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What will the reader say, when I mention that Dr Spurzheim, the coadjutor of Gall-the joint labourer with that great man in the field of phrenological discovery-the author of the Catechism of the Natural Laws, from whom, Mr Combe acknowledges, he derived his first ideas on the subject, brought on the illness which resulted in his death, by what Mr Combe himself would describe as a flagrant act of disobedience of these very laws? The following account of this event is given in a letter addressed to Mr Combe, by Mr Nahum Capen, of Boston, dated November 15, 1832, inserted in the Phrenological Journal, vol. viii. p. 127.
"It is with the deepest feelings of grief, that I state, that Dr Spurzheim is no more.
"He died in this city, on the 10th instant, at 11 o'clock, P. M. after an illness of about three weeks. On the 17th September he commenced a course of lectures on Phrenology in this city, and soon after, another course at Harvard University, Cambridge. These lectures occupied six evenings in the week. He delivered, besides, a course of five lectures before the Medical Faculty, on the anatomy of the brain, in the day time.
"The subject having met with the most favourable reception, he laboured, with great earnestness and pains, to elucidate its principles. He, being personally admired by our citizens, his time and presence were in constant demand. Added to these continued engagements, our peculiarly changeable climate had an unfavourable influence on his constitution. Sudden changes exposed him to cold; and an incautious transition from a warm lecture-room to the evening air, was attended with debilitating effects. This variety of causes, brought on at first slight indisposition, which, if it had been attended to, might have been easily checked. Regard
ing his illness of less consequence than the delivery of his lectures, he exerted himself for several days, when prudence required an entire cessation from labour. THIS WAS THE FATAL STEP: cold produced fever, and this imprudence seemed to settle the fever in the system.
"He was confined to his room about fifteen days, which time his disease gradually assumed a more alarming aspect until death. He was averse to all active treatment from the beginning, and resorted to simple drinks," &c.
A similar account of the same event is given in a letter of the 16th November, received by Mr Combe from Dr Robert M'Kibben of New York. "His illness continued for some time after having been chilled, and he persisted in lecturing, until the last lecture or two he was quite obscure and confused, and evidently labouring under great weakness. No persuasion of his friends, however, could prevail on him to desist, until the Wednesday fortnight before his decease, when the fever had increased so much as to confine him to his bed. He would use no remedies, though urged to do so by the medical gentlemen who most anxiously attended him Lavements were the only things he would use, and he objected that the British and American practice was too active, unfortunately forgetting the climate he was in. The symptoms were very obscure in the accession, but they gradually assumed the form of synochus, with great nervous depression, and he gradually got worse, until the fatal catastrophe
Now, here we have a man, as Mr Combe will admit, of the highest intellectual and moral eminence, -a physician,-acquainted thoroughly, if any human being can be said to be so, with the laws of his own constitution, and its relations with external objects; and yet
we find him, in the important point of his own health, acting directly in the teeth of these, laws, in obstinate defiance of all warning, and bringing upon himself, as the immediate consequence, disease, ending in death. I state all this as the undoubted fact, without the most remote intention of casting the slightest shade of disrespect on the memory of Dr Spurzheim; to whom, on the contrary, I would do all honour. But the point I aim at is this, if such a man is found to have so erred, who can ever be free from error? And what utter insanity is it to expect, not that a large portion of mankind, but that all mankind, will, at some period, be so enlightened, as to be safe from falling into such errors.
How long will it be, under Mr Combe's system, before mankind in general shall become equally enlightened on the subject of the natural laws, as Dr Spurzheim? But we see that, even granting this were the case, our situation would be little if at all mended; for we here find Dr Spurzheim himself, whom it is not too much to call the author of this very system, erring as deeply and as fatally as the worthy and benevolent, but ignorant Owenite.
If the natural laws were at this moment universally known, it is possible that a certain portion of the best constituted of mankind - those whose faculties and dispositions are most happily balanced and best commingled — would conform to them from inclination ; another, and perhaps a larger portion, might obey them from a sense of duty; a third portion might obey them from the selfish motives proposed by Mr Combe (the highest motive which he, in any case, holds out for such obedience being, that we may expect ultimately to reap from them the greatest harvest of enjoyment ;) and a fourth portion might obey, to avoid the pains and evils which they would see to be the consequence of infringing
them. But all these classes together would amount, it is to be feared, to but a small numerical portion of mankind. Mr Combe is aware, that in the great majority of the race, the lower propensities are greatly superior in strength and activity to the higher and peculiarly human faculties; and this being the case, is it not probable, that the knowledge of "nature and her laws" would be turned by such persons into the means of gratifying their strongest inclinations?
The laws and their consequences being all thoroughly known, the generality of mankind would act as they do now; and seeing clearly the right path, would follow, as at present, the wrong. The depravity of human nature would be too strong for the laws. Some would disobey them from the mere spirit of contradiction, or to please a wayward inclination; some to gratify a predominant. propensity or craving passion; some would partake of the enticing cup of present pleasure, though certain death, at a limited distance, stared them in the face, as immense numbers do at this day.
I may here refer to the following passage from Bishop Butler, (quoted by Mr Combe for a different purpose,) as directly confirming the above view; and it is impossible for Mr Combe, on his principles, to produce an answer to it. "In the present state, all which we enjoy, and a great part of what we suffer, is put in our own power. For pleasure and pain are the consequences of our actions, and we are endowed, by the Author of our nature, with capacities of foreseeing these consequences." "I know not that we have any one kind or degree of enjoyment, but by the means of our own actions. And by prudence and care we may, for the most part, pass our days in tolerable ease and quiet; or, on the contrary, we may, by rashness, ungoverned passion, wilfulness, or even by negligence, make ourselves as miserable as ever
we please. And many do please to make themselves extremely miserable ; i. e. they do what they know beforehand will render them so. They follow those ways, the fruit of which they know, by instruction, example, experience, will be DISGRACE, and POVERTY, and UNTIMELY DEATH. THIS, EVERY ONE OBSERVES TO BE THE GENERAL COURSE OF THINGS," &c.
In the above passage, Bishop Butler has stated, in a few words, all that is of any practical utility in Mr Combe's system; and he has shewn, in addition, that, as human nature is constituted, it is impossible to restrain men from vice by any such considerations. But there is a farther view which is well deserving of our notice.
Knowledge is desirable, certainly, when joined to, and properly directed by good principles; but knowledge, merely by itself, is a two-edged weapon. There is a knowledge of evil, as well as a knowledge of good; and the "natural laws," if thoroughly known, would disclose the one as well as the other. Though knowledge is power, most assuredly it is not virtue.* Some would study these laws for no other purpose than that of discovering new and untried methods of disobeying them, and snatch, as they do now, short moments of frantic excitement, at the expense of early death, or lasting disease and misery. It is not necessary that the pains to be avoided are removed to the other side of the grave; many will undoubtedly brave them with all their terrors, even in the present life. It will with some be, as now, a point of honour to do so, and many may think it a proof of a mean and cowardly spirit, to be deterred from an enjoyment which they covet, by the prospect of evils
* See the Tables and Calculations of M. Guerry, proving, that in those parts of France where education has made the greatest progress, the proportion of crime is the greatest, and that in those districts where there is least education, crimes are the most rare.