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Sermon in Skulls

ISSUE:  Winter 1932

Shortly before the world began to hear of Napoleon Bonaparte, a Viennese physician named Gall gave an odd kind of evening party in the back-kitchen of his respectable house. He had invited as his guests all the coachmen, footmen, lady’s maids and cooks in the neighborhood who could get leave for the evening. It was eccentric in the Herr Doktor to entertain them in this democratic fashion, but food and drink were plentiful and they asked no more. Presently, as their embarrassment wore off, their earnest host began to ask them personal questions about one another. Was this man particularly quarrelsome? Was that one particularly timid? Which among them were dangerous when aroused? Which cowardly? As soon as he had arrived at a fair notion of the varying degrees of pugnacity among his guests, he made them line up on opposite sides of the room, fighters on one side, milksops on the other. Then he solemnly produced a set of formidable instruments and measured their skulls, noting down individual dimensions with increasing satisfaction as it became evident that his theory was holding good. When he finally retired to his library, leaving the party to discuss whether or not he really was as mad as he seemed, he had what he wanted: he had overwhelming evidence that the heads of pugnacious people are markedly wide between the ears. The sequel of that evening was to make a great man of him.

Dr. Gall was engaged in founding the science of phrenology. All that remains of it now is the mumbled patter of an occasional cheap-jack charlatan with a colored chart of the head displayed outside a shabby room and a standard charge of fifty cents for “readings.” But in its day it succeeded in convincing a large number of people that it was an important contribution to human knowledge. Eighty or ninety years ago phrenology was a fair and flourishing field for serious speculation, a rallying point for social theorists, and as live a subject of controversy as free silver or prohibition. Dead as it is, it did not die in vain. Having been a serious popular infection, it prepared the way for similar seizures to follow. The evolutionist of the ‘sixties, the cracker-barrel atheist of the ‘nineties, and the psycho-analyst of the ‘twenties might never have encountered such receptive audiences if Dr. Gall had not put his dignity in his pocket and fraternized with social inferiors in his back-kitchen.

For, whether or not it ever deserved to be called a science, phrenology produced the first elaborate explanation of what goes on in human heads, couched in the form of scientific reasoning. There had been much previous speculation among philosopher-psychologists as to the fact of consciousness and the origin of ideas and emotions, but the medicine of that day had hardly got beyond admitting that the mind inhabited the brain, and very little was known of the relations between the physical brain and its intangible functions. Having called to his aid observation and induction, the handmaidens of science, to probe the matter thoroughly, Dr. Gall arrived at a plausible if superficial hypothesis as to how these matters work. As his disciples began to carry, his hypothesis to the world at large, he found himself the center of a storm of controversy and comment which recalls the experience of another Viennese scientist a hundred years later. He was to discover that people thirsted after a ready-made explanation of their inexplicable behavior, and, more covertly, ardently desired scientific authority for palliating their shortcomings.

At the height of its glory—say in 1840—-phrenology was a fascinating and imposing theory to the effect that you could tell what went on inside a living head by inspecting the outside of it. It combined a fortunate superficiality and an extreme simplicity with the impressive thunder of a scientific-sounding vocabulary which reverberated to great effect in the popular fancy. Briefly, it taught that each function of the brain could be definitely localized in a specific region of its surface, and that the comparative size and development of these regions indicated the character of the person who lived inside. Dissection was fortunately unnecessary, since the skull always adapted its shape to fit the brain it contained. The various functions, fruit of a highly specious analysis, had grand names such as Amativeness, Self-Esteem, Benevolence, Destructiveness, Philoprogenitiveness, the sum of them amounting to the whole human personality. Gall, with his disciple Spurzheim, recognized forty-six such qualities; in the baroque decadence of phrenology this number had climbed well toward a hundred. The method of localization was to search for abnormal development of the same region in persons exhibiting the same trait; the experiment in the back-kitchen, for instance, had demonstrated that the two organs of Destructiveness were located just above and back of either ear.

