The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Category: Essay

“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.

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*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

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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.

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“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.”

Selections from Evenings in Autumn by Nathan Drake

Born in 1766, Nathan Drake was a British essayist, Shakespeare scholar, and medical practitioner.  According to Charles Dexter Cleveland in English Literature of the Nineteenth Century, “Dr. Drake was kindness, courtesy, and candor personified; and no one can read his eminently instructive writings without feeling that they are the productions of a mind pure, benevolent, and well stored, and distinguished for its refined and delicate taste” (258). Drake’s Evenings in Autumn reflects the moral, pure, and elegant style typical of the author. I have chosen short passages from this 27 paged article in order to reintroduce his writings before the public. These writings also muse and reflect on one of nature’s better seasons. I hope they inspire you as the year begins to close.

Selections from “Introductory. On the influence of Autumnal Scenery over the Mind and Heart”
Nathan Drake
From Evenings in Autumn; a Series of Essays, Narrative and Miscellaneous, Vol. 1

Evening, when the busy scenes of our existence are withdrawn, when the sun descending leaves the world to silence, and to the soothing influence of twilight, has ever been a favorite portion of the day with the wise and good of all nations. There appears to be shed over the universal face of nature, at this period, a calmness and tranquility, a peace and sanctity, as it were, which almost insensibly steals into the breast of man, and disposes him to solitude and meditation. He naturally compares the decline of light and animation with that which attaches to the lot of humanity; and the evening of the day, and the evening of life, become closely assimilated in his mind (2).

—— —— ——

Autumn has, indeed, and particularly the Evening of Autumn, been a chosen season for study and reflection with some of the most exalted spirits of which our country can boast. Milton we know to have been so partial to this period of the year, and so impressed with conviction of its friendliness to poetic inspiration, as to leave it on record that he felt the prompting of his genius most effectual and satisfactory to himself about the Autumnal Equinox; and his attachment to the Twilight of Evening is so conspicuous throughout the whole of his poetry, as to induce one of his commentators, unconscious one would imagine of the delightful influence of such an hour, to conjecture, “that the weakness of our poet’s eyes, to which this kind of light must be vastly pleasant, might be the reason that he so often introduces the mention of it”* (4-5).

*Todd’s Milton, vol. iii, p. 121, note.

—— —— ——

We cannot be surprised, therefore, that this, the evening of the dying year, should be the chosen season with the poet, the philosopher, and the man of sorrows, with him who turns from the too frequent selfishness of human life to the silent sympathy of suffering nature; with him who loves to search into the great and beneficent designs of Providence, and with him who in “thoughts that breathe, and words that burn,” is wont to pour forth the unpremeditated inspiration of devotional fervor. It is scarcely possible, indeed, to listen to the winds of Autumn as they strew the withered foliage around us, without, mentally at least, adopting the very beautiful invocation of a living bard…(15).

—— —— ——

No period of the year, indeed, is better entitled to the appellation of The Season of Philosophic Enthusiasm, than the close of Autumn. There is in the aspect of every thing which surrounds us, as the sun is sinking below the horizon, on a fine evening of October, all that can hush the troubled passions to repose, yet all which, at the same time, is calculated to elevate the mind, and awaken the imagination (17-18).

“LIFE AND THE GRAVE” from the New-York Mirror

I found this curious article within the pages of the December 29, 1827 issue of The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette. Certain sections in this are humbling, while others are, understandably, morose. As we enter this New Year, may we all reevaluate our goals, whether short term or long term, and continue striving to do good works, not only for our own benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of others, our planet, and the future generations to come. Time and life are precious, and we needn’t spend our lives perpetually indulging in frivolous pleasure, when we should be lending our talents and resources to better ourselves and those around us while we are still able to. Pseudo-contemplative remarks aside, I hope you enjoy this article. It comes from a series of articles by the same author under “The Essayist” section of The New-York Mirror, and only ran between 1827-1828. To my knowledge and research, the articles cannot be traced to any other source other than the Mirror. Finally, on a side note, I was unable to track down the author of this article, only relying on the author’s initials, “C. M. A.” I am only lead back to one writer and scholar, Charles Anthon (where does the mysterious “M” fit in that name? I’m not positive—), although I doubt he wrote these articles. If you agree, disagree, or have a better lead, please feel free to comment and let me know. Also, if you’d be interested in reading the other articles in his series, I’d be happy to post them.

FOR THE NEW-YORK MIRROR.
LIFE AND THE GRAVE.
“How sad a sight is human happiness,
“To those whose thought can pierce beyond an hour?”

