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Physiognomy

A supposed science for the "discovery of the disposition of the mind by the lineaments of the body" (Bacon).

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From LoveToKnow 1911: physiognomy as a branch of physiology

"Physiognomy was regarded by those who cultivated it as a twofold science: (1) a mode of discriminating character by the outward appearance, and (2) a method of divination from form and feature. On account of the abuses of the latter aspect of the subject its practice was forbidden by the English law. By the act of parliament 17 George II. c. 5 (1743) all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy were deemed rogues and vagabonds, and were liable to be publicly whipped, or sent to the house of correction until next sessions."

"It was very early noticed that the good and evil passions by their continual exercise stamp their impress on the face, and that each particular passion has its own expression. Thus far physiognomy is a branch of physiology. But in its second aspect it touched divination and astrology. There is evidence in the earliest classical literature that physiognomy formed part of the most ancient practical philosophy. Homer was a close observer of expression and of appearance as correlated with character, as is shown by his description of Thersites 3 and elsewhere. The first systematic treatise which has come down to us is that attributed to Aristotle, in which he devotes six chapters to the consideration of the method of study, the general signs of character, the particular appearances 'characteristic of the dispositions, of strength and weakness, of genius and stupidity, of timidity, impudence, anger, and their opposites, &c. Then he studies the physiognomy of the sexes, and the characters derived from the different features, and from colour, hair, body, limbs, gait and voice. He compares the varieties of mankind to animals, the male to the lion, the female to the leopard. The general character of the work may be gathered from the following specimen. While discussing noses, he says that those with thick bulbous ends belong to persons who are insensitive, swinish; sharp-tipped belong to the irascible, those easily provoked, like dogs; rounded, large, obtuse noses to the magnanimous, the lion-like; slender hooked noses to the eagle-like, the noble but grasping; round-tipped retrousse noses to the luxurious, like barndoor fowl; noses with a very slight notch at the root belong to the impudent, the crow-like; while snub noses belong to persons of luxurious habits, whom he compares to deer; open nostrils are signs of passion, "

"While the earlier classical physiognomy was chiefly descriptive, the later medieval authors particularly developed the predictive and astrological side, their treatises often digressing into chiromancy, onychomancy, clidomancy, podoscopy, spasmatomancy, and other blanches of prophetic folk-lore and magic. The 16th century was rich in publications on physiognomy. The earliest English works were anonymous: On the Art of Foretelling Future Events by Inspection of the Hand (1504), and A Pleasant Introduction to the Art of Chiromancie and Physiognomie (1588). The development of a more accurate anatomy in the 17th century seems to have diminished the interest in physiognomy, by substituting fact for fiction; and consequently the literature, though as great in quantity, became less valuable in quality. The principal writers of this age were T. Campanella, R. Coclenius, Clement, Timpler, J. E. Gallimard, Moldenarius, Septalius, Saunders..."

"The 18th century shows a still greater decline of interest in physiognomy. Historians of philosophy, like J. Meursius and Franz, re-edited some of the classical works, and G. G. Fiilleborn reviewed the relation of physiognomy to philosophy. Indeed, the only name worthy of note is that of J. K. Lavater. The popular style, good illustrations and pious spirit pervading the writings of Lavater have given to them a popularity they little deserved, as there is no system in his work, which chiefly consists of rhapsodical comments upon the several portraits. Having a happy knack of estimating character, especially when acquainted with the histories of the persons in question, the good pastor contrived to write a graphic and readable book, but one much inferior to Porta's or Aristotle's as a systematic treatise. With Lavater the descriptive school of physiognomists may be said to have ended, as the astrological physiognomy expired with De la Belliere. The few works which have since appeared, before the rise of the physiological school of Sir Charles Bell and Charles Darwin, are undeserving of notice, the development of phrenology having given to pure physiognomy the coup de grace by taking into itself whatever was likely to live of the older science. "

"The physiological school of physiognomy was foreshadowed by Parsons and founded by Sir Charles Bell, whose Essay on the Anatomy of the Expression, published in 1806, was the first scientific study of the physical manifestation of emotions in the terms of the muscles which produce these manifestations. The experiments of G. B. A. Duchenne (Mecanisme de la physiognomie humaine, Paris, 1862) showed that by the use of electricity the action of the separate muscles could be studied and by the aid of photography accurately represented. These observations confirmed by experimental demonstration the hypothetical conclusions of Bell. speculations were reduced to a system by Darwin (Expression of Emotions, 1872), who formulated and illustrated the following as fundamental physiognomical principles: (1) Certain complex acts are of direct or indirect service, under certain conditions of the mind, in order to relieve or gratify certain sensations or desires; and whenever the same states of mind are induced the same sets of actions tend to be performed, even when they have ceased to be of use. (2) When a directly opposite state of mind is induced to one with which a definite action is correlated, there is a strong and involuntary tendency to perform a reverse action. (3) When the sensorium is strongly excited nerve-force is generated in excess, and is transmitted in definite directions, depending on the connexions of nerve-cells and on habit. "

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