Page images
PDF
EPUB

trivance for the living, vital functions of the animal ;-the moment we reduce psychonomy to ingenuity, and volition to leverage ;-that instant all sense of beauty ceases.

That each animal should be found to possess an organisation adapted to its instincts, would be only in accordance with our conception of creative wisdom. It was, however, reserved to our time to know the relations which subsist between all the parts of animals ; and to Cuvier, in his truly great work, “Regne Animal,” to indicate the very habits of classes by the re-construction of the skeleton, and the demonstration of the form which an animal must assume, and the purpose to which the muscles would be applied. Fragments of extremities-single teeth-nay, individual scales, and footprints,-are to the enlightened investigator sufficient now to convey a knowledge of anatomical structure ; and if not of individual capacity, yet, as I said, the habits of whole classes. Where so much could be effected by elements so imperfect, how much more ought we not to have anticipated from observations made upon the Hand ; which, as I hope to show, really constitutes one of the great physical characteristics of humanity. But our philosophical anatomists prefer rather to perplex themselves and their hearers with discussions upon certain cerebral distinctions, about which, unfortunately, they are unable to agree. I do not offer the hand as a substitute for the head in the determination of character, but as a more ready aid to its analysis. Nor will you be led to suppose that man thinks, reasons, invents, because he has hands ; but that his hands are the necessary results of a superior organisation, and that they thus become the indices of the faculties with which he is endowed. Of the 240 bones which go to form the framework of the body, 64, or 26:6 per cent., are given to the hand and arms, each of which being articulated, is capable of transmitting motion. To this framework are added muscles, tendons, and nerves, each destined to fulfil its own proper function, without for a moment interfering with that of its neighbour, and thereby offering the most perfect example of the practical application of the principle of the subdivision of labour.

The nerves, I need scarcely tell you, are the telegraphie communications to and from the brain, and that, to prevent those delicate wires from being rudely assailed, they are enveloped in a horny insensible sheath--the skin-without

which, indeed, life would be only one continuous period of physical suffering. Now, it has long been the accepted opinion of anatomists that impressions of contact, or the sensibility to touch, and impressions of temperature, are transmitted to the brain by the same nerves. But Meissner (a German anatomist), in his “Anatomie und Physiologie der Haut,” has shown that between the deepest cells of the epidermis, or true skin, and immediately over the papillæ, there are found oval, unyielding, molecular substances, of peculiar brightness, which undergo no change when subjected to those re-agents which destroy the papillæ themselves. This is the nervous filament of touch. Unlike the nerve of feeling, which is limited to the perception of pressure and temperature, it is endowed with the superior function of conveying to the brain the conception of form, size, weight, and local position. In the hand of the newlyborn infant, Meissner was unable to discover any filaments of touch ; nor, with the exception of the monkey, could he find them in the extremities of any other animal. In the inonkey they are found in both hands and feet, but with a development equal to that of an infant fourteen months old. In man they appear in the planter surface of the last phalanges of the toes--in the ball of the great toe, and sometimes in the heel, as well as in the hands. Now, in the hands, the ratio which the filaments of touch bear to those of feeling, in a square line, at the extremity of the first phalanx of the fingers, is as 1 to 3 ; at the middle phalanx, as 1 to 9; at the last, as 1 to 27; and at the wrist they are no longer perceptible. In this beautiful provision we see, then, the extraordinary care which has been bestowed upon the formation of the hand, to fit it for the high position it was destined to hold in man's economy.

We know to what extent tactile sensibility supplies that of sight, and with what precision the blind discriminate forms, proportions, and even, in some rare cases, colour and expression. Cabinet-making, turning, watch-making, and sculpture, are amongst their achievements. It is related by Dr. Guillee_-“Essai sur l’Instruction des Aveugles”-of Giovani Gonelli, who lost his sight at twenty, that at thirty -ten years after--a desire to carve came upon him. After handling carefully a statue of Cosmo de Medici, he produced, to the astonishment of his friends, a perfect likeness in clay. Subsequently, under the auspices of the Grand

Duke Ferdinand, of Tuscany, who became his patron, his powers rapidly developed, and he executed several works of great merit, amongst them a statue of Charles I. It is further recorded of this remarkable man, that the Duke de Bracciano,—who, having seen him at work, expressed his doubts that Giovani was completely blind,-in order to satisfy himself, had his own head and the head of his daughter modelled in a dark cellar ; the result was complete, and all doubt was entirely removed by the production of two delicate and striking likenesses.

To M. d'Arpentigny I stand indebted for an introduction to the arcana of the hand, as a psychological index. In his “Cherognomoni,” he has shown its importance, not only as the instrument of the will, but as the index of individual and national character.