The phrenologists’ notion of the normal distribution of predominant qualities between the sexes is a sample of the way they would analyze a personality. It is also an excellent picture of the contemporary conception of men and women:

Preponderant in Females

Preponderant in Males


















Comparison The whole thing stood and fell on whether or not any such exact localization was possible. The opponents of phrenology flatly denied it: they scoffed at the notion that the size of an organ had anything to do with its activity, and that the structure of the skull necessarily conformed to the development of the brain within it. Yet, with the reservation that a diseased condition might cause abnormal activity in an organ, the phrenologists made out a fair case for their premises, certainly too good a case for any layman to dispute. They insisted that the skull did not exhibit actual bumps in most cases, but gentle irregularities which the expert hand and eye could measure and recognize. The word “bumps” haunted them. They never ceased to deplore the bad sportsmanship with which their opponents called them “bump-ologists.” It was a term which made them almost as angry as the antics of the charlatans who, equipped with a plaster cast of the human head and the necessary patter, had infested the path of phrenology from the beginning and made the way difficult for serious professors of the science. It was the same feeling which causes the modern psychiatrist to speak so bitterly of popular writers on the new psychology.

As a matter of fact, it is difficult to call the more respectable phrenologists charlatans, although their enemies made no scruple of doing so. Some of Gall’s anatomical researches, particularly his success in tracing the fifth cranial nerve, are still recognized as valuable. Gall’s disciples, Spurzheim, Combe, the Fowlers, Deville, and the rest, however they may have warped their master’s tentative hypotheses, were eager to submit to well-controlled tests and generally came through them with amazing success. And in spite of their disreputable camp-followers, respectable phrenology early found itself admitted to first-class medical journals and endorsed by archbishops, eminent professors of medicine in Paris, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, London, and the United States, by well-known educators, penologists, and clergymen. Whether or not it deserved all this consideration in high places does not matter any more. The important point is that it received credence from large numbers of people presumably, more capable than most of forming judgment. In which case its numerous lay adherents had considerable excuse for fervent belief.


The United States, of course, became a happy hunting-ground for the phrenologist as soon as Americans were aware of the birth of this new science. Spurzheim, the Apostle Paul of the movement, who took Gall’s theories to the world at large, not without distortion, brought phrenology to Boston in the early ‘thirties. From this intellectual center it spread as rapidly as newspapers and primitive railways could carry, it. Like Paul also he died in a foreign land, being reverently buried by his converts in Mt. Auburn. His propaganda offered its miracles. During a visit to Charles-town prison, Dr. Spurzheim expressed surprise that one prisoner in the large and gratifying collection should ever have committed a crime. His skull, he pointed out, was strikingly non-criminal. The whole thing might have passed for commendable frankness on the phrenologist’s part if, shortly afterward, the man had not been released on new evidence which proved his innocence beyond cavil. Wherever phrenology went, these examples of omniscience multiplied. Within a year, Mr. O. S. Fowler, practical phrenologist, was waited upon by a committee of New Jersey clergymen with an anonymous skull for his description of its former tenant’s disposition. He shook his head over it in grief at so much depravity and pronounced it to have belonged to “a thief who would murder for money; . . . seductive if not licentious; . . . completely destitute of moral principle; . . . makes pretensions to religion;” . . . and so on and so forth with amazing sureness. Miraculous, said the wondering clergymen; it was the skull of a young hired man who had murdered his employers in Morristown and made off with their valuables. He had needed money in order to marry a rustic sweetheart, and, during his trial, had given agonized accounts of the religious struggles he had gone through while planning the deed.

