Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2018 Issue

The Portable Lavater: Never judge a book by its forehead

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Insincere, ungenerous, and greedy.

As Jamaican singer Horace Andy once sang: you see a man’s face, but you can’t see his heart—well, actually you can read a man’s thoughts on his face, providing that you know of a little book from the early 19th century, the “portable Lavater”! And you can trust what I write, since my eyebrows match my hair.

 

 

PART 1: theory.

 

The Swiss theologian Johann Gaspar Lavater (1741-1801) is regarded as the father of physiognomy, or the art of revealing people’s characters through their facial features. “It is the science,” he said, “of what connects the inside to the outside, the visible surface to what it covers up.” His monumental work, Physiognomische Fragmente, was published in German between 1775 and 1778, and brought him fame and recognition. It came out in French in 4 in-folio volumes (1781–1803) with 693 illustrations. “This expensive edition was not the only source of the Lavater-mania in France,” writes Hans-Georg Von Arburg in La Physiognomonie entre Lumières et romantisme (DROZ, 2003). He then underlines the importance of the many adaptations of Lavater’s work published in small formats, or peddling books, in the early 19th century. “These often overlooked editions have deeply influenced the romantic French literature(...), being the missing link with German post-romanticism.”

 

To make it short, your being a nice man, a trickster at heart, an idiot, or a lewd woman, is written on your face—facial features are a language. This reminds us of a stinky theory in the name of which millions of people were put to death. We all bear in mind the caricatures of Jews—their hooked noses being the stigma of their “evil nature”—used by the Nazis during WWII. Physiognomy was controverted from the start, yet recognized as being part of human sciences until a reshuffling of cards in the early 19th century, which “sent it to the remote domains that were literature and arts.” (Arburg). Some authors such as Balzac were actually fond of physiognomy. It actually made its way through French society thanks to those cheap peddling books, the listing of which is incomplete to say the least—this tends to underestimate their real impact. “Physiognomy, together with Frantz Anton Mesmer’s animal magnetism and Franz Joseph Gall’s phrenology, became an institution in Paris social life at the time,” Arburg states. “In the rest of the country, where great movements of people created a climate of anonymity and insecurity, the old theological speculations of Lavater became a true code of behaviour.” I came across one of these editions the other day, entitled Le Lavater portatif (Paris, 1812). It is not listed on Gallica (the website of the National Library of France), but appears to be the fifth augmented edition of the listed second 1808 one. Everything matches, except the name of the “libraire”: the 1808 edition mentions Madame Veuve Hocquart1, while the 1812 one mentions SAINTIN, Librairie de S. M. l’Impératrice—but both are located at the same address, Rue de l’Eperon N°6, Paris. Our text—largely abridged from the 1775 edition—is the same as the 1808 edition (except for the added “life of Lavater” or “the portrait of Lavater by himself”) and the engravings are identical although redrawn—maybe the engraved plates were missing or damaged? This is a charming in-12° book illustrated with 33 coloured portraits accompanied by physiognomic descriptions.

 

In vain would we look for honesty on this face,” reads the first portrait (see picture). “This slightly pointy chin together with those small and cunning eyes proves a lack of sincerity. This oblique mouth offers no trace of generosity while the pursed lips betray avarice.” Closely looking at the portrait before reading the description will reveal the impact of the latter on our perception. It’s just like looking at the portraits of people introduced to us as criminals—they always look fierce and dangerous. Under other given circumstances, they might have appeared very common to us, maybe even pleasant. These are the obvious limits of Lavater’s theory—it relies upon crude subjectivity. One passage of the introduction of our edition—written not by Lavater but by the publisher—, is already alarming, although to be placed in its historical context. Comparing the “line of the face” of various “races” of men, it states: “It is almost vertical among the Europeans, oblique among the Asians, and much more oblique among the Africans, as induced by their respective and varying intellectual capacities (...). What is striking is that the naturalists have noticed that, except in a few cases, among the animals with a social organization comparable to ours, intelligence is linked to the line of the face. The more oblique it is, the less intelligent they are.”

 

 

PART 2: practice.

 

 

The “portable Lavater” was, according to Arburg, a self-defence weapon against strangers. Let’s see if its works with well identified, and potentially dangerous, people.

 

 

 

1 Gallica reads: Patronimic name: Isabelle Sara Jolly (or Joly). – Daughter of the maker of the Jolly (or Joly) punch syrup, from Brussels, whose productions she distributed in Paris. She worked with her husband, the bookseller Auguste (Léopold Joseph) Hocquart from 1803, and then took his succession around 1806. Her son Édouard Hocquart (1789-1870?) took the succession as soon as 1813.” Gallica makes no link with Saintin, listed as Claude-Auguste Saintin (17... -18...), “also commissioner in bookselling. Active in 1809 and probably earlier. Patented bookseller on Oct. 1st 1812 (patent renewed on Oct. 29th 1819).”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
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  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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