“Lecture Extraordinary on Nosology” by James Gates Percival
Thanks to the resourceful Life and Letters of James Gates Percival by Julius H. Ward, I am able to place a new, humorous article by Percival before the public (new in that it has most likely not seen the light of day since its publication in this book). Before jumping into the satirical article, there are a few terms/names I want to go over briefly in case they seem unfamiliar to any readers.
Nosology is the classification of diseases based on their symptoms—at least, this is the concept that Percival would have been familiar with by 1833. In the case of Percival’s article, he discourses the term in a humorous, punny manner. Please note especially the chart that he provides.
Phrenology is the study of the skull. This was incredibly popular during the 1800s and was used to determine, examine, and interpret the mental faculties of asylum patients, for example. This article, provided by Encyclopædia Brittanica, beautifully describes and discusses the pseudo-science. Near the end of the article, you will find a list of the “meanings” of different areas of the skull and brain. Writers like Edgar Allan Poe were interested in this science during its heyday, and Poe was known to critique other writers by commenting on their phrenological composition, probably to their great dismay. Here, Percival sardonically exclaims that “nosology…is the true phrenology.” It may be surmised that Percival saw through the baffling and flawed pseudo-science, thus dismissing two physical and mental health practices ahead of his contemporaries.
John Neal (b. 1793—d. 1876) was a 19th century author, editor, poet, and artist, known for his turbulent, aggressive, petulant, temperamental, and eccentric personality. As a writer, he was criticized by his contemporaries for being inconsistent, tangental, and erratic in his novels. This is indicated in the footnote written by Percival at the end of this essay, likening Neal to the “accidental organ,” which is “Rubification” (which means to “make red”). He goes on to describe Neal as an “eagle,” which flies waveringly and bumps into many obstacles, unable to control its flight path. Percival does not seem to esteem Neal as either a writer or a person.
“Lecture Extraordinary on Nosology”
By James Gates Percival
Published anonymously in the Daily Herald of August 17, 1833
“LECTURE EXTRAORDINARY ON NOSOLoGY.
“Tickets not Transferable!
“Gentlemen! the nose is the most prominent feature in this bill.
‘Ο Νους κατ’ àληθες φρένες
‘The nose is the true seat of mind.’
And, therefore, gentlemen, nosology, or the science of the nose, is the true phrenology.
“He who knows his nose foreknows; for he knows that which is before him. Therefore nosology is the surest guide to conduct.
“Whatever progress an individual may make, his nose is always in advance. But society is only a congeries of individuals,—consequently its nose is always in advance, therefore its proper guide.
“The nose, rightly understood, will most assuredly work wonders in the cause of improvement; for it is always going ahead, always first in every undertaking, always soonest at the goal.
“The ancients did not neglect the nose. Look at their busts and statues! What magnification and abduction in Jove! What insinuation and elongation in the Apollo (εκηβολος)! Then nous (intellect) was surely the nose; gnosis (knowledge), noses; and Minos, my nose. Well might the great judge, when regarding this most prominent member of his judgment-seat, exclaim,—’My nose! Ecce Homo!‘
“Gentlemen! here is a bad nose,—a very bad nose. What intussusception, what potation, and, as a necessary consequence, alas! what rubification! But I have seen such noses, ah! yes, many such noses! Beware of them! They are bad noses,—very bad noses, I assure you!
“Gentlemen! when you choose your partners for life, look out for the nose. Beware of too great penetration and Romanotion, if you would not be henpecked by the one or butted by the other. O yes,—look out for the nose.
“Do not, I pray you, consider me by any means irreverent, if I say that nosology will prove highly favorable to the cause of religion. This is indeed an awful subject, and I would not touch it on slight grounds; but I sincerely believe that what I say is true,—nosology will prove highly favorable to the cause of religion! Does not the nose stand forth like a watchman on the walls of Zion, on the lookout for all assailants; and when our faces are directed upwards in devotion, does not the nose ascend the highest, and most especially tend heavenwards?
“Nosology, too, has a very important bearing on the great law of descent; that law, which, like the lever of Archimedes, will lift the world. Is not the nose the chief seat of all defluxions, and what are defluxions but a flowing down by the great law of descent? Who shall gainsay it?
“This system of nosology was first concocted by Dr. Schnorr; then perfected by Dr. Shnieser; and is now being retailed by your humble servant at command, Dr. Schaefer,—all from the promontory of noses; all genuine descendants of the Man with the Nose.
“But, mark me, gentlemen! nosology is being retailed free gratis. The citizens of New Haven need not therefore fear, that some eight or nine hundred dollars will thereby escape from their pockets within a few weeks. Dr. Schaefer does not shave, whatever his name would seem to indicate.
“Nosology is a manly science. It stands out in the open light. It does not conceal itself behind scratches and periwigs; nor does, like certain false teachers, mentioned by St. Paul, go about rom house to house, leading astray silly women.
“Finally, gentlemen! you may rest assured that nosology will not quietly submit to insult. Noli me tangere! Who ever endured a tweak of the nose? It will know how to take vengeance. As Jupiter metamorphosed the inhospitable Lycians into frogs, so its contemners will suddenly find themselves βαρβαρóφωυοι!
“Gentlemen, permit me to exhibit to you a nosological table, in which all the organs are exactly localized. Such of you as are desirous of a copy will be furnished by your humble servant on the most reasonable terms; and I would advise you all to procure a copy, especially for my advantage.
*This is a satirical sally in another vein.
“John Neal is edifying the public, in his Yankee, with his usual free-and-easy remarks on all our literary characters, and that, too, without seeming to care where or how he hits. We believe Neal has talents, but not enough to authorize him to assume such a dictatorship over authors. He has no genius, or if he has, it has run wild without curb or rein. Genius should be capable of continued and lofty enthusiasm. It should fix upon the sun, and soar to it by one long and steady flight. It should imitate the strong-eyed
eagle. Neal may be an eagle, but he is an eagle with his eyes put out, soaring, sinking, dashing, fluttering, now up, now down, now here, now there, criss-cross, every way.
“We will now consider this sketch on a perpendicular plane, to accommodate it to the eagle; but only reduce it to a horizontal plane, and it will suit a figure perhaps more applicable to his excellency, namely, that of an owl lost in the sunshine, driving after all the little sparrows, and all the little sparrows chirping after him; bumping against a stump, thumping against a hemlock, knocking against a rail fence, and last of all, we fear, beating his brains out against the breast of a bold eagle. To speak our mind freely, we think the Yankee, with all its boldness and cleverness, is the most egregious piece of humbug that was ever put off upon a gullible public.
“A. B. C.”