Such feats of divination, bordering on the supernatural„ brought the wonders of phrenology much closer home than second-hand accounts of similar triumphs enjoyed by Gall and Spurzheim in Germany and England. But this new way of anticipating what human beings would do or, at worst, of explaining after the fact what they had done, hardly needed such impressive performances to establish itself. The intrinsic interest of the bare theory would probably have been enough, Phrenology became a favorite subject for the popular lectures which, along with church, made up the more respectable sort of formal entertainment in those days. Orthodox ministers denounced it, newspapers laboriously ridiculed it, amateurs dallied with it, and large accumulations of people began to believe in it. Most of them were, no doubt, as Oliver Wendell Holmes described them, “women of both sexes, feeble-minded inquirers, poetical optimists, people who-always get cheated in buying horses, philanthropists who insist on hurrying the millennium . . . with here and there a clergyman, very rarely a physician, and almost never a horse-jockey or a member of the detective police.” But it is dangerous to judge any popular theory merely by the prevalence of such classes as these among its adherents. Such criteria leave very little of many modern notions of the best intellectual standing.

Although its enemies were legion, phrenology flourished for its little day. John Quincy Adams, paraphrasing Cicero-on augurs, might say that he could not see how two phrenologists could keep from laughing when they, looked each other in the face. Mr. Smith, ex-president of William and Mary College, might expose phrenology’s delusions in a laboriously logical book. Anatomists might point out that the brain does not come in contact with the skull, and deny that anything more than a highly general knowledge of its volume and surface was possible without dissection. Phrenology was nevertheless exactly to the taste of thousands on thousands of Americans just beginning to feel the intellectual attraction of science; and there were more clergymen, governors, and physicians of repute than the Autocrat was aware of among the dignitaries who welcomed Mr. George Combe, the eminent phrenologist, as he made his tour of the United States in the late ‘thirties.

Since Spurzheim’s death, Mr. Combe was the Number One phrenologist of the world. His American journal reveals him as a sober, educated, reputable gentleman with an observing eye and a fertile curiosity in many fields. He is notable as one of the few European travellers in pre-Civil War America whose account of the nation is severe without either hysteria or condescension. But far more important than his personal integrity and intelligence is the proof this journal of his offers of how phrenology turned American thought into modern channels and so prepared the way, for the intellectual cliches of our own day.

In criminology, for instance, Mr. Combe was a veritable John crying in the wilderness. Through the courtesy of such ardent phrenologists as the superintendents of asylums and prisons in Worcester and Boston and Philadelphia, he could glut himself with studying and measuring lunatics and thugs. In consequence he could speak with local authority in expounding his heresies about crime and punishment. Wherever he had the chance he told his audiences that criminals (most of whom phrenology found to be deficient in moral organs and over-developed in animal organs) “are incapable of resisting the temptation to crime presented by ordinary, society—that they are moral patients and should not be punished but restrained . . . with as much liberty as they can enjoy without abusing it.” This was an amazing doctrine to most of his hearers. He was unmistakably denying that criminals are morally responsible for their anti-social behavior. He was presenting the criminal to society as a pathological case, perhaps incurable, but certainly exempt from reprobation. Was it a murderer’s fault, asked Mr. Combe, that his parents had endowed him with an unbalanced brain and then given him no opportunity to develop his Conscientiousness before it was too late? Had society any right to assume that unbalanced brains are responsible for anything? The law admitted downright insanity as proof that the criminal was not responsible for his acts, in those cases in which it could be demonstrated to the satisfaction of indignant juries. But it was Mr. Combe’s acknowledged purpose to have this clemency extended to all prisoners who were deficient in the phrenological moral organs.

It is hardly necessary to point out that such doctrines would dig broad foundations for Lombroso and that modern criminology which, in the persons of literary wardens and humanitarian societies, holds the criminal to be primarily a sick man. By this time free-thinking lawyers and professional sociologists have made it an old and widely accepted story. But in Mr. Combe’s time society had hardly finished cleaning up its prisons past the condition of a pigpen, and was still engaged in softening the extreme penalties of eighteenth century criminal statutes; no one had yet bothered to question the axiom that a criminal was a moral Ishmael, whose outrages cried aloud for punishment. The Scriptural tooth for tooth was the only theory of criminology yet familiar to either the law or the prophets. Now here was this grave Scotsman assuring them that phrenology, grave Science itself, exonerated most murderers from moral blame, even hinting that the murderer’s indictment of society was better founded than society’s indictment of the murderer.

