A rogues gallery

My colleague Ali’s recent post focussed on the often gruesome relics of some of the great men of science. In between Galileo’s finger and Einstein’s brain, I was struck by the ghostly serenity of Newton’s death mask. Creating such portraits of eminent people – either in life or death – was not uncommon in the days before photography.

But these masks found a new purpose during the 19th century in the pseudoscience of phrenology. What better tools to back up its claims and to teach its secrets, than assembled sets of plaster heads of the great, the good…..and the not so good. So here, as a counterpoint to Ali’s great men, are some of the rogues from such collections.

Pierre Lacenaire

Rogue number one (Science Museum)

Would you trust this man? Thought not. This is Pierre Lacenaire, a notorious French double murderer executed in 1836. The exploits of this debonair part-time poet and author captivated many in the artistic community and inspired Dostoevsky to write Crime and Punishment.

James Bloomfield Rush

Rogue number two (Science Museum)

Our second rogue is James Bloomfield Rush, aka the “Killer in the Fog”. A favourite subject of phrenologists, as well as 19th century balladeers, Rush was hanged for another double murder, in front of a large and appreciative crowd in Norwich in 1848.

William Dodd

Rogue number three (Science Museum)

This chap almost has something of Newton’s serenity about him. Indeed, William Dodd was both a clergyman and an aspiring literary figure. Unfortunately, an extravagant lifestyle led him astray and he was convicted of forgery. Despite a popular campaign to save him, he too went to the gallows.    

Franz Joseph Gall

Rogue number four? (Science Museum)

And finally. Who’s this handsome devil. Warts and all. Another murderer perhaps? Actually, this is Franz Joseph Gall, anatomist, physiologist and the founder of a technique he called cranioscopy, which was later renamed by his followers as… phrenology.  

Hmmm… wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley.

2 thoughts on “A rogues gallery

  1. alice

    Sorry to pull out the historiography, but is “pseudoscience” quite the word for phrenology? Seems a tad a-historical to me to use that sort of term, especially as phrenology is so often used as an example when talking about the history of how we came to think about a notion of “pseudoscience”.

    I’d also suggest this as a better link than the wikipedia entry: http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/ – good site, worth linking to.

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  2. Stewart

    I agree Alice, this is a better link. I was rushing this post a bit and am happy to change it. As for the use of pseudoscience in relation to phrenology, I did think twice about using it, but went with it in the end while appreciating that it may look a little blunt within the context of a word limited blog. But the term was coined in relation to phrenology in the early 1840s – ie pre-dating at least one of the heads featured – whereas, say, the British Phrenological Society lingered on until 1967. So, I didn’t feels that its use here was totally out of place.

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