Franz Joseph Gall, Phrenologist
By Jacob Thiessen

Two Fashionable Men
            The wife of a friend of a friend, a class removed but no more, volunteered and paid for by her husband.
            In a room beyond a room, a demigod and his patient silhouetted against leather-bound books.  They circle, he slashes, she parries, he thrusts, and a memory drops from behind her ear.  She collapses as he strums an elongated moustache and begins to sketch out his next case study.

            In an alley of beer-halls, the tallest one recently vacated by the death of its owner is converted into a theater.  Chaplanesque tramps hired for the night wearing pasteboard signs over ether soaked cravats wrangle a single man downstairs and a better dressed couple towards the ticket counter, “be sure to get the balcony seating!  Don’t subject your wife to the riffraff!” 
            On Thursday evenings surgery is performed, on Friday, automatons juggle before a futurescape projected by a magic lantern.  On Saturday, the hypnotist brings back dead relatives and reveals the contents of the favoured siblings inheritance.
The Genius
            Surrounded by skulls filled with sand, plaster casts of the inside of skulls, scales and calipers one could find Franz Joseph Gall, Physician, Moralist and the fount of Crainioscopy. 
            For his attempt to combine the mind and the body, he was rejected by Germany and the Catholic Church and denounced by the French Empire and scientific community. He first found support in the revolutionary French public that enabled him to earn a comfortable living.  Later his ideas found a home in England and the United States where they reconciled the disparity between the apparent physical sameness of the upper and lower classes, and reality.
            Gall made morality approachable and definitive by labeling 21 regions of the human brain which would swell or deflate according to their prominence until adulthood when the cranial bone fused into indelible proof of ones abilities and shortcomings.  In a single consultation, the trained professional could measure the bumps on a patients skull with a calliper and know what his future held.
            With his position secure he was free to apply his genius to further pursuits. 

            In 1792 he published, On the Natural Phenomena of Phrenology, wherein he demonstrated the instinctual application of Phrenology by sea tortoises.  The work, now nearly forgotten, was an early example of evolutionary theory.  He writes:
“The male tortoise feels its mate's back before copulating in order to determine if the mate is a suitable match.  This fascinating behavior is at least one proof of animal phrenology and proves its grounding in natural science.”  The popular opinion of the time was that tortoises must contain a great deal of brain matter beneath their shell to enable them to travel great distances and mate in the same location. 
            The book was officially sanctioned by King George III and the Church of England.

The Magician Ellington
            As Gall turned his mind to his new ground-breaking research, the field of Phrenology became dominated by John Ellington.  Ellington was also a trained Physician and a Mesmerist.
            While Gall was measuring and studying tortoises in a great bank of tanks in France, Ellington took Phrenology on the road in England.  His shows were immensely popular and he soon eclipsed Gall as the leading figure of phrenology.  He shocked and entertained the English public with his demonstrations, but they soon grew bored of watching him mince about with his brass caliper and he turned to mesmerism.    
            In an interview with The Lancet shortly before his death, Gall said in regards to Phrenology, “For a while things were wonderful, until John Ellington came along with his Mesmeric Hospital.  He turned a science into a magic trick, and then he passed it off as a more efficacious science!  Those fools!  They have literally traded medicine for magic!”
            The article helped turned the tide against Phrenology and Ellington disappeared into obscurity.

            Deeming his work on tortoises complete, Gall planned a follow up book based on his research on elephants.  He examined the heads of two hundred living elephants, four hundred skulls during a single trip to an elephant bone yard, and the brains of seven.
            He noticed that amongst the skulls of the living elephants, certain regions were more developed on elephants born in captivity.  They were trained from infancy and received better food. 
In his elephant journal he wrote, “Elephants have been cited as large brained mammals of limited intelligence but phrenology exceeds mere size.  The elephant’s brain is devoted to no more than 19 regions but the size of the brain allows these regions to become highly developed.”
            He purchased several breeding pairs of elephants and brought them to his estate on the French countryside.  As the elephants gave birth, he trepanned them and exposed the regions of the brain related to speech to the stimulant cocaine.     
            A rare elephant of particular intelligence survived these procedures and was sold at great cost to an English magician after Gall’s death.  The elephant was able to sing and stomp Morse code.  It was purchased by an American magician several years later and performed until it was captured and electrocuted by Thomas Edison who believed it had been enchanted by Nikola Tesla.

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I have been writing ambitiously for the past several years. I take my writing seriously. My intention is to entertain.
1 Response
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Really enjoyed this piece. Well done.

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