MANY works have been written on Expression, but a greater number on Physiognomy,—that is, on the recognition of character through the study of the permanent form of the features. With this latter subject I am not here concerned. The older treatises, which I have consulted, have been of little or no service to me. The famous 'Conferences' of the painter Le Brun, published in 1667, is the best known ancient work, and contains some good remarks. Another somewhat old essay, namely, the 'Discours,' delivered 1774-1782, by the well-known Dutch anatomist Camper, can hardly be considered as having made any marked advance in the subject. The following works, on the contrary, deserve the fullest consideration.
Sir Charles Bell, so illustrious for his discoveries in physiology, published in 1806 the first edition, and in the third edition of his 'Anatomy and Philosophy of Expression.' He may with justice be said, not only to have laid the foundations of the subject as a branch of science, but to have built up a noble structure. His work is in every way deeply interesting; it includes graphic descriptions of the various emotions, and is admirably illustrated. It is generally admitted that his service consists chiefly in having shown the intimate relation which exists between the movements of expression and those of respiration. One of the most important points, small as it may at first appear, is that the muscles round the eyes are involuntarily contracted during violent expiratory efforts, in order to protect these delicate organs from the pressure of the blood. This fact, which has been fully investigated for me with the greatest kindness by Professors Donders of Utrecht, throws, as we shall hereafter see, a flood of light on several of the most important expressions of the human countenance. The merits of Sir C. Bell's work have been undervalued or quite ignored by several foreign writers, but have been fully admitted by some, for instance by M. Lemoine, who with great justice says:—"Le livre de Ch. Bell devrait etre medite par quiconque essaye de faire parler le visage de l'homme, par les philosophes aussi bien que par les artistes, car, sous une apparence plus legere et sous le pretexte de l'esthetique, c'est un des plus beaux monuments de la science des rapports du physique et du moral."
From reasons which will presently be assigned, Sir C. Bell did not attempt to follow out his views as far as they might have been carried. He does not try to explain why different muscles are brought into action under different emotions; why, for instance, the inner ends of the eyebrows are raised, and the corners of the mouth depressed, by a person suffering from grief or anxiety.
In 1807 M. Moreau edited an edition of Lavater on Physiognomy, in which he incorporated several of his own essays, containing excellent descriptions of the movements of the facial muscles, together with many valuable remarks. He throws, however, very little light on the philosophy of the subject. For instance, M. Moreau, in speaking of the act of frowning, that is, of the contraction of the muscle called by French writers the soucilier (corrigator supercilii), remarks with truth:—"Cette action des sourciliers est un des symptomes les plus tranches de l'expression des affections penibles ou concentrees." He then adds that these muscles, from their attachment and position, are fitted "a resserrer, a concentrer les principaux traits de la face, comme il convient dans toutes ces passions vraiment oppressives ou profondes, dans ces affections dont le sentiment semble porter l'organisation a revenir sur elle-meme, a se contracter et a s'amoindrir, comme pour offrir moins de prise et de surface a des impressions redoutables ou importunes." He who thinks that remarks of this kind throw any light on the meaning or origin of the different expressions, takes a very different view of the subject to what I do.
The earliest edition of this work, referred to in the preface to the edition of 1820 in ten volumes, as containing the observations of M. Moreau, is said to have been published in 1807; and I have no doubt that this is correct, because the 'Notice sur Lavater' at the commencement of volume i. is dated April 13, 1806. In some bibliographical works, however, the date of 1805—1809 is given, but it seems impossible that 1805 can be correct. Dr. Duchenne remarks ('Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine,'-8vo edit. 1862, p. 5, and 'Archives Generales de Medecine,' Jan. et Fev. 1862) that M. Moreau "a compose pour son ouvrage un article important," &c., in the year 1805; and I find in volume i. of the edition of 1820 passages bearing the dates of December 12, 1805, and another January 5, 1806, besides that of April 13, 1806, above referred to. In consequence of some of these passages having thus been COMPOSED in 1805, Dr. Duchenne assigns to M. Moreau the priority over Sir C. Bell, whose work, as we have seen, was published in 1806. This is a very unusual manner of determining the priority of scientific works; but such questions are of extremely little importance in comparison with their relative merits. The passages above quoted from M. Moreau and from Le Brun are taken in this and all other cases from the edition of 1820 of Lavater, tom. iv. p. 228, and tom. ix. p. 279. In the above passage there is but a slight, if any, advance in the philosophy of the subject, beyond that reached by the painter Le Brun, who, in 1667, in describing the expression of fright, says:—"Le sourcil qui est abaisse d'un cote et eleve de l'autre, fait voir que la partie elevee semble le vouloir joindre au cerveau pour le garantir du mal que l'ame apercoit, et le cote qui est abaisse et qui parait enfle,—nous fait trouver dans cet etat par les esprits qui viennent du cerveau en abondance, comme polir couvrir l'aine et la defendre du mal qu'elle craint; la bouche fort ouverte fait voir le saisissement du coeur, par le sang qui se retire vers lui, ce qui l'oblige, voulant respirer, a faire un effort qui est cause que la bouche s'ouvre extremement, et qui, lorsqu'il passe par les organes de la voix, forme un son qui n'est point articule; que si les muscles et les veines paraissent enfles, ce n'est que par les esprits que le cerveau envoie en ces parties-la." I have thought the foregoing sentences worth quoting, as specimens of the surprising nonsense which has been written on the subject.