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System of phrenology

Identifier: Coll-1150

Scope and Contents

The item that forms the collection is a manuscript version of the susbtantial part of the 4th edition of Combe'sA system of phrenology,which was printed in Edinburgh in 1836. It consists of 634 numbered pages written in ink, unbound.

This is a most desirable addition as Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library have the records of the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh (Gen.608).


  • Creation: 1836

Language of Materials


Biographical / Historical

Phrenology was the study of the skull as a guide to individual human nature and tendencies - looking at the skull for indications of mental faculties and traits of character. Although it was a popular field of study well into the 20th century it is today thoroughly discredited as a scientific system, though it is still of historical and social interest. George Combe of Edinburgh was a leading exponent of phrenology during the mid-19th century and wrote a number of popular books on the system.

The son of a brewer, George Combe was born in Edinburgh on 21 October 1788. He went to the parish school of St. Cuthberts in either 1794 or 1795, and then on to the Royal High School. Between 1802 and 1804 he attended classes at Edinburgh University. In 1815, through an article in theEdinburgh review, there was an attack on the phrenologists Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828) and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832). Spurzheim visited Edinburgh to defend himself through a series of lectures, and George Combe attended these becoming an ardent disciple and exponent in his own right. From 1818 he began writing and lecturing on phrenology, and in 1820 he formed the Phrenological Society and started thePhrenological journal. In spite of formal criticism of the science and arguments within the Society, by 1836, Combe had become a candidate for the Chair of Logic and Edinburgh University, though in the end his candidacy failed.

Combe's publications included:Elements of phrenology(1824);System of phrenology(1825-1853); and,The constitution of man considered in relation to external objects(1828)

George Combe died on 14 August 1858.


1 folder containing loosely-tied bundle 634pp

Physical Location


George Combe (1788-1858), and his System of Phrenology
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
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Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
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