Edited By Mascha Hansen and Jürgen Klein
“HE AT FIRST SIGHT COU’D EACH ONES FORTUNE TELL:” PHYSIOGNOMY AND FORTUNE-TELLING IN THE EARLY TO MID-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, Katherine Aske
“HE AT FIRST SIGHT COU’D EACH ONES FORTUNE TELL:”1 PHYSIOGNOMY AND FORTUNE-TELLING IN THE EARLY TO MID-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY Katherine Aske, Loughborough University The origins of physiognomy have often been traced to Aristotle and other writ- ers from antiquity. Although physiognomy has fallen in and out of favour over the centuries, present-day scientific thinking suggests that it can still contribute to understandings of human psychology.2 In the eighteenth century, physiogno- my had an especially interesting career. It appealed across the social spectrum, from fortune-tellers to vernacular health books. It also played a part in the de- velopment of aesthetics, and achieved quasi-scientific status in the work of James Parsons around the mid-century, and in the better-known work of Johann Kaspar Lavater thirty years later. The predictive claims of physiognomy have an obvious relevance to the idea of futurity in the eighteenth century. While these are the main concerns of the following essay, a survey of physiognomy in the period also shows that, long-established though it was, it had a future before it that was still developing. Throughout the eighteenth century, applications of physiognomy can be found in works of literature, aesthetics, and science, and, with the help of Lavater’s elaborate work on the subject in the 1770s, it gained an almost scien- 1 Aristotle [pseud.], Aristotle’s Last Legacy (London: Tho. Norris, 1711), unpaginated. The line occurs in the prefatory verses entitled “To the Reader,” below a portrait of the supposed author: Fam’d Aristotle, who all Nature knew: We do present,...
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