnings of phrenology.
Although the idea that mental abilities were linked to specific locations in the brain dates back to Aristotle, true scientific work into the nature of brain functioning didn't begin until the late 18th century. While early visionaries such as Emmanuel Swedenborg made some inspired guesses about how the brain worked, it was German neuroanatomist Franz Joseph Gall who can properly be considered the father of phrenology (not that he ever used that term). After establishing his reputation as one of Austria's most prominent physicians, Gall turned his research interests to the human brain and developed the first true theory of cerebral localization. By 1792, he began lecturing on his idea that the human cerebral cortex was actually a mosaic made up of different specialized organs. Although many of his ideas were actually correct, including his observations on the significance of cerebral hemispheres and the importance of the frontal lobes in complex thinking, the pseudosciene linked to Gall's name has largely overshadowed his reputation as a medical pioneer. The premises that Gall laid out in his lectures were that:
- the brain is the organ of the mind,
- the mind is made up of seperate annd discrete faculties,
- each faculty must have its own "seat" or organ in the brain,
- the size of each organ is a direct measure of its relative importance in the mind,
- the shape of the brain is determined by how each organ developed,
- since the skull is formed from the shape of the brain, measuring the skull can provide an accurate assessment of individual aptitudes and tendencies.
Gall identified nineteen mental faculties which he considered to be essentially animal in nature, these included "reproductive instinct," "love of one's offspring," "affection," "destructiveness or tendency to murder," and "desire to possess things." In contrast, he also identified a series of exclusively human qualities such as "wisdom", "satire and wit", "sense of metaphysics", "religious sentiment", and firmness of purpose".
Public reaction to Gall's lectures were decidedly mixed. Despite the lectures being popular, conservative Catholic authorities and even some of his medical colleagues accused him of subversion for daring to suggest that the brain was the centre of intellect rather than the soul (the Austrian empire was still Catholic at that time). Although Gall defended himself and his theories as much as he could, he was ordered to stop lecturing in 1801. Realizing that he would never be allowed to teach freely in Austria, Gall went into exile to could teach and continue his brain research. Along with giving lectures and public demonstrations of dissections in Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, and France, he took a keen interest in the brains of convicted criminals and gathered further material for his writings on brain functioning. Settling in Paris in 1807, Gall began writing his masterpiece, , The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular, with Observations upon the possibility of ascertaining the several Intellectual and Moral Dispositions of Man and Animal, by the configuration of their Heads, which was eventually published in 1819.
It was Gall's chief supporter, Johann Spurzheim, who helped Gall develop many of his theories after they first met in 1800. Although he wasn't the first to coin the term "phrenology", Spurzheim quickly adopted it for the brain science that he and Gall developed. Their relatively productive relationship end in 1813 over disagreements on how the brain should be classified. While Gall's research on criminal brains led to his arguing that there were "evil" tendencies in those brains that needed to be suppressed (such as regions of the brain controlling "murder" and "theft"), Spurzheim rejected this completely and argued that criminal behaviour was caused by underdeveloped moral faculties. He also changed Gall's classification system by adding new organs such as "hope" and "moral sense" to Gall's list. The total number of organs in Spurzheim's revised list rose to thirty-three from Gall's original twenty-seven. Spurzheim also rejected Gall's gloomy pessimism over changing human nature and argued that proper upbringing could help overcome criminal tendencies. After their split, Gall publicly condemned many of Spurzheim's "innovations" in his own books and often denounced him as a plagiarist and a quack.
And with good reason perhaps. While Gall tried to link his conclusions to actual brain research, Spurzheim development of "practical phrenology" became extremely popular in England and Scotland (and eventually in the United States as well). Gall was, well, galled by Spurzheim's success and, despite his refusal to use the term phrenology himself (he preferred to call his own science "organology" or "zoonomy"), it was Spurzheim's term that won out. Various critics had no problem linking their names together and one reviewer in 1815 denounced their theories as "a collection of mere absurdities, without truth, connexion, or consistency". Despite some recognition for his original contributions to brain research, Gall remained bitter over never receiving the eminence he felt he deserved. He died in 1828 after requesting that his own skull be added to the large collection of skulls that are still on display in the Rollet Museum in Baden bei Wien, Austria.
As fpr Spurzhim and his own chief supporter, George Combe, the practical phrenology that they both advocated had less and less to do with any actual brain science as time went on. While Spurzheim still had some actual medical credentials and gave public demonstrations of brain dissections, his death in 1832 left George Combe as the chief spokesman for phrenology. Since Combe had no actual medical training (he was a lawyer), that also meant that phrenology's tenuous claim to science was weaker than ever. Still, as phrenology shifted away from brain science towards more"personality-oriented" applications, social reformers, innovators, and criminologists became attracted by its appeal. Cesare Lombroso incorporated many aspects of Gall and Spurzheim's ideas into his own system of identifying "born criminals". Educators saw phrenology as a way of classifying students according to their ability to learn while psychiatrists began studying patient skulls to find better ways of dealing with asylum inmates.
By the time of Johann Spurzheim's death, there were at least twenty-nine different phrenological societies in Great Britain alone (George Combe personally founded the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1820). George Combe's books became international best-sellers and his best-known book, The Constitution of Man, sold more than seventy thousand copies by 1838 alone (and would eventually go on to sell more than three hundred thousand copies). Even the British royal family consulted Conde since Prince Albert had been worried that one of his sons was a slow learner. Conde also evaluated Queen Victoria (from a distance) and concluded that her broad and high forehead reflected her "firmness of purpose, great self-control, and awareness of moral principles".
Despite the controvery over phrenology and increasingly successful attacks by eminent scientists, phrenology spread across the Atlantic and American phrenological societies sprang up as well. Still, phrenology didn't last particularly long as a serious movement in the United States. Eminent American surgeon John Collins Warren attended many of Spurzheim's lectures and recognized its significance aalthough he never became a member of a phrenological society himself. He also carried out the autopsy on Johann Spurzheim after his death in Boston during an American tour (leading to Spurzheim's skull being added to the growing Harvard medical collection). Other eminent medical researchers such as Charles Caldwell and John Bell also attended Spurzheim's lectures and founded Pennsylvania's first phrenological society (Caldwell went to write the first American textbook on phrenology). Although George Combe visited the United States on lecture tours (and met several American presidents in the process), the movement began fading after 1840 and largely became relegated to a pseudoscience before the decade was out.
Which brings us back to Orson Fowler and his brother...