a cavity of humour

Orson Squire Fowler (1809 – 1887) was the foremost proponent of phrenology in the United States when that pseudo-science was all the rage. He was the creator of the architectural design of octagon houses, a form which spread across the nation; and he was the author of one of the more notorious sex manuals in Victorian times.

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From 1838 to 1854 Fowler’s office in Clinton Hall in Manhattan attracted notable Americans who wished to have their character analyzed by the new science. Mark Twain, ever the skeptic, had his head read by Fowler a number of times.

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“When I entered his office, Fowler received me with indifference, fingered my head in an uninterested way, estimating my qualities in a bored and monotonous voice. He said I possessed amazing courage, an abnormal spirit of daring, a pluck, a stern will, a fearlessness without limit.

head knife block found here

I was simply astonished at this, and gratified, too; I had not suspected it before. But then he foraged over on the other side of my skull and found a bump there called “Caution.” This bump was so tall, so mountainous, that it reduced my “Courage” bump to a mere hillock by comparison. Although that “Courage” bump had been so prominent up to that time—according to his description of it—that it ought to have been a capable thing to hang my hat on—it amounted to nothing now in the presence of that Matterhorn which he called my “Caution.”

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He explained that if the Matterhorn had been left out of my scheme of character, I would have been one of the bravest men who ever lived. But that my “Cautioness” was so prodigiously superior to it that it abolished my courage and made me almost spectacularly timid.

“Timid Imp” found here

He continued his discoveries, with the result that I came out safe and sound at the end, with a hundred great and shining qualities—but which lost their value and amounted to nothing because each of the hundred was coupled up with an opposing defect which took all the effectiveness out of it.

However, he found a CAVITY in one place where a bump should have been in anybody else’s skull. That CAVITY, he said, was all alone, all by itself, occupying a solitude, and it had no opposing bump, however slight in elevation, to modify and ameliorate its perfect completeness and isolation.

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He startled me by saying that that CAVITY represented a total absence of a “Sense of Humor!”

He now became most interested. Some of his indifference disappeared.. He almost grew eloquent over what he had discovered. He said he often found bumps of HUMOR which were so small that they were hardly noticeable, but that in his long experience this was the first time he had ever come across a CAVITY where that bump out to be.

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I was hurt, humiliated, resentful, but I kept these feelings to myself. At bottom I believed his diagnosis was wrong, but I was not certain. In order to make sure, I thought I would wait until he should have forgotten my face and the peculiarities of my skull—and then come back again and see if he had really known what he had been talking about, or had only been guessing.

After three months I returned, but under my own name this time, heralding my arrival with a card bearing both my name and my nom de guerre. Once more he made a striking discovery—the CAVITY was gone, and in its place was a Mount Everest—figuratively speaking – 31,000 feet high, the loftiest BUMP OF HUMOR he had ever encountered in his life! Again, I carried away an elaborate chart. It contained several sharply defined details of my character, but it bore no resemblance to the earlier chart. These experiences have given me a prejudice against phrenology which has lasted until now.”

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Society was not surprised when Fowler also wrote on sex, for what else could one expect from a man who was opposed to tight corsets and who had been married three times?  The end to his popularity came with the release of a 1,052-page tome entitled Creative and Sexual Science, a volume intended to teach married couples how to love scientifically. Its topics included:

How to promote sexual vigor, the prime duty of every man and woman.

 How to judge a man or woman’s sexual condition by visible signs.

 How young husbands should treat their brides.

How to increase their love and avoid shocking them.

How to increase the joys of wedded life, and how to increase female passion.

With this publication poor Fowler’s reputation was shattered, and he died in obscurity in 1887.

Published in: on February 1, 2012 at 7:14 am  Comments (52)  
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