Already a few lawyers were recognizing the handiness of this new doctrine in their profession. Combe records with pride that, a few years before, a nine-year-old boy charged with attempted murder in Portland, Maine, had been defended partly on the plea that his moral organs were underdeveloped, while Destructiveness, Acquisitiveness, and Se-cretiveness were abnormally large. A physician who subscribed to phrenology had even been introduced to testify as an expert witness. The Honorable Joel Parker, Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Court of Common Pleas, and Judge Thacher of Boston Municipal Court made constant use of phrenology in charging juries and weighing sentences. It is not a long step from this to the spectacle of Mr. Clarence Darrow feeding pre-digested criminology to the Loeb-Leopold jury, assuring them on the faith of an agnostic that the accused were no more responsible for their acts than the inanimate automobile they had used.


It was, of course, on the issue of moral responsibility that phrenology fell seriously foul of religion. Mr. Combe had scarcely begun his lectures in Boston when his audience, old hands at theological controversy, pounced on him for denying the divine right to punish sin after death. It was only too true that the phrenologists were implicitly guilty of accusing the God of damnation as cruel and unjust; for God had endowed criminals with the very propensities which made them transgress the Decalogue and the corollaries which society had added to it. What justice was there in that? Complaints of that sort had often been heard before, whenever the issues of free will and predestination appeared in religious problems; but science, the new intellectual shibboleth, had never before frankly added its weight to the atheists’ side of the scale. Mr. Combe took his religious life in his hands when he unflinchingly answered his Boston theologians that “Men must revise their interpretations of the Scriptures and bring them into harmony with natural truth. . . . Nature will not bend nor will she cease to operate.” This insistence on shaping religion to fit the findings of science was a direct challenge to revealed religion, and the traditional interpretations of Scripture. For the first time the laboratory and the church were coming to grips in the field of morals. The church seldom fails to recognize hostility, however respectable and earnest its disguise; so phrenology was admitted to the august company of the heretical doctrines of Copernicus and Galileo and Lyell, as something the church could not help denouncing. For a while the pulpits of the land rocked with attacks on phrenology, the new intellectual plaything which was quite as damaging to heavenly justice as to earthly, jurisprudence. It was the fundamentalist beginning to learn all over again that scientific inquiry was his prime enemy. The whole controversy strikes such a modern note that it is not at all surprising to find appearing that familiar phenomenon, the liberal minister, who ingeniously tries to dovetail science and the doctrines of his calling. Pastors like the Reverend John Pierpont of Boston presided over phrenological meetings and blandly denied that phrenology and the church were hostile—in a broader sense, of course. Respectable phrenologists gladly abetted such trimmers, being in grave need of their franchises. One hears now and again that there is nothing hostile to Christianity in Freudian psycho-analysis.

Traditional religion had another and even graver quarrel with the new knowledge. The problem of divine right to damn sinners, although divine might had apparently fashioned them for the express purpose of sinning, might be relegated to the convenient category of inscrutable mysteries. But, according to phrenology, there were certain people with highly developed moral faculties and properly subordinated animal faculties who could not very well help being good. In that case, what became of the doctrine of original sin, the indispensable notion of the essential corruption of human nature, from which humanity could be purged only by the action of divine grace? Without original sin, without Adam’s fall in the garden, without the necessity of divine grace, Christianity was a mere husk of moral precepts. On this point the pulpits shouted even louder. Orthodox ministers were having their first fearful look at the quagmires of doubt which opened among their flocks when Lyell and Darwin made it possible to assert that there never had been an Adam in a Garden to fall and involve all his progeny in spiritual ruin. For the important ingredient was not Adam, but the Fall: and, no matter how it was eliminated, it was the hook on which all Christian theology hung. Trinity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection were meaningless without it. Those phrenologists who desired to keep piously on the good side of orthodoxy could do no more than point out that original sin was losing favor anyway among theologians. But it was a feeble answer, imbued with the sickly taint of confused issues. With one devastating ratiocination, phrenology had deposed Adam from his star role in the great drama of redemption; and Hamlet without Hamlet was unquestionably pointless. Here was a horrible example to warn the early fundamentalist of what was to be expected out of regarding the soul not as the vessel of grace, but as a mechanical device, and subjecting it to empirical investigation.


