Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2018 Issue

The Portable Lavater: Never judge a book by its forehead

770d18b6-51b9-46fd-b7c9-c3ed4fd41d82

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><center>Sotheby’s<br> The Library of Henry Rogers<br>Broughton, 2nd Baron Fairhaven<br>Part I<br>18 May 2022</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> John James Audubon and James Bachman. <i>The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.</i> New York: J.J. Audubon, 1845-1848. £150,000 to £250,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> Thomas and William Daniell. <i>Oriental Scenery,</i> London, 1795-1807 [but 1841], 6 parts in 3 volumes, folio. £150,000 to £200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> Mark Catesby. <i>The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands...</i> London, 1731-1743, 2 volumes. £100,000 to £150,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, May 18:</b> Gould and Lear. <i>A monograph of the Ramphastidae,</i> 1854; <i>Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae,</i> 1832. £60,000 to £90,000.
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Graphic Design<br>May 19, 2022</b>
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, <i>Triplex,</i> pencil maquette, 1930. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Claude Fayette Brandon, <i>The Chap Book,</i> circa 1895. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Various Artists, a complete set of <i>Das Plakat,</i> set of 10 hardcover volumes, 1912-21. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Javier Gómez Acebo & Máximo Viejo Santamarta, <i>San Sebastian / XI Circuitto Automovilista,</i> 1935. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann May 19:</b> Ephraim Moses Lilien, <i>Berliner Tageblatt,</i> circa 1899. $12,000 to $18,000.
  • <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>26th May 2022</b>
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Birds.- Gould (John). <i>The Birds of Great Britain,</i> 5 vol., first edition, [1862-]1873. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Canadiana.- Cockburn (Maj. Gen. James Pattison, 1779-1847), After. [Six Landscape of Quebec City and Six Views of Niagara Falls], 2 suites in 1 vol., comprising 12 aquatints, 1833. £30,000 to £40,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Joyce (James). <i>Ulysses,</i> number 218 of 150 copies on verge d'arches, Paris, Shakespeare & Company, 1922. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>26th May 2022</b>
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> first paperback edition, signed by the author, 1997. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Du Maurier (Daphne). <i>Rebecca,</i> first edition, signed presentation inscription from the author to her governess, 1938. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Magna Carta.- An exact copy of King John's Great Charter of 1215, transcribed from the fire damaged but legible manuscript in the Cottonian Library, British Library, J. Pine, 1733. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>26th May 2022</b>
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Woolf (Virginia). <i>Mrs Dalloway,</i> first edition, Hogarth Press, 1925. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Tudor exiles opposed to the Marian regime.- Mary I (Queen of England) Letter signed "Marye the Quene" to Lord Paget, signed at head, titled at head "By the King and Quene", 1556. £8,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> America.- Newfoundland.- Whitbourne (Sir Richard). <i>A discourse and discouery of Nevv-found-land…,</i> second edition, By Felix Kingston, 1622. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper<br>26th May 2022</b>
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Cervantès Saavedra (Miguel de). <i>El Ingenioso Hidalgo Do Quixote de la Mancha,</i> 4 vol., Madrid, Por Don Joaquin Ibarra, 1780. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Stubbs (George). <i>The Anatomy of the Horse,</i> first edition, first issue, Printed by J. Purser, for the Author, 1766. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum, May 26:</b> Cardiology.- Lower (Richard). <i>Tractatus de Corde item De Motu & Colore Sanguinus et Chyli in cum Transitu,</i> first edition, 1669. £5,000 to £7,000.
  • <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>Initial A on vellum, Cologne around 1300. Est: €25,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>J. Androuet du Cerceau, <i> Bastiments de France,</i> 1607. Est: €12,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>E. Cerillo, <i>Dipinti murali di Pompei,</i> 1886. Est: €2,500
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>L. de Austria, <i>Compilatio de astrorum scientia,</i> 1489. Est: €9,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>B. Besler, <i>Hortus Eystettensis,</i> around 1750. Est: €50,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br><i>PAN,</i> 1895-1900. Est: €15,000
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>F. Colonna, <i>Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,</i> 1545. Est: €40,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>F. Schiller, <i>Die Räuber,</i> 1781. Est: €12,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>J. Albers, <i>Formulation : Articulation,</i> 1972. Est: €18,000
    <center><b>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 30</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>G. B. Ramusio, <i>Delle navigationi e viaggi,</i> 1556-1613. Est: €14,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>M. Wied Neuwied, <i>Reise in das Innere Nord-America,</i> 1839-41. Est: €12,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 30:</b><br>E. Paolozzi, <i>Bunk,</i> 1972. Est: €25,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions