COMBE, GEORGE, a
distinguished phrenologist, was born in Edinburgh in 1788. His father,
of the same name, was a brewer at Livingston’s Yards in that city, a
locality at one period at the back of the Castle, but now removed. His
mother, Marion Newton, belonged to the family of Newton of Curriehill,
They had seventeen children, of whom George, and Andrew were the most
conspicuous. Their father is described as a tall, robust man, a staunch
Presbyterian of the old school, and his phrenological sons report that
he could never find a hat that would fit his head, and was obliged to
have a block for himself. Their mother was energetic and conscientious.
Neither parent had much education, and both seem to have been very
strict in the religious discipline of their family.
George was bred to the
law, and in 1812 passed as a writer to the signet. In 1816, when
Spurzheim, the celebrated physiologist, visited Edinburgh, he attended
his lectures on the science of phrenology, and reached a conviction
which determined the character of his mind and life. He himself tells us
that he was not “led away by enthusiasm,” but won by the evidence that
the doctrine was “eminently practical.” He straightway set himself to
study the opinions of Gall and Spurzheim, being convinced that they had
a basis in nature, but as his mind had no scientific quality which could
give him insight into the bearings of theory and practice, hypothesis,
discovery and explanation, he stopped when he should have gone on. He
admitted Gall’s anatomy of the brain, while he adopted a modified view
of its functions differing in some essential respects from those of Gall
and Spurzheim. Mr. Combe made his first appearance as a writer in a
series of Essays in the ‘Literary and Statistical Magazine of Scotland,’
on the new science of mind. These papers were collected and published in
a separate volume in 1819, under the title of ‘Essays on Phrenology,’
and in 1825 they were republished, in a revised and improved form, as a
‘System of Phrenology,’ in two volumes octavo. In 1820 appeared from the
Edinburgh press the ‘Phrenological Transactions,’ which were anon
followed by the ‘Phrenological Journal,’ a quarterly devoted to the
cultivation and development of the new science, and combining with it
ethnology as a germain inquiry. Mr. Combe, shortly after its
commencement, became editor, and his contributions are easily to be
recognized by the clearness, force, and elegance of his style. The
‘Phrenological Journal’ was subsequently edited by his nephew, Mr. Cox,
and extends to twenty 8vo volumes. In February 1827, he read to the
Edinburgh Phrenological Society the first part of a work ‘On the Harmony
between the Mental and Moral Constitution of Man and the Laws of
Physical Nature.’ This was the first form of his celebrated
‘Constitution of Man in Relation to External Objects,’ which was
published in 1828. This remarkable work was eagerly read, and a
gentleman named Henderson bequeathed a sum of money to be expended in
publishing a very cheap edition of the book. Its success was immense.
The circulation at one period amounted to 100,000 copies in Great
Britain and Ireland, while in the United States its sale was
unprecedented. It was also translated into the German, French, Swedish,
and other continental languages. Through improvement of the public
health, the author not only aimed at, but effected, improvement of the
Mr. Combe’s more popular
works have influenced the opinions of the middle and lower classes more
than any writer of his time, and there is no doubt that they will long
continue to be read and appreciated for their vigorous and manly good
sense and thoroughly philosophical spirit. It has been objected to Mr.
Combe that, in his ‘Constitution of Man,’ he did not take a sufficiently
high view of man and his destiny, but his answer has uniformly been,
that the subject embraced chiefly man’s relation to this world, and in
that aspect it must be regarded as an extremely suggestive and highly
instructive work, especially calculated for the improvement and guidance
of the classes to whom it is chiefly addressed. His other works are
generally of a practical character, and manifest a decided command of
the English language.
By financial writers Mr.
Combe was esteemed “one of the clearest expositors of monetary science.”
On this subject he exhibited his great power in various pamphlets and in
articles contributed to the Scotsman Edinburgh newspaper, and this
power, we are further informed, “was derived simply from his bringing
each aspect of it to the test of the moral laws enforced in his work on
the ‘Constitution of Man.’” And yet he had never been trained to
commercial or banking pursuits; an “inflexible adherence to first
principles,” and a healthy disregard of mere expediency, were the
secrets of his power.
In 1833, Mr. Combe
married Cecilia, daughter of the great actress, Mrs. Siddons. Dr.
Spurzheim had visited the United States of America in 1832, and died
there in a few months, and the disciples of phrenology in America
invited George Combe to go and lecture to them. Accordingly, in 1837, he
quitted practice as a lawyer, and, the following year, with Mrs. Combe,
crossed the Atlantic. He spent nearly three years in the United States,
lecturing in many of their chief towns and cities, and studying the
manners and institutions of the people, and on his return he published
his ‘Notes on the United States,’ in 3 vols. The years after his return
were varied by continental journeys, too often rendered necessary by
failing health. In the cause of education he was an unwearied labourer,
a quiet but zealous worker for the benefit of his fellows; an
unostentatious but determined teacher; the most persevering of
philosophers in disseminating his peculiar tenets.
