Allan Kardec

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The Siècle edition of February 4th contains a letter from Dr. Riboli who went to Caprera to examine Garibaldi’s head, from a phrenological perspective. Our intention is not to assess the doctor’s opinion and even less the politician. Nevertheless, by reading the letter we were led to some reflections that are naturally in order here. Dr. Riboli believes that Garibaldi’s cranial structure corresponds perfectly well to his distinguishing intellectual and moral faculties, adding:

“You may laugh at my fanaticism but I can assure you that the time I spent examining that remarkable head was the happiest of my life. I saw, my dear friend, I saw that great man and he gave me everything that he was asked. I held that head that is the size of the whole world in my own hands, and for more than twenty minutes, feeling the inequalities and contrasts of his genius sticking out under my fingers everywhere. Garibaldi is 5’4” ft. tall. I measured all proportions: the width of the shoulders, the length of the arms and legs, the body circumference. In short, he is a well-proportioned man, strong body and of an uneasy temperament. The volume of his head is remarkable. The main aspect is the height of the skull, measured from the ear to the top of the head, yielding 20 cm (approx. 8 in). Such particular dominance of the whole upper part of the head indicates, at first sight and without a more thorough examination, an exceptional structure. The development of the skull on the top, the seat of feelings, indicates a balance of all the noble faculties against basic instincts. After examination, the craniology of Garibaldi immediately shows an extremely rare structure and I can even say that it is unprecedented. The harmony of all organs is perfect and the mathematical resultant of the whole thing shows: abnegation before anything else; prudence and cold blood; austerity; almost continual meditation; serious and precise eloquence; prevalent loyalty; an incredible deference to his friends to the point of suffering with it; his perceptibility in regard to everyone around him was especially dominant. To summarize, my dear friend, and without boring you with every comparison, causality, habitability, constructivism and destructivity *, it is a wonderful, organic, flawless head that science will use as a model, etc.

The whole letter is written with such an enthusiasm that clearly indicates the most profound and sincere admiration for the Italian hero. However, we would like to believe that the author’s observations were not influenced by any preconceived idea. But that is not the point. We accept his phrenological data as accurate but even if they were not, Garibaldi would not be more or less than he actually is. Everyone knows that the disciples of Gall form two schools: the materialists and the spiritualists. The first ones attribute the faculties to the organs. For them the organs are the cause, the faculties the product, and hence there is no faculty unless there is an organ, or put differently, when a person dies everything else is dead. The second group admits the independence of the faculties. The faculties are the cause; the development of the organs is the effect, and hence the annihilation of the organs does not imply the destruction of the faculties. We don’t know anything about the author’s affiliation to either school since he does not reveal it in his words.

Nonetheless, let us admit for a moment that the observations above were made by a materialist Phrenologist. We then ask what his reaction would be to the idea that this head encompasses a whole world, that it owes its genius to chance or to the caprice of nature that would have given him more cerebral mass on a given point of the brain than on another. Well, since chance is blind and has no previous design, it could also have enlarged a given part of the brain thus and unwilling yielding a completely different result to his personality. Such logic necessarily applies to any transcendent person, regardless of how it may be defined. Where would any merit reside if it were due to the displacement of a little piece of cerebral substance? If a simple caprice of nature could produce a common rather than a great man? Instead of a righteous man, an outcast?

That is not all. Taking into account such a great mind, isn’t that horrible to think that there will perhaps be nothing left of him tomorrow, absolutely nothing but the inert matter to be devoured by the worms? Not to speak of the dismal consequences of such a system in case it was accepted, with a multitude of inexplicable contradictions, daily demonstrated by the facts. Instead, everything is explained by the spiritualist system: the faculties are not a product of the organs, but attributes of the soul whose organs are nothing more than instruments to serve their manifestation. Since the faculty is independent, its activity excites the development of the organ, like exercise stimulates the growth of a muscle. The being that thinks is the main thing, and the body is nothing more than an accessory. Thus, talent is a real merit because it results from work and not from a more or less abundant matter. In the materialistic system, work that supports the acquisition of talent is totally lost with death which often does not allow enough time to enjoy that talent. With the soul, work has a meaning since everything that has been acquired is useful to its development; one works for an immortal creature and not for a body that only has some hours of existence.

People will say that the genius is not acquired, but it is innate. That is true. However, why then are two men that are born in the same conditions so very different from an intellectual point of view? Why would God have favored one more than the other? Why would one have been given the means of advancing while the other had that denied? Which philosophical system has solved this issue? It is only the doctrine of preexistence of the soul that can explain it: the genius has lived before, he has pre-acquired knowledge and experience and thus he deserves our respect more than if the superiority were an unjustified favor of Providence or a whim of nature. We want to believe that Dr. Riboli might have seen on the head of that man that he barely touched, out of respect, something more worthy of his veneration than a simple mass of flesh, not reducing it to the role of an organized mechanism. We recall that philosophical ragman that saw a dead dog by the side of the road and said to himself: That is what expects us! Well, then! All of you who deny a future life that is what you make of the greatest geniuses! For more details about Phrenology and Physiognomy, we recommend the article in The Spiritist Review, July 1860.

* There we go with neologisms that are not more barbaric than Spiritism and perispirit

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