These diagrams illustrate the theory from Elements of Phrenology, an 1824 work by leading British phrenologist George Combe.
The first diagram shows the division of the brain into 33 'organs' of phrenology, including qualities such as ‘Secretiveness’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Wit’. The second depicts a ‘craniometer’ and callipers, the phrenological instruments used to measure the skull.
What is phrenology?
Phrenology taught that particular characteristics and qualities were connected to different parts of the skull. According to their prominence, these ‘organs’ could thus reveal the intellectual and emotional faculties of any individual.
The theory was founded in late 18th century Germany by the physiologist Franz Joseph Gall and the physician Johann Kaspar Spurzheim. In the 19th century British and American practitioners flourished and followers multiplied, although it also gained early critics. Combe brought the theory to the British middle classes, selling thousands of copies of books.
Thriving during the height of Britain’s empire and slave-owning, the theory was used in debates about racial supremacy.Modern scientists now classify phrenology, like physiognomy, as a pseudo-science.
- Article by:
- Carol Atherton
- The novel 1832–1880
Carol Atherton explores the character of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre through ideas of the ‘Other’, Charlotte Brontë’s narrative doubling and 19th-century attitudes towards madness and ethnicity.