Yet the closest parallels between our times and the heyday of phrenology do not appear until our modern psychology comes up for measurement. Any popular handbook of phrenology, any selection of clinical cases in which phrenologists presented significant data, often reads like Krafft-Eb-ing or Havelock Ellis. The nomenclature was not quite as poetical and the presentation not quite as enticing, but the fundamental appeal to a desire to understand oneself in empirical terms is identical. Nor is the secondary tang of delving into prurient subjects in the name of knowledge at all lacking. A popular phrenologist like Boardman could list over a hundred detailed cases of lurid erotic precociousness or irregularity as proof that extreme development or abnormal conditions of the lower cerebellum were responsible for prostitutes, nymphomaniacs, transvestites, sadists, and little mulatto boys who attacked women at the age of three. Female prisoners “unparalleled for loose and licentious conduct,” of whom keepers declared that they had never seen persons “so obstinate and devoid of shame or modesty,” possessed peculiar attractions for investigators and readers alike. Now and again some theoretical backing and filling would be necessary, as in the case of a gentleman who had married and murdered five wives in two years, and yet was inconsiderate enough to possess notably developed moral organs: he was neatly explained as a man displaying a great sense of morality in “preferring to gratify Amative-ness in wedlock rather than by illicit indulgence.” L. N. Fowler’s highly modern approach in phrenology appears strikingly in the case of a gentleman who came to him with a miserable soreness in the back and crown of his head, after conventional physicians had given him up to his inexplicable sufferings. Mr. Fowler inspected him, ascertained that he was married, and then took his patient’s breath by informing him that he undoubtedly owed his pains to being jealous of his wife. This jealousy caused a primary inflammation in his organ of Amativeness (i. e., his cerebellum) and a secondary congestion in his organ of Self-Esteem (i. e„ his crown). Moreover, said Mr. Fowler, his wife undoubtedly did not exhibit the same bulge at the base of the skull as her husband; the next time he would do well to marry a woman whose organ of Amativeness was as big as his own. The patient admitted in amazement that his jealousy of his wife was without foundation, after Mr. Fowler had told him that it was only his own unsatisfied Amativeness which produced that jealousy, and had observed that his wife’s cerebellum was innocent of bulges. This explanation sent the victim of bad judgment away satisfied. It verges miraculously near modern psychology. The man’s thwarted Amativeness, due to his wife’s coldness, had worked its way out in unreasoning emotion and physical ills, and was cured by laying the wise man’s finger on the cause of the trouble. The whole case would translate without distortion into any psycho-analytical theory.

And it is worthy of note that phrenology could and would tell you what kind of wife to marry. Here “bumpology” directly anticipates modern efforts to adjust human relations by means of an empirical theory. The man with the pains in his head would never have been tormented if he had known how to recognize the necessary Amativeness in the woman he contemplated marrying. When everyone knew and practiced phrenology, marriage would no longer be a leap in the dark. The suitor would know in time that a given bride-to-be would beat her children (deficient Philoprogenitiveness), quarrel with her neighbors (over-developed Combativeness), and rob her husband’s trousers (overdeveloped Acquisitiveness and Secretiveness). The dangerous shoals of infidelity and erotic coldness would be avoided. These are, of course, the greater and lesser shoals which analytical psychology now charts, the same dangers and inconveniences which the Bertrand Russells attempt to rationalize out of the problem of reconciling domestic and erotic satisfactions.