We are told by one well
acquainted with his movements, that he contemplated lecturing on
Phrenology in Germany, and, with that view, during a residence in
Mannheim in the winter of 1841-2 made such exertions to master the
German language as seriously affected his health, and brought on an
illness that induced the abandonment of the attempt. He did, however,
deliver one course of lectures in German at Heidelberg; and though, from
the cause referred to, his journeys and residence on the continent were
not, generally speaking, immediately devoted to the spread of his
philosophy, the knowledge he acquired of the leaders and of the course
of public opinion throughout Europe was of much value, and was always
turned to good account.
The latter period of his
life was one of very infirm health, the result, as he believed, of the
early adverse influences which turned his own and his brother’s
attention so strongly to sanitary subjects. He died 14th August, 1858,
at his friend Dr. Lane’s hydropathic establishment at Moor Park, Surrey,
and was interred in the Dean cemetery, Edinburgh. – His principal works
Essays on Phrenology, or an Enquiry into the Principles and Utility of
the System of Dr. Gall and Spurzheim into the Objections made against
it. Edin. 1819, 8vo.
Elements of Phrenology. Edin. 1824, 12mo. The same. 7th edition. Edin.
A System of Phrenology. Edin. 1825, 2 vols. 8vo. Numerous editions.
Letter to Francis Jeffrey in Answer to his Criticism on Phrenology,
contained in No. 88 of Edinburgh Review. Edinburgh, 1826.
Essay on the Constitution of Man and its Relation to External Objects.
Notes in Answer to Mr. Scott’s Remarks on Mr. Combe’s Essay on the
Natural Constitution of Man. 1827.
The Constitution of Man in Relation to External Objects. Edin. 1827,
12mo. Numerous editions.
What should Secular Education Embrace. 1828.
Answer to ‘Observations on the Phrenological Development of Burke, Hare,
and the other atrocious murderers, by Thomas Stone,’ Edin. 1829.
Letter on the Prejudices of the great in Science and Philosophy against
Phrenology, addressed to the Editor of the Edinburgh Weekly Journal.
Lectures on Phrenology, with Notes, on Introductory Essay, and an
Historical Sketch, by Andrew Boardman. London, 1839, 12mo.
Lectures on Moral Philosophy. Boston, 1840, 12mo.
Moral Philosophy. Edin. 1840, 12mo.
Address delivered at the Anniversary celebration of the birth of
Spurzheim and the Organization of the Boston Phrenological Society,
December 31, 1839, Boston, 1840.
Notes on the United States of North America during a Phrenological Visit
in 1838-39-40. Edinburgh, 1841, 3 vols. 12mo.
Notes on the New Reformation in Germany, and on National Education and
the Common Schools of Massachusetts. Edin. 1845.
Thoughts on Capital Punishment. Edin. 1847.
Outlines of Phrenology. Numerous editions.
The Currency Question considered in relation to the Bank Restriction
Phrenological Observations on the Cerebral development of David Haggart,
lately executed at Edinburgh for murder. Edin. 1821, 12mo.
The Suppressed Documents, or an Appeal to the Public against the
Conductors of the Scottish Guardian. Glasgow, 1836, 8vo.
Our Rule in India. Edin. 1838, 8vo.
Remarks on National Education. Edin. 1847.
Relation between Religion and Science. 2d edition. Edinburgh, 1847. 4th
edition, called People’s Edition. Edin. 1856.
Answer to the Attack on the Constitution of Man contained in ‘Nature and
Revelation Harmonious, by the Rev. C.J. Kennedy, Paisley,’ Edin. 1848.
Lectures on Popular Education, delivered to the Edinburgh Philosophical
Association in April and Nov. 1833. 3d edit. Edin. 1848, 8vo.
The Life and Correspondence of Andrew Combe, M.D. Edin. 1850, 8vo.
Secular Education Lecture delivered Nov. 25, 1851, in Queen Street Hall,
Edinburgh. Edin. 1851, 8vo.
Secular Instruction or Extension of Church Endowments. Letter to the
Duke of Argyle. Edin. 1852, 8vo.
Remarks on the Principles of Criminal Legislation, and the Practice of
Prison Discipline. London, 1854, 8vo.
Notes on a Visit to Germany in 1854. Edin. 1854, 8vo.
Phrenology applied to Painting and Sculpture. London, 1855, 8vo.
Refutations Refuted. A Reply to pamphlets put forth in answer to the
currency Question considered. London, 1856, 8vo.
On Teaching Physiology and its Applications in Common Schools. Edin.
1857, 8vo. pamphlet.