On a cold, snowy January day, what can be better than a nice little surprise though the post:

Cover of Wilson's Phrenology
Surprise book

It was a book which had been rediscovered by a donor and posted to us so it could join the rest of the donation. I got a bit over excited because the book, John Wilson’s A brief systematic view of phrenology (1835), is quite small (12 cm) and on a subject which I seem to becoming slightly obsessed with. Its preface states that its purpose is to act as an “introduction to the science; and for their use, and also a class-book”.  It explains the various phrenological faculties, there location on the skull, and unlike other phrenological guides I’ve read, mentions that some of them can only be identified by looking at the lower part of a persons face. Next there is a section on the temperaments. There are four in total: Lymphatic, Sanguine, Bilious, and Nervous. Each one comes with a short description including there supposed physical attributes. Those with a Bilious temperament are described as swarthy looking with dark brown or black hair and a strong pulse while a person with a Sanguine temperament has red or light brown hair, blue eyes and is probably going to suffer from obesity in middle age. As with the phrenological charts mentioned in a previous post, this book also mentions what phrenology can do stating that “It merely points out general tendencies, which may be either ill or well directed. It shows what powers require to be assisted and which should be lessened in their influence; and what tendencies can best be brought to assist the weak and repress the strong”. No phrenology book of this kind would be complete without an advert for phrenological consultations. Mr Wilson offers written descriptions of character and even to teach phrenology (see photo below).

Sadly the book only has the one plate (see photo below) and has no illustrations. Happily though we are the only library in Cambridge to have a version of this book and there seems to be only three others in the world (University of Liverpool, National Library of Ireland and the National Library of Medicine USA) and they are all different to the copy we have. The author seems to be John Wilson (1799-1870), a historian who wrote a number of books on British Israelism, a portrait can be seen in his Lectures on our Israelitish origin via archive.org.