Archives & Special Collections Gallery Exhibit




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Creation Date

Fall 2014


Artifact Label:

Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801)
Essays on Physiognomy: Designed to Promote the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind
London: Printed by T. Bensley, Bolt Court, Fleet Street, for John Stockdale, Piccadilly, 1810

“Ere quitting, for the nonce, the Sperm Whale's head, I would have you, as a sensible physiologist, simply—particularly remark its front aspect, in all its compacted collectedness ... You observe that in the ordinary swimming position of the Sperm Whale, the front of his head presents an almost wholly vertical plane to the water; you observe that the lower part of that front slopes considerably backwards, so as to furnish more of a retreat for the long socket which receives the boom-like lower jaw; you observe that the mouth is entirely under the head, much in the same way, indeed, as though your own mouth were entirely under your chin. Moreover you observe that the whale has no external nose; and that what nose he has—his spout hole—is on the top of his head; you observe that his eyes and ears are at the sides of his head; nearly one third of his entire length from the front. Wherefore, you must now have perceived that the front of the Sperm Whale's head is a dead, blind wall, without a single organ or tender prominence of any sort whatsoever.”

Moby-Dick, Chapter 76, “The Battering-Ram”

While it may seem that Melville is simply being humorous when he applies physiognomy to the whale, such practices did exist as exhibited in this Lavater work before you.