« PreviousContinue »
Relation of Religion to the "Constitution of Man.” 43
physical description of this or that organ of man's body, or this or that function of his frame, but a treatise on the constitution of Man, with all his powers of body or of mind? It is true, that Mr. Combe adds, "considered in relation to external objects"-words which in themselves may mean anything or nothing, but the intended import of which is probably better conveyed in the form before quoted-"man as he exists in the present world." But so little does Mr. Combe find it possible to restrict the range of his speculations, that we find him defining limits to the efficacy of prayer; and stating his own inference, as to the invariable manner of operation of the Divine Spirit. But, indeed, illustration is needless on such a point. The belief that man, "as he exists in this world," is to have a personal identity with himself, as he is to exist in the world to come, is essential to the idea of a future state: and it is clearly very possible that doctrine taught as to his "constitution" here, may and must, more or less, affect our notions of his prospects hereafter.
Consenting, therefore, to follow Mr. Combe on his own ground of inquiry, whether physical or metaphysical-but refusing to put off the watchfulness which arises from a knowledge that the path on which he treads leads us directly into the mysteries of the Spirit, and the deep things which belong to God-we proceed to walk with him for a while into this land of things very real, but very darkly seen: and we apprehend, that in judging of the safety of our guide, there are two questions mainly which we should endeavour to determine, first, Are those things which he does see, seen rightly, and in their due proportion? secondly, Are there other things which he has overlooked altogether-in themselves, or in their bearing on the rest?
As to the general drift and purport of this book, let us hear the author. His account of his own production is really fair. "I lay no claim to originality of conception. . . . The mate
rials employed lie open to all. Taken separately, I would hardly say, that a new truth has been presented in the following work. The facts have nearly all been admitted, and employed again and again, by writers on morals, from the time of Socrates down to the present day. The only novelty in this work respects the relations which acknowledged truths hold to each other." So, then, the beads are old, but the string is new; and never was such value set upon so strange a thread. The essential element of the work is referred to, as a system of mental philosophy the "clearest, most complete, and best supported" which has hitherto been taught. It is spoken of, as opening up a new path to human improvement alike in morals, politics, and religion. For the want of it, we are told, all previous works on mental science-that of Dr. Chalmers in his Bridgewater Treatise, as well as all the rest of
that celebrated group of writings-in short, many of the highest efforts of genius and learning have been comparatively wasted, throwing "extremely little new light on the moral government of the world,"-What can this "theory of mind" be? Most men would think it better distinguished as a "theory of matter" -in this important respect, that its special distinction from other "philosophies of mind" is, that it is founded on the physiology of the brain. It is Phrenology!
Referring Mr. Combe, then, to the large development of our organ of combativeness, we pass over the " acknowledged truths," and proceed at once to this new "philosophy of mind," by which old facts are to be drilled into new form and order. It is not needful to define Phrenology. Every one knows, generally, what it is, and what it means. In this work our author "assumes" it, giving only an outline, and referring for more minute details to works expressly devoted to the subject. And as he assumes it-so shall we. That is to say, we do not care to oppose it; nor do we share in the hostility entertained by many against this "science" in itself. It is very true, that phrenology may be chosen, by minds of a certain class, as the basis of a gross materialism. But this may be said, and is actually true, of most, if not of all the natural sciences. The great question always is-not whether such deductions are, or may be drawn, but whether they are logical and true? Though not ourselves phrenologists, we should be very sorry to stake our faith in a single spiritual truth, on the successful disproof of any of its assumed facts. The truth is, that the main fact-that of which all the rest are, as it were, but subdivisions more or less justified by observation-is one which has been instinctively assumed in every age and country. "That man has no brains!" is a sentence on mental capacity which would be universally understood, and would have been equally intelligible before Gall and Spurzheim were born. How painfully does the brain sometimes indicate its functions! A slight blow--a temporary pressure on that mysterious substance, will break down for ever the powers of a lofty intellect. Then, what is it in the aspect of idiocy, in many of its forms, which we instantly recognise and never can mistake? In that low, pinched and retiring brow, instinct tells us that reason cannot hold her seat. That there is a connexion, and a close and intimate connexion too, between the powers of thought, and the development of brain, is known by the millions who never question the grounds of their belief, as certainly as to the few who have made it the subject of special observation and research. These last, indeed, know farther, that it is a connexion not limited to our own species, but extending over the whole range of animal life, from
Relations of the Brain and the Mind.
man down to the reptile and the fish. This is the great fact which may, undoubtedly, be so perverted as to form the plausible basis of a materialistic philosophy. But we do not see, that the farther refinements on this fact which phrenology has made, are in this respect one whit more formidable than the fact itself. If it be true, that there is a direct relation between the mind and the brain, each considered as a whole, we see no ground for alarm, if it should also prove to be a fact, that there is a similar relation between the separate regions of the one, and the several faculties of the other. At first sight this may seem a great step in advance and so in one sense it is; but not in that sense in which, perhaps, it may be heralded by some friends, as it certainly is dreaded by many enemies of phrenology. It is the discovery of some detailed points of contact in that general connexion which has long been known: but it is not one hair's-breadth advance towards any explanation of the nature or source of that connexion in itself. Still less does it tend to justify the reasoning which confounds connexion with identity. Yet we are not surprised at the anxiety, which arose from a first view of the announcements of phrenology. When, for example, Mr. Combe takes in his hand that human skull, and lifting off its upper cover, tells us that the oval of convoluted matter thus exposed to view, "manifests the Moral Sentiments"-with what feelings can we receive the statement? The MORAL SENTIMENTS-what do not these include? The power of seeing moral beauty, and of loving truth -the sense of justice, and the desire of serving in her causeconscience and benevolence, charity and faith-all that is best and noblest in the human spirit-these are what we are told are "manifested" there! Some, of course, will turn away with ridicule and disgust. For ourselves, we listen with no such feelings. We watch, indeed, the evidence on which the assertion is made, the inferences drawn from it, and last, not least, the very terms in which it is conveyed, with almost as fixed. attention as we gaze on the object to which those terms refer. But we do not reject it with absolute incredulity; because we know some things connected with that abode of life, which are at least analogous, and as full of wonder.