One of the most entertaining parlor tricks among the Freudians is the posthumous diagnosis of the famous dead in the light of modern theory, interpreting Cleopatra, the Marquis de Sade, and Napoleon in terms of complex and sublimation. Freud himself set the fashion in such work as the mighty edifice of hypothesis he reared with Leonardo’s vulture-phantasy for foundation. Few modern biographers escape the impulse to resort to this ready-made classification of human beings in their efforts to establish consistent patterns in the lives of their subjects. Here again phrenology offers a striking anticipation. A collection of portrait busts of the Roman Emperors would furnish them with material for whole lectures. This marble cranium explained beyond question why, Caligula was so passionately cruel, that one why Julius Caesar surmounted all his enemies, the tendencies of the whole collection why Rome fell. They could match the known facts to a plaster cast with complete success. When Sir Thomas Browne’s grave was accidentally opened, phrenologists were anxious to examine the skull and point out the great development of the intellectual faculties and the prominence of the region of Veneration. In this field of inquiry, they possessed one advantage over their successors, in that skulls and authentic portraits offered them all the data they required, whereas the psycho-analytical biographer must depend upon fragmentary chronicles and can never be sure that the most pregnant details of dreams or early frustrations did not escape recording. The phrenologists, however, seldom attempted that process which book-reviewers call “debunking.” It was essential to their doctrine that things should be what they seemed.

The parallel runs still farther afield. Phrenology was to open new vistas of information for educators. No longer would the deviltries of a small boy in school be attributed to natural perversity. The size of his organ of Destructive-ness would make it evident that he needed the privilege of sawing wood in the school-cellar for three hours a day: after three weeks of this treatment he would turn into as subdued and well-behaved a young scholar as his preceptor (one of Mr. Combe’s phrenological friends) could desire. No longer would potential engineers be crammed with the classics or educated for the law. All those classifications and aptitudes which modern education seeks to discover through intelligence tests or through allowing the child to regulate its own curriculum were to be discovered directly by the practice of phrenology. When education got round to using the new knowledge as it could be used, there would be no more misfits, no more waste educational motion; bringing up a child in the way it should go would be as simple as dieting hogs for bacon or lard. The business firms who employ psychiatrists in their personnel staffs had their long-past prototype in a certain London manufacturer who selected his workmen on phrenological considerations.

It remained for Mr. Combe to sketch the most sweeping picture of what phrenology could teach the human race. His farewell gesture to the United States was a ponderous lecture on all the ways of turning the new knowledge to account. In a hundred years, he said, America would find itself a harmonious Eden, because its institutions were peculiarly, suited to the practice of phrenology. What potentialities existed in education, criminology, business and personal problems, has already been touched on. The probable effect on American religion he passed over hastily and comfortingly, speaking of general tendencies and the significance of a separate organ of Veneration in the brain. But of the field of politics—for Americans were still politically minded —he had much to say. “Some persons,” he said, “appear to conceive liberty to consist in the privilege of unlimited exercise of the animal propensities. The head of Liberty stamped on the earlier medals, commemorative of the French Revolution, is the very personification of this idea. She is a female figure with a villainously small, low and retreating forehead, deficient moral organs, and ample development of the base and posterior regions of the brain, devoted to the propensities. . . . The same figure appears on the earlier coins of the United States. Liberty, as I should draw her, would possess large moral and intellectual organs, with moderate propensities. I should arrange her hair in simple elegance, and imprint serene enjoyment, benignity, and wisdom on her brow. . . . Such alone is the liberty after which you should aspire,” After which sermon in skulls, he turned to the practical application of phrenology, to politics.

