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THE evidence as to the system of phrenology of Gall, Spurzheim, and their followers, may be stated briefly thus:
The phrenologists rightly regard it as probable, or even as proved, that there is some plurality of parts in the total structure of the brain, corresponding to, and having connexion with, the different intellectual and moral faculties. The partial and varying effects of accident, disease, or other less obvious change in the brain, in producing derangement of the mental functions, are the evidence of this assumption, and cannot be rejected as such. These effects are amongst the most remarkable which medical science affords in aid of our knowledge of man; and whether with or without reference to phrenology, a careful record ought to be kept of all which are well authenticated by trustworthy observers. They are precious materials for future comparison and inference.
The phrenologists rightly represent the old classifications of mental phenomena (which are chiefly expressions of function or capacity) as insufficient to denote the various propensities and specialties of thought, feeling, and action, observed in different individuals; manifestly original to a certain extent; and forming, in conjunction with certain acquired or modified habits, the particular character of each.
Thus far their doctrine has foundation in reason. by no means equally so its other parts. The multiform division
of these instinctive propensities (as under this view they may fitly be called), though doubtless right in some points, is arbitrary, inconsistent, or improbable in others; and even in some material respects very differently stated by phrenologists themselves. In the whole arrangement there is a strong flavour of human fiction; a disregard, so to express it, of natural relation and sequence of parts. It is a sort of especial contradiction to the "principe de la moindre action," so generally prevailing throughout all parts of creation into which we are permitted to look: and it is yet further liable to this peculiar objection, that the limitation of the table of organs is not more reasonable than its extent. The principle of distinction adopted, is one which scarcely admits of boundary or exclusion.
Equally objectionable on other grounds is the remaining part of the system; viz. the attribution of these mental qualities or instincts to certain definite portions of the brain, discoverable from without; and discoverable on the presumption of the gross condition of quantity representing the intensity of quality, and the consequent vigour, or even compulsory nature, of the actions thereon depending. This relation of mere bulk of substance to the perfection or intensity of a mental faculty (for it cannot otherwise be stated) is, primâ facie, very improbable; nor is it attested by observation of the structure of the brain; either viewed in mass, or by the more minute dissection and unfolding of parts, to which the authors of the system have themselves conducted us.*
Admitting the great advance which has been made in the minute anatomy of the brain by these new modes of research, and appreciating the great merit of the observers, it is still difficult to see how the facts ascertained give support to their system of phrenology. The discovery of continuous and connecting fibres in the cerebral substance demonstrates, what must ever have been presumed, very complex relations of structure and function among the several parts of the brain. But neither
The fact of the general smallness and deficient developement of the cerebrum in congenital idiotcy — the ascertainment of the remarkable weight of the brain in certain persons of eminent intellect — and the great variety in the form of the cranium in different races of men must be allowed as their best reasons on this point; but, duly examined, they will be found insufficient as proof.* It seems, indeed, that many phrenologists admit different intensity of action in the several organs, as modifying the influence of size; and there can be no just reason for refusing to them this qualification. Still the latter is the essential circumstance in the theory. It is that upon which the external demonstrations depend; and without which the whole principle of action presumed must be viewed in a new light.†
But the phrenologists put this part of their doctrine upon
in the nature, nor distribution, of these nervous fibres, are there differences corresponding with the alleged locality or limits of the organs which the doctrine describes ; and the periphery of the brain, in particular, may be said to be singularly devoid of any indications of such division. It is true that the circumvolutions are the parts of the organ, which offer the greatest variations; but these are in no respect more consistent with the scheme proposed. Nor have the still more recent discoveries in this part of anatomy furnished, as far as I know, any evidence to this effect. See the writings of Tiedemann, Meckel, Wenzel, &c.
* On the last of the three points here noticed, the most recent work, and one of much value as I judge from the report of it, is that by Professor Morton of Philadelphia, entitled " Crania Americana."
The particular propensities of feeling and action, expressed in the divisions and organs of the phrenologists, must, in every intelligible sense of the term, be deemed instincts; and it has been sought to bring proof for the system, from corresponding relation of organs and habits in other animals. But, if not an objection, it would at least be a strange anomaly under this view, that certain insects, whose instincts are more complex, definite, and remarkable than any other which we can interpret by our own reason, should possess no cerebral organization but that of nervous ganglia, so little concentrated as barely to warrant the term of brain.
the evidence of fact; and the fairness, or even conclusiveness, of this appeal cannot be denied. If the facts tallied uniformly with their assumptions, or even in a certain large proportion of cases, so as to make reasonable allowance for error or ambiguity, the improbability must be laid aside, of the mind. being thus mechanically read from without, and the whole admitted as a new and wonderful truth.
Here then, by common admission, is á direct question of evidence, the amount and strictness of which are solely to be considered. And here, I think, it will be found, that the phrenologists are yet wanting in what is needful to establish their system; notwithstanding all the observation and ingenuity which have been bestowed on its proof.
Look at what they have in aid of their determinations, where the question concerns the relation between a certain outward form of cranium, and some faculty or quality of mind, alleged to be in correspondence with it. First, the equal chance of affirmative or negative as to each particular quality predicated. Secondly, the plea of a balance of some indications by others and opposing ones. Thirdly, the want of exact definition of many of these qualities or faculties; making it difficult to arrest for error, where there are so many ways of retreat. And fourthly, the incidental discovery of character by other and more ordinary methods. I well know that the candid disciples of the system will not consciously avail themselves of all these methods. Nevertheless each one of them has more or less been made use of; and looking to the chances and facilities thus obtained, it may be affirmed that the number of true predictions in phrenology is less miraculous than it would be, were this number not to exist. This is a question purely of fact, and the statement just made may be disputed as such; but I think it will be found by those who look fairly into the matter, that the
coincidences are not more frequent or remarkable than the assured average of chances would make them.
In these few remarks I have chiefly sought to put the several points of the question into a clear light. It is obvious that these points are widely different in themselves, and differ much in their degree of probability. Respecting the evidence of that which is cardinal to the system, viz. the power of discovery of strong faculties and instincts by the external configuration of the cranium, the fairest test would be found, not in vague and ill-defined moral propensities, respecting the site of many of which phrenologists themselves are far from agreed; but in a few simple and well marked faculties, such as those of numerical calculation, languages, or music; which have none others in obvious opposition to them; and the degree of perfection in which can be clearly defined. It is true that the phrenologists appeal to these in their evidence; and many examples doubtless occur where such appeal has been made good. But the doctrine requires that it should more uniformly be so, than those will admit, who fairly look at any large number of instances in which the system has been put to proof under their own inspection."
In the present state of our knowledge of the brain, and of its relation to the mental functions, an impartial view of phrenology requires, not that the doctrine should be put aside altogether, but that great abatement should be made of its pretensions as a system. To say the least, it is charge
* During some intercourse with Gall, and more frequently with Spurzheim (both remarkable men, and deeply impressed with the truth of their opinions), I had several occasions of noticing the failure of their judgment upon the particular faculties mentioned above, as well as in other cases where the peculiarity of external conformation, or of some quality of mind, made it almost needful that the doctrine should rightly indicate the relations upon which it professes to be based.