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Lavater, Johann Caspar, 1741–1801
Mêlanges de regles physiognomiques : manuscrit pour des amis : avec quelques lignes characteristiques : 1ere centaine : pour le profit des pauvres : respectez la misère et ce qui la soulage!.
Zurich?, 1789.
Physical Description:
[3], 98 leaves : illustrations ; 21 x 14 cm
Rare Books and Manuscripts
BF843 .L3 1789
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
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Copyright Status:
Copyright Not Evaluated
Archives & Manuscripts
Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801) of Zurich, poet, mystic, and physiognomist, is best remembered for his work on physiognomy, Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beforderung des Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe (1775-1778). The Fragmente set out to interpret the links between the face and the soul, and was the first monumental work on physiognomy, an enormously popular and fashionable study, which many people in the eighteenth century thought might be developed into a regular science. The pseudo-scientific "principles" of physiognomy as developed by Lavater would have been well-known to an English audience when the present manuscript was produced. Sir John MacPherson (ca. 1745-1821), governor-general of Bengal, spent much of his early career in India, and most of his political life involved in Indian affairs. Between 1788 and 1790 he traveled on the continent (including a visit to Florence in 1789, where he was consulted on financial and administrative matters by Grand Duke Leopold, and a visit to Vienna when Leopold became emperor); it was presumably on one of these occasions that he met Lavater. His "tall figure, handsome face, and courtly manners made him a great favourite in society; and his wide knowledge and linguistic talents won him the respect of scholars" (ODNB).
The unbound manuscript comprises a title page, dedication "A mes amis," epilogue, and 98 numbered leaves (of 100, see below), written on one side only in a neat calligraphic hand (leaf 68 in a different hand), on paper bearing a double border in pink and black. Many leaves are illustrated with physiognomical diagrams of the human face or its parts. Preserved in the original calf book-shaped box, lined with pink glazed paper, with an engraved label pasted to the inside cover with motto "Lache des Elends nicht und der Mittel das Elend zu lindern für Arme."
From the library of Christopher Hogwood (1941-2014)
Presentation manuscript, by Johann Caspar Lavater, giving his physiognomic interpretations on varying forms of the forehead (including wrinkles), eyes, eyebrows, nose, cheeks, mouth, lips, and chin, with sections on stupidity, women, warts, and people to avoid ("a fuir"). Accompanying the manuscript is a small envelope containing Lavater's signed presentation autograph inscription to Sir John McPherson, "mon cher, mon bon, mon inoubliable Macpherson," dated from Zurich, 30 October 1791. There is a similar manuscript in the British Library presented to Monsieur de Staël, husband of the famous Madame de Staël (Add MS 16403-16404). It, too, is housed in a custom-built box, but in two volumes. Instead of the German motto on the inside cover of the box, there is a dedication in Lavater's handwriting to de Staël. The de Staël manuscript is accompanied by a note explaining that it was presented with the express condition of its never being published. In the Preface ("A mes amis") here, Lavater is also insistent that the manuscript is for private circulation only: "Gardez ce manuscrit comme un depôt d'ami, confie seulement des amis. N'en faites pas tirer copie, je vous conjure! Souffrez encore moins, qu'il passe dans les mains impures du public."
Two manuscript notes (one dated 1895 and signed H.F.A., the other unsigned and undated, but in an earlier hand, on paper watermarked 1828) provide further information on the provenance. Lavater's gift to Sir John MacPherson was "accompanied with a miniature of himself and child." MacPherson apparently lent the manuscript to the Duchess of Gordon "for perusal," and it was she who "destroyed" the two missing leaves (nos. 58 and 66). Comparison with the similar manuscript presented to M. de Staël, now in the British Library, reveals that these passages dealt with "Du front et de la bouche" and "De la bétise," but whether the Duchess destroyed the pages by design or accident is unknown. The manuscript was subsequently bequeathed by Sir John McPherson to John Laurie (1756-1830) of 2 Bartholomew Close shortly before his death in 1821. Laurie was a maker of surgical instruments and artificial limbs.
Subject Terms:
Characters and characteristics.
Gordon, Jane Gordon, Duchess of, 1748-1812.
Ink drawings.
Macpherson, John, Sir, 1745-1821, former owner.
Hogwood, Christopher, former owner.
Laurie, John, 1756-1830, former owner.

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