Now, as regards terms and forms of statement, no writer ever required to be more closely watched than Mr. Combe. A "mental philosophy"-a " theory of mind," what can he mean by this as a description of phrenology?* Words, which ought to be the servants of thought, are so often its masters, that this be
* We need hardly say, that we accept the term " Phrenology," simply as that assumed for the "science." "Craniology" is repudiated as a nickname: though, since the only accessible mode of measuring the brain is by measuring the cranium, the latter is the fairer term of the two.
comes a question of the first importance. Does he mean to represent it as telling us anything on the nature of mind-on the source of its powers-or even one new fact concerning the scientific division of its faculties? If he does not, in what sense is it a philosophy of mind? If he does, let us cross-question him on the extent of this pretension. Phrenology maps the human head into a series of minute divisions, and allocates to each of these some known faculty or power of mind; but does it profess to have discovered these faculties themselves? It seems to be forgotten that this mapping of the brain can only proceed upon a previous mapping of the mind; and that this last no more belongs to the department of the phrenologist than the perception of national character in a people belongs to the department of the geographer who surveys their country. The geographer may, indeed, be also an acute observer of human nature, and in taking the measurement of their abode, he may likewise take accurate observations of their capacity and genius. He may go farther, and fitting to each other these two classes of fact, he may observe that vague but undoubted connexion which obtains between the character of a race, and the physical condition of the region in which they live. But geography is not, on this account, a philosophy of mind, and the greater closeness of connexion between. the texture of mind and the development of brain does not redeem the confusion of thought which is implied in this description of phrenology. The phrenologist may, indeed, be also an excellent metaphysician: but the process by which we observe in others, or analyze in ourselves, those various faculties of the mind which are capable of being separately considered, is wholly independent of that after process by which we find for them a local habitation in the regions of the brain. The phrenologist must not be allowed to cut out any new faculties to distribute among his bumps; nor to confound under a single name powers which, in the same point of view, are essentially distinct. His business is simply topographical-to reconcile, as best he may, the observed phenomena of the mind with the outward mouldings of a material organ. And in the observation of these phenomena themselves, mental science is not only absolutely independent of phrenology, but phrenology is absolutely dependent upon it. In all reasoning, we must have a basis of fact already known, from which to argue to other facts which remain to be discovered. Now, in this case, the mental facts are those which must be known or assumed before phrenology can even render intelligible the physical facts which she undertakes to prove. If, for example, it were not a well-known fact, that pugnacity of disposition is a distinct feature in some men's characters, capable of being distinguished from other qualities of
Phrenology and Mental Philosophy.
their mind, the phrenologist would be compelled to choose some other name for that section of the brain which he now rails off for "combativeness." And so with every other "organ." The very word enforces our explanation. If the phrenologist consents to accept such division of the mental faculties as a higher science than his own has established, he is welcome to find for them, if he can, a separate corner in the house of thought. But if he makes one such division for himself which is not approved by the consciousness or experience of mankind, then must his imaginary lines be obliterated or changed.*
To call phrenology, then, a "philosophy of mind," can only be accounted for on one of two suppositions ;-either that the writer uses very careless language, covering a real confusion of idea: or else that a pretension is advanced on behalf of phrenology not merely to point out the places where, but the manner how the brain and mind are mutually connected: or, in other words, to advance a "theory of mind," based on certain phenomena of matter, as regards the source and nature of its powers. Yet when Mr. Combe has occasion to bespeak the favour of readers who disbelieve his favourite science, he takes care to recognise the distinction we have pointed out, and separates, with tolerable justice, between the provinces of physiology and metaphysics. He says in the preface to this edition, "We are physical, organic, and moral beings, acting under general laws, whether the connexion of different mental qualities with particular portions of the brain, as taught by phrenology, be admitted or denied. In so far, therefore, as this work treats of the known qualities of man, it may be instructive even to those who contemn phrenology as unfounded." Here the important truth, obvious enough, certainly, is admitted, that phrenology can only refer "mental qualities" already "known" to a local connexion previously unknown. Yet totally forgetting that of these two connected things-the qualities of mind and the particular portions of brain-the important one as regards the "philosophy of mind" is that division of its faculties which is well known and familiar, he uniformly speaks as if the foundation of that philosophy were the discovery of the associated bits of matter; and as if, instead of the skull being mapped from the observations of mind, the mind were to be mapped from the diagrams of the phrenologist.
Throughout the "Constitution of Man" this strange inversion of ideas betrays itself in forms which, if sometimes mischievous
* It is impossible to consider the 35 heads under which Phrenology divides the mental faculties, without seeing that they are extremely arbitrary and extremely imperfect. But this is a subject which we cannot pursue.