I LOVE to indulge in that kind of pleasure termed melancholy—to look on the dark side of the picture of human life—to meditate on the many ills to which we are subject here—and to become inured, through reflection on the difficulties we meet with, to the various hardships, and troubles, and trails of life. There is a pleasing sadness in this strain of feeling, a melancholy pleasure, which often invites my attention, and which claims the merit of not being elsewhere found. It renders the feelings that were once soft, tender, and fearful of the rude blasts of adversity, cold and callous to their howlings; and imparts to the mind a thoughtful, determined preparation to endure whatever troubles may be imposed upon it.
How gloomy and forbidding is that view which reality and experience unfold to us of the state of human life! How dark the picture presented for our inspection! How few streaks of light and cheerfulness are interspersed throughout that vast extent of gloomy canvass! How few scenes of bliss and happiness are mixed with those numerous objects of misery and wretchedness that appear on its surface! How many and various are the blemishes of crime, rapine, and fraud, that stain and pollute to its appearance! There is, indeed, but little happiness here–but little to hope for—but little that is worth having, which we can desire with a probability of our request being granted.
If we take a retrospective glance, and look back on times and scenes gone by, we find but little in the recollection that can add to our present comfort. A few pleasures we may have experienced, but they were few indeed, and, like angels’ visits, “far between.” The man of fourscore can claim but a small portion of even his past life as being one of pure and unalloyed happiness. If he but estimates his age according to the pleasure he may have enjoyed, deducting from his years every portion of time spent in sorrow or anxiety, he will find himself but an infant in age, a mere babe in life. If we cast a glance beyond time past and present, and look inquiringly into the unborn future, what is there that will calm and cheer our spirits, now so drooping?—what that will make us more peaceful, more happy, more contented?—what that will act as a charm on our senses, rendering them insensible to pain, and lively to emotions of pleasure?—what that will be different from present experience of the vanity, coldness, and dreariness of life? It will be but a repetition of former scenes and former sorrows—a change of time, indeed, not of circumstances;—
——————”Endless is the list of human ills,”
“And sighs might sooner fail than cause to sigh.”
There is another theme of contemplation which I love—that inspired by a walk among the monuments of the dead—among those stones which bear the names and descriptions of those beneath them buried. Can it be that these inmates of the grave, whose forgotten names, and still more forgotten bodies, were once as I am now—as full of life and vigour—more full of its hopes and expectations—as fond of life’s enjoyments—and as pleased with the routine of fashionable pleasures—as those now in being? When they left the world, how did they leave it?—Did they die willing victims to the grave? Did they leave earth’s toys behind them as do those who know their emptiness, and give a welcome to death as a to messenger of peace that would convey them to an abode beyond the reach of life’s adversities?—or did they, in their last agonies, still cling to life—still hang to that brittle thread which bound them to earth’s domain, and wish that it might strengthen and wax stronger, that it could draw them back again to the scenes of gayety, and folly, and fashions, which once occupied their attention, and usurped the greater part of their life?
A walk in the grave-yard, when we are deeply impressed with the sensations of awe and dread inspired by the place and occasion, will be of benefit to the mind, as it is there that we can discuss dispassionately, if any where, the merits and demerits of life’s enjoyments. We feel a kind of sacred seclusion from the world, and that which usually troubles us—we imagine ourselves cut off from all sensual connexion with it, and evince but few, if any, desires to become again possessed of the charms it once maintained;—we wonder in what consisted the attractions which before bound us to life—what there was so great and glorious in the world, of a nature sufficient to cause our labours and cares to be so much and so often called into exercise—why we were once so unwilling to yield and give up those pleasures which now possess no value in our estimation—and why we declined regarding the duties enjoined on us by the will of heaven, when the faithful performance of them we now esteem to be of the greatest consequence. We contemplate also the labours of man, and endeavor to recollect for what ends his exertions are called into motion. We find the gratification of ambition to be the aim of one—the acquisition of wealth to be the desire of another—the indulgence of sensual pleasure to be the wish of a third. Various as are all of these, they alike have their end in the grave. It is, indeed, the end of man. Why then be so anxious to acquire the possession of those things whose stay must be so short, when acquired?
“Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour?
“What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame?
“Earth’s highest station ends in ‘here he lies’—
“And ‘dust to dust’ concludes her noblest song.”
What a picture of contemplation and reflection does the grave-yard present! The old and the young are there, and the poor and the rich are there. The child of five years lies beside of the man of eighty. They alike rest in peace—unnoticed by friends, undisturbed by foes. Nought remains of what was once flesh, and life, and vigour, but a few crumbling bones, and they turning to their original dust, as fast as the revolutions of times and seasons can make them.
It is but a few years at most that can divide the grave from the now living. A short space of time will intervene, and then shall all be brought victims to its ravages, and be swallowed up in the multitude of its openings. However much we may wish this time protracted, “to this condition we must come at last”—and it is doubtful whether it will then be welcomed more cheerfully than it would be at the present moment.
Taking this view of life and the grave, would it not be wisdom to follow the advice of the poet, so beautifully given in the following lines?
“Lean not on earth—’twill pierce thee to the heart;
“A broken reed, at best; but oft, a spear;
“On its sharp point peace bleeds, and hope expires.”
C. M. A.