The United States were a democracy, bound to the freeman’s privilege of selecting the best for governors. With phrenology they need rely no longer on speeches, vague promises, vaguer reputations; here was an unerring method of probing the inmost nature of the gentlemen who offered themselves for public office. Each candidate’s character was writ large on his cranium. With a degree of accuracy heretofore impossible, they could measure the skulls of potential statesmen and gauge Firmness, Benevolence, Destructive-ness, Conscientiousness, and all the other qualities likely to crop up or be useful in a public man. Mr. Combe had, for instance, measured Aaron Burr’s skull in New York. If a phrenologically minded public had been aware that his moral region was shallow and narrow, his intellectual faculties only moderate, and his Destructiveness, Amativeness, and Com-bativeness markedly criminal, his capacities for treason and trouble-making would never have affected the public weal. Once it was decided what qualities were desirable in a president or a town-marshal, the electorate had merely to go out and find a man to match a formula, and the testimony of the skilled phrenologist would be the criterion of selection. No one has yet bothered to apply the findings of analytical psychology to politics, so that here one parallel extends beyond the other. For within the hundred years that Mr. Combe allowed phrenology for this transformation of the United States, its intellectuals have turned their attention away from politics, which has become a low-brow sphere of activity. It is the only such omission. Everywhere else — in religion, education, criminology, sociology, eugenics, personal relations — “bumpology” made straight the way for those modern notions which apply, the implications of science to personalities.


It is disquieting to observe that the reaction of one’s lay ancestors toward the superficial analysis and pretentious jargon of phrenology is so nearly the same as their descendants’ attitude toward a different set of hypotheses. It makes one suspect that the world is prone to hanker after any hypothesis which makes it possible to deny free will for oneself and pigeonhole one’s fellow-men. The public is certainly no scientist. Neither the lady who carefully avoids mother-fixations in rearing her child, nor the lady who ascribed her small daughter’s lies to under-developed Conscientiousness can be acting on an informed judgment of the scientific merits of the prevailing theory. For, to the public, science is an authority, not a method of trial and error; what comes to the book-shop and the lecture-hall in the name of science, with a glib ease of startling examples and implications, is a revelation and scarcely to be questioned. When any scientific hypothesis, whether based on bumps or on complexes, sweeps through the intellectual public with the crusading speed of phrenology and analytical psychology, laying the foundations of new intellectual fashions, it must mean that its practical applications are of a sort the intellectual public wants; some aspiration or emotional need has been tickled up. In these cases, it may be that the human being who is clever enough to think at all resents individual moral responsibility and envies machines their dependence on objective factors. Hence the human implications of phrenology and analytical psychology alike guarantee a ready home for their parent theories in the minds of the intellectual public, without valid consideration of their scientific worth.

What is more, this public appears to be incapable of reserving judgment. It accepts the new revelation today and puts it to work tomorrow. The practical fields of education and criminology and sociology must reconstruct their technique to include phrenology—or psycho-analysis. Advanced education appears, and intelligence tests in department stores, and psychiatric clinics in free hospitals. And this insistence on no delay in putting the new theory into practice is another symptom of the essentially emotional character of the matter. It is the small boy’s eagerness to try his new knife on the furniture rather than the investigator’s balanced admission that this new notion may have its uses.

Phrenology is dead. It died when it failed to batter its enthusiastic way into medical curricula. Respectable medicine long since winnowed out Gall’s valuable contributions to the anatomy of the brain and left the residue of superficial classifications and glib diagnoses to rot. But the resulting compost was a fertile medium in which Darwin and Inger-soll and Lombroso and Freud were to sow empirical heresies and reap huge crops of facile assent. If sound science and plausible pseudo-science are all the same to an intellectual public which is primarily in search of justification for spiritual bravado, it is possible to regard the greasy lady-phrenologist at Coney Island as merely a poor relation of the eminent psychiatrist. She is only an anachronism, and her professional ancestors once bore the same relation to that same public of which he is the waning favorite.

Presently perhaps, if endocrinology develops its apparent promise, glands will have replaced bumps and complexes alike in popular favor. Intelligence tests will give way to analyses of blood and basal metabolism, and criminals and school children will be regarded as chemical formulas in want of efficient balance, rather than as emotional tangles in need of unravelling. Yet even in the height of his glory, someone should whisper in the endocrinologist’s ear that he would not be such an eminent social force if the intellectual public did not, now and again, mistake its need to believe for the scientific demonstration that it cannot understand or assay. Bumps yesterday—complexes today — perhaps glands tomorrow. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.


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