Physiology for Schools.

By REYNELL Coates, M. D.


pp. 332,


This is a new work on the Elements of Physiology, recently issued from the press of Messrs. Marshall, Williams & Butler, in this city. It has been prepared with the design of being introduced as a class-book into schools and institutions of learning generally, and from a careful examination of its contents, we are fully satisfied, that in style, matter, and execution, it is decidedly better adapted for this purpose


any other work now extant. We could point out its excellences more in detail, but this is not our present object. In a work which professes to be an exposition of the functions of the animal economy, and which will doubtless be not only read, but studied, by some thousands of the rising generation, our first inquiry as phrenologists is to know what sentiments it inculcates respecting the structure and offices of the brain.

Dr. Coates, the author of the work now before us, is well known as an able and popular writer on medicine; and his opinions on such subjects are certainly worthy of great confidence and respect. Phrenology, being strictly a part of physiology, could not consistently be passed by unnoticed in a work like the present; and we are glad to find that Dr. Coates has not only made respectful mention of the science, but has discussed at some length the functions of the brain, in perfect accordance with its fundamental principles. It is true, he speaks in somewhat unfavourable terms of craniology, or rather intimates that the difficulties in the way of its application are so great, that it can never be rendered of much practical utility. In this opinion, however, we think he is greatly mistaken; and that a more thorough knowledge of the details of the science, as well as of the success with which some of its advocates are able to apply it, would fully convince him of the fact. It is here, in its practical applications, where phrenology claims so great superiority over all other systems of mental philosophy.

But there is one feature in Dr. Coates's remarks on this subject, with which we must express our decided disapprobation. It is in those instances where, without sufficient cause or discrimination, he casts certain reflections on the advocates of phrenology as a body. We regret to be obliged to make this stricture, but a sense of duty to ourselves, as well as to the cause of truth, require it.

We might go into particulars on this point, but prefer to fill these pages with more

valuable and instructive information, than with matters of mere criticism and controversy. Dr. Coates offers some excellent remarks near the close of his work on the functions of the nerves and brain, from which we make the following extract:

The brain, then, may be regarded as a great collection of large ganglia, collected together into one mass, and connected by numerous fibres unprotected by neurilema. Soft and pulpy as these fibres are, we can sometimes distinguish bundles of them passing from one mass of cineritious matter to another, throughout the substance of the brain ; thus forming regular naked nerves, pursuing a different course from the fibres constituting the great bulk of the medullary matter, in which they are embedded. Each of these bundles must possess its own peculiar class of functions, for each is a distinct part of the nervous system. Such nerves are generally termed commissures, and they are supposed to form connections between corresponding portions of the two hemispheres, in order to cause them to act in concert. Many modern discoveries, which you are not prepared to understand, are calculated to add probability to this conclusion.

As the health and perfection of the brain--the principal instrument of the mind-is necessary to the full display of what we commonly call the mental faculties, you would naturallly suspect that the more complex the structure of the brain of an animal, the greater will be the vigour of its mental faculties. Now, so far as human research has yet penetrated with accuracy, such is the general result.

When we cast a broad glance over the whole chain of animated nature, we observe that the nerves of organic life seem to make their appearance before the spinal marrow, and that this organ is completed before the brain presents more than a mere rude button on its summit. Even this button appears to compose chiefly the rudiment of the cerebellum; and this lesser brain reaches a high degree of developement and complexity of structure, even while the cerebrum continues a simple smooth mass of nervous matter, with scarcely a trace of the convolutions to be seen. As we advance towards the higher classes of animals, the cerebrum becomes more and more involved in structure, and the closest of observers are of opinion that this progress of developement answers very nearly to the order in which the apparent intelligence of the animal increases.

In ascending the series of vertebrate animals, from the simpler tribes to man, it appears that the cerebellum is first brought to perfection; that the posterior lobes, and the base of the cerebrum, are next in progress; that the upper portions of the middle and anterior lobes are superadded in the more lofty creatures, but do not reach their ultimate condition until we arrive at man.

The progress of the brain, from infancy to manhood, is well known to be in most respects similar to this. The base of the brain, and the posterior lobes, are first developed, the middle lobes claim the ascendancy in youth, and the anterior lobes hardly acquire their full relative size and firmness before the age of thirty years.

The observations mentioned in the four last paragraphs, have induced a very general and natural belief among physiologists, that the organisation of these several portions of the brain has something to do with the display of the faculties which distinguish the various classes of animals ; but, in the hands of a modern sect of philosophers -the phrenologists—this opinion has been carried out in detail, as I shall presently have occasion to state.

Infancy is governed, like the animals, mainly by the instinctive feelings; for it is yet asleep to its responsibilities, and has not acquired more than the rudiments of its rational faculties. The base of the brain being, then, much farther developed than the upper part, is it not reasonable to conclude, that the nervous fibres which convey to the mind the impressions which awaken the instinctive emotions, are located in that part of the brain ?

Childhood and youth are governed mainly by the moral sentiments and loftier affections; and in those states of being, the upper portions of the middle lobes gradually approach their highest perfection. If, then, the mind requires material instruments to call these faculties into play-if the proper organisation of the brain be necessary for their displayare we not warranted in locating their proper tools in the middle lobes of the cerebrum?

