Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XXXV - A Phrenological Evening

[... back to menu for this book]    

[-277-]

CHAPTER XXXV.

A PHRENOLOGICAL EVENING.

THE experience I am about to chronicle occurred  when the Beecher-Tilton scandal was at its height;  and I was attracted by the somewhat ambiguous  title "Burns upon Beecher."
    Mr. James Burns, the spirited proprietor of the  Progressive Library, Southampton Row, having devoted  himself to the study of phrenology, has for  some time past held a series of craniological sťances  on Tuesday evenings, at which he "takes off" the  head of some well-known person, or your own, if you  like, whether you are well-known or born to blush  unseen, not in the way of physical decapitation, but  by the method of phrenological diagnosis. I greatly  regretted having, on a previous occasion, missed the  analysis of Dr. Kenealy's cerebral developments. I  believe the Claimant himself was once the object of  Mr. Burns' remarks; but when Mr. Beecher's cranium  was laid down for dissection at the height of the  Beecher-Tilton sensation, I could resist no longer,  but, despite all obstacles, repaired to the Institute of  Progress.
    [-278-] About a score of people were gathered in that first-floor  front where I had seen so many strange things.  Of these persons some formed the regular phrenological  class conducted there weekly by Mr. Burns.  The others were, generally speaking, of the ordinary  lecture-audience type. One stout lady occupied an  easy-chair in a corner, and slept from first to last.
    The first part of the lecture was a little discursive,  I fancy for my especial benefit, and summarized Mr.  Burns' system, which is to a great extent original.  Beginning by a disavowal of all dogmas, he began  by advancing what was to me the entirely novel  doctrine, that the brain was not the sole organ of the  mind, but that the whole organism of man had to he  taken into account in the diagnosis of character, since  the entire body was permeated with the mind. The  bones, fluids, and viscera were all related to mental phenomena.  The lecturer even questioned whether the  science he promulgated was properly termed phrenology.  It certainly did not answer to the conventional  idea of that craft. Referring to a calico diagram  which was pinned to the curtains of the fist-floor  front, and at which he pointed with a walking-stick,  Mr. Burns notified four divisions of the animal frame  -1, the vital organs; 2, the mechanical; 3, the  nervous (which in the lower orders were ganglionic  only) ; 4, the cerebral apparatus. He defended the  animal powers from the debased idea usually attached  to them, and pointed out their close connexion with [-279-] the spirit; nearer to which they were placed than any  portion of the economy.
    He then proceeded to apply his preliminary remarks  to preachers in general. Theodore Parker, for  instance, was a man of spare body and large brain.  He was surrounded by intellectual people, and his  disciples were quite sui generis. On the other hand,  Spurgeon was a man of strong animal and perceptive  powers, and so able to send the Walworth shopkeepers  into ecstasies. His ganglions were big, as  was the case in all great preachers. Emotion, he  said, was more a matter of bowels than of brain.  The ganglionic power carried the brain; but there  were, of course, combinations of all grades.
    In the case of Henry Ward Beecher, two of whose  photographs he held in his hand, he dwelt on the  disadvantage of having only the shadow instead of  the substance of his head to deal with. Here, he  said, we had all the elements on a large scale. The  brain, thoracic system, osseous structure, and abdominal  development were all in excess. The face  was, as it were, the picture of all. Henry Ward  Beecher was emphatically a large man. The blood  was positive; the circulation good. The digestion  was perfect, and the man enjoyed good food. Especially  the length from the ear to the front of the  eyebrows denoted intellectual grasp. There was not  much will power. Whatever he had done (and Mr.  Burns emphatically disclaimed passing any judgment [-280-] on the "scandal") he had not done of determination,  but had rather "slid into it." He was no planner.  He gathered people round him by the "solar" force  of his mind. If he had been a designing man - if  largely developed behind the ears-he would have  gone to work in a different way. There was good  development in the intellectual, sympathetic, and  emotional part of his nature ; and this combination  made him a popular preacher. There was  more than mere animal magnetism needed to account  for this; there was intellectual power, but not much  firmness or conscientiousness. If he were present,  he would probably acknowledge that something had  led him on to do whatever he had done in spite of  himself. What was very peculiar in the man was  his youthfulness. He had been before the world for  forty years. Mr. Fowler, the phrenologist, of Ludgate  Circus, had been a fellow student of Beecher,  and had measured his head, which he ascertained to  have grown an inch in ten years. Beecher was essentially  a growing man-growing like a boy. The ganglionic power was that which kept people always  growing, and was the great means of their getting a  hold over other people.
    Mr. Burns then passed in review the three portraits  of Beecher, Tilton, and Mrs. Tilton respectively, in  the Pictorial World. Mrs. Tilton he described as a  negative person, inclined to be hysterical and  "clinging." There was in her a high type of brain, [-281-] morally, intellectually, and spiritually. Still the  brain, he said, did not make us good or bad. Again  repudiating all judgment as to the scandal, he dwelt  upon the close social relationships between Beecher  and Mrs. Tilton, and recurred to the strong vital influence  of the former, comparing it to that of Brigham  Young upon his "spiritual affinities." In all  probability, taking into account the different natures  of Beecher and Mrs. Tilton, whatever had occurred  "the people couldn't help themselves."
    Then as to Theodore Tilton. Mr. Burns had read  the Golden Age, and pronounced it a smart publication.  There was, however, in Tilton a want of ganglionic  power; he was all brain. He was a man who might  be read, but he could not lecture or preach. His was  a higher mind than Beecher's, but not one that  would command much human sympathy.  Suppose Mrs. Tilton were not the wife of either,  her relations to each might be conscientious, but still  violate the laws of monogamic life. The influence  of Beecher over her would be ganglionic as well as  intellectual ; that of Tilton purely intellectual : when  lo, a gust of ganglionic power would supervene on  the latter, and carry all before it.
    Concluding his analysis of Mr. Beecher thus, Mr.  Burns discovered that he had two clerics among his  audience, and asked us - for I was one of them - if  we would be examined. I readily consented, and  handed my notes to Miss Chandos (the young lady  [-282-] mesmerist, whose sťance I reported a few pages back)  to report progress. She, therefore, is responsible for  the diagnosis that follows.
    Handling me from head to foot, much as a fancier  does a prize ox at Smithfield, Mr. Burns found the  life power good, and the muscles well nourished, the  working faculties being in a high state of activity.  The head - I blushed to hear - measured one inch  beyond the average of a man of my size, and the  cerebral faculties were harmoniously organized. I  had large perceptive powers; and my human nature  (wherever that may be located) was full, as was also  firmness. The thinking sphere was good. I should  have made, Mr. Burns informed me, a good sculptor  or artist.
    Omitting one or two complimentary remarks which  Miss Chandos has faithfully, if not flatteringly, reported,  and the enunciation of which quite confused  me as I sat the centre and cynosure of that wondering  group, I was glad to learn that I was an open  man, though possessed of sufficient caution and not  defective in moral courage. In fact "pluck" was  large. I really wished Mr. Burns would relieve me  by finding some bad bumps; but no - the worst he  could say of me was that I was restless. What  chiefly seemed to strike him, though, were my vital  powers, and he really covered me with confusion  when he began to calculate my Beecher powers on a  possible Mrs. Tilton. However, he toned down this [-283-] remark by noticing that my domestic faculties were  well developed. My faith and hope were small. I  was a "doubting" man. The positive and negative  were well blent in me, and I was also "mediumistic."  The diagnosis of two ladies concluded the evening's  exercises, but neither of these personages displayed  any very remarkable traits; Mr. Burns declaring he  felt some difficulty in discovering the bumps under  the "back hair."