The first portion to which I would direct your attention is the palm. It may be large or small, relatively to the person—hard or soft-flexible or inflexible-elastic or nonelastic ; and will be found to be the index of temperament. The large, hard, and thick hand marks the preponderating influence of the animal instincts. Large and supple, egotism and sensuality. Supple, but in proportion to the fingers and thumb, an aptitude for all pleasures derived from the senses. Elastic and firm, and when in proportion to the fingers, mental activity and power. In two individuals the intellectual tendencies may be the same, and yet their acquirements and habits may be very different, because of the character of their palms. By the one the gratification of the desires will be sought with moderation, should the palm be soft ; by the other with energy, should it be hard. The latter will rise with the dawn; the former appreciates rather the pleasures of noon-day. This difference of organisation will also influence the choice of a profession. Amongst artists this element of the hand is obvious. Those possessing a firm palm produce works more forcible and profound than those with soft palms; while the works of the latter lie nearer the surface, and possess more delicacy and spirituality in their treatment. So in the affections—the hard hand may experience strong attachment, but exhibit little tenderness; the soft hand much tenderness, and only moderate attachment ; the firm hand both. Most persons must have observed a considerable difference in the form of the fingers ; some being quite smooth, and some having enlargements at the joints, which may be termed knots ; some also present a flat appearance, and some a round. If the junction of the first phalanx with the second be distinctly marked, we have the index of order in ideas ; that is, a power of arranging the suggestions of the mind as they arise, so that they shall not interfere with one another. If the second joint be large, then there will be an appreciation of physical order—the adaptation of parts to the whole—and is a marked element in the useful and business hand. For one possessing the first joint large, a hundred possess the second-particularly in this country, where physical order is a characteristic of the people.

You will further observe that the ends of the fingers differ widely from one another—as much so as men's noses do. Here we have a spatular form, broad at the point ; there a square ; and here again a pointed, or oval. The spatular form indicates a desire for corporeal agitation, locomotion, manual occupation, a love of science for the physical benefit it confers, of the industrial and mechanical arts, of the exact applied sciences, of natural and experimental philosophy; but there will be no feeling for the higher philosophical and metaphysical sciences, no love for spiritual poetry, nor for anything that springs from the world of speculation. Amongst the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons this form prevails. “The songs and ballads of the English,” says Emerson, “smell of the earth and the breath of cattle. Like a Dutch painting, the English mind seeks a household charm through pails and pans. It loves the farm-yard, the lane, and the market. It reverences the axe, the spade, the oar, the gun, and the steam-pipe. It must be treated with sincerity and reality -with muffins, and not the promise of muffins ; it prefers its hot chop, with perfect security and convenience in the eating of it, to the chances of the amplest and Frenchiest bill of fare, engraved on embossed paper. Its taste is for plain, strong speech, such as is found in the Saxon chronicles and sagas of the Northmen.” I add, that it possesses a large share of confidence in itself, and discovers, under difficulty, resources to overcome physical obstacles which are unthought of by the conical fingers. It desires abundance, and exercises, more than any other form, control over the world of things and material interests. Great labourers, great navigators, great hunters, in short, those who de

vote their lives to action and locomotion, possess these fingers. A French writer says :-“For all other people labour has been a burden, a chastisement, and a consequence of original sin; by the English only has it been looked upon as a blessing—as an instrument of redemption--as the most manly luxury that is given to man to taste: it is his poetry and his religion." Where this hand approaches the elementary with a large, hard, and thick palm, it is altogether devoted to labour for its own sake. In his family (says M. d'Arpentigny) the man so constituted esteems most amongst his sons him who brushes his own clothes, greases his own boots, and cleans his own horse ; and amongst his daughters, her who can skim the pot, roast the meat, walk without an umbrella, and eat without a napkin.

Where the palm is soft and fleshy, there will be a pleasure in witnessing action, with an indisposition to take an active part ; such

hands prefer driving and boating to walking or riding. This form of finger, combined with a mode rate but firm palm, is not uncommon amongst our landed gentry, who love to dwell on their own estates. With tastes less delicate than other hands, with more solicitude for quantity than quality, and with a love for locomotion amounting to a passion, expatriation awakens in the hard spatular hand no apprehension. This, combined with a constancy of purpose, and fidelity of affection in the marriage state, fits it admirably for the formation of durable colonists. In the ancient world, how striking is the contrast in this respect between Greece and Rome! and in modern times, between England, France, and Spain. France seems to have exhausted her supply of spatular hands when she possessed herself of Canada and part of Louisiana : and had not Charles V. had the aid of the Walloons and Flemish, he would have acquired little of that glory with which his history is connected.

Large spatular hands are found oftener in the lowlands of Scotland than in England ; oftener in England than in France; and oftener in France than Spain or Ireland. In certain provinces of Spain these hands are, however, found, viz., in Galicia and Asturias ; and it is from these provinces that almost all the labourers and muleteers-which are met with in the Peninsula-come. To this day it is scarcely possible to conceive people more entirely opposed, in every

« PreviousContinue »