Manhood is distinguished by the perfection of the reasoning faculties, and it is that portion of the brain which fills the cavity of the superior part of the forehead—the upper portion of the anterior lobes—that then, for the first time, acquires its full dimensions, and completes the structure of the nervous system. If there be any part of the brain necessary to the exercise of the reasoning faculties, where are we so likely to find it as in the anterior lobes?

If you acknowledge the force of these remarks, you grant all the fundamental principles of that highest branch of physiology, called phrenology, which is simply the science that treats of the functions of the brain.

But phrenology, like all novel subjects of human research, has been loaded with empirical pretension on the one hand, and ignorant attack upon the other, till its rational cultivators can scareely recognise its features as drawn either by its professed friends or foes in general society.



"Till the advocates of Christianity shall have become universally much better acquainted with the true character of their religion than, universally, they have ever yet been, we must always expect that every branch of study, every scientific theory that is brought into notice, will be assailed on religious grounds by thuse who either have not studied the subject, or who are incompetent judges of it; or again, who are addressing ihemselves to such persons as are so circumstanced, and wish to excite and to take advantage of the passions of the ignorant.

"It is not a sign of faith-on the contrary, it indicates rather a want of faith, or else a culpable indolence-to decline meeting any theorist on his own ground, and to cut short the controversy by an appeal to the authority of Scripture."- Dr. Richard Whateley, Archbishop of Dublin.

It is satisfactory to know, that of late years the opponents of phrenology have not only seen a rapid diminution of their numbers, but that those who still resist its progress have been driven from the first position which they so boldly occupied, and that, no longer relying on the innate strength of their cause, they are now chiefly intent upon taking shelter behind the solid walls of prejudice, whence, if they cannot hope for a final victory, they may at least retain the power of annoying their assailants.

It has been observed, that almost all of the reputable opponents of phrenology have one by one quietly withdrawn from any direct attacks upon the primary truths of the science. Contenting themselves with an occasional sneer, or the distortion or suppression of some simple fact, they now admit its anatomy and its physiology to be unexceptionable, and they admire the skilful demonstrations of its supporters. With phrenology, “so long as it continues harmless," that is, so long as no attempt is made to apply its truths to the advancement of society, they have no quarrel; but the moment this is attempted, they are prepared to raise their standard in the sacred, although unfortunate, cause of "old opinions.”

These remarks have been suggested by the perusal of the leading article in Fraser's Magazine (London) for November last. This article is not directed against phrenology, (of any knowledge of which the writer, as we shall show, is perfectly guiltless,) but against the application to which the science has been put by Mr. Combe in his “Constitution of Man." The reviewer professes to regard that work


. For the above article, we are indebted to a London correspondent, by whose pen the pages of the Journal have been more than oncc enriched.--Ed.

as an agent of evil, fixed and settled under the boughs of the tree of knowledge, and while expressing his regret at the success which has rewarded the energy and zeal displayed by Mr. Combe in the diffusion of his views, recommends his readers to show, by their active opposition to them, that they are willing to follow the quaint advice given on a certain occasion by Bishop Latimer to his clergy, and to make the (levil their model in the important qualities of industry and perseve


Having delivered this charitable charge, the reviewer expressly states that he is addressing those only who believe in the genuineness of the Holy Scriptures. He acknowledges that Mr. Combe and his disciples assert that their philosophy in no way interferes with a belief in the truths of the Gospel, and he seems to be aware that Mr. Combe, whom he describes as an able, moral, and amiable man, is himself a professor of Christianity, although throughout the rest of his remarks he complacently distinguishes himself and his readers from that gentleman and his disciples, by the patent title of "we Chrislians”--thereby intimating that Mr. Combe and his disciples falsely profess Christianity, thus affording to the world a sample of the strict ideas which the reviewer is accustomed to form of a "moral" man !

The object of the article, which is solely addressed to “religious readers,” is to convict Mr. Combe, in his works, of the fullest extent of deism. It will be our province to inquire how far the critic is competent either to understand the principles of that author, or the nature of the Christian revelation, and we promise to show that although he has grievously misrepresented the first, he has still more fatally attempted to misrepresent the latter. To such an extent, indeed, has the misrepresentation of Christianity been carried, as to induce us to fear that his religious readers may be disposed to characterise it as the result of culpable ignorance or wanton impiety.

And first, with regard to his knowledge of the principles upon which the philosophy of Mr. Combe is founded. Although the author of the Constitution of Man, in adopting the phrenological system as the basis of his reasoning, admits that his views may be understood, to a certain extent, by those who are not conversant with the principles of that science, it will be admitted to be quite necessary that any person who undertakes a public criticism of the work in question, should have prepared himself for the task by an examination into the truth of the principles upon which it is founded; since, if this be neglected, although a general idea of Mr. Combe's views may be attained, it is to be expected that the style and illustrations of that gentleman may sometimes appear to be obscure and mystical. A fact which must render the duties of criticism extremely difficult, since,

« VorigeDoorgaan »