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by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff
Victor Gabriel Rocine’s Heads, Faces, Types, Races, published in 1910, is a book about people who, in Rocine’s opinion, need their head examined—examined in the way that Rocine considers proper for examining heads. Rocine (fig. 2) introduces his subject with exuberant turgidity:
There is perhaps no science that can do more good for the people, in the various avocations of life, than phrenology, when it is thoroughly understood. A phrenologist who is well versed in his science, can do good to the public, the individual or the nation, in hundreds of different ways…. This is an age of specialists and inventors. When the talent or genius of a man is discovered and directed, he succeeds.
Rocine lavishes attention and detail on different parts of the head. Consider his treatment of the forehead. The table of contents lists 16 separate subsections about foreheads. Four of Rocine’s forehead varieties—the low, the high, the square, and the retreating—are shown here in figures 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Rocine imagines how a face would look if it ran up against a vertical line. Sometimes he imagines a face tipped forward to bump up again the line, sometimes tipped back. It depends on the face. He explains that this tells much about a person (figs. 8 and 9):
Figure 8. Rocine saw significance in an imagined vertical line.
If a man recedes from the vertical line, at the upper forehead, he lacks the faculties of deductive reasoning and originality. If he recedes from the vertical line, at the lower part of the face, it indicates a weak circulation and a fault-finding disposition. If the forehead and chin are even with the vertical line, it indicates harmony of development, giving us a vertical face, an even and straight forehead. All uncultured people, coarse and cruel, and all of the lower animals recede from the vertical line, as seen in the snake, cat, monkey.
Rocine develops means of assessing a person’s character. The assessment requires that one pay careful attention to subtle variations of the lineaments of the head (fig. 10).
Concerned that others might be less careful than he, Rocine warns against trying to infer too much from features that can reliably indicate only certain kinds of information. Rocine singles out the nose as a prime example (fig. 11). “It is unscientific,” he writes, “to determine character and talent from the nose alone, though it has its meaning.”
The Lingering Mystery About Rocine
Rocine’s legacy, slight though it may be, includes a tiny mystery that might intrigue some of his followers, if they exist, and if they care about tiny mysteries.
Page 174 of the book shows a collection of drawings: four ears arranged in a square, with a fifth ear in the middle (fig. 12). The caption says: “The first ear, ‘uncultivated,’ is the ear of Prendergast, the murderer. The fifth ear is that of Britt, the pugilist; the third ear is that of ex-President McKinley.”
Though Rocine refers to each ear by number, nowhere does he tell his readers—who can and perhaps must depend on Rocine for their advanced knowledge about heads—what numbering scheme he is using.
Figure 12. This image is the source of puzzlement. In his caption to it, Rocine referred to some of the ears by number—yet nowhere did he state which of the many numbering schemes he used.
Some readers might number items strictly on the basis of “right to left, then up to down,” others might use a clockwise system, others might do their numbering in a counter-clockwise scheme. Both the clockwise and counter-clockwise factions would perhaps be uncertain, in reading Rocine’s book, as to whether Rocine uses a numbering system that spirals inward (with the middle ear here being the final, i.e., fifth ear) or spirals outward (with the middle ear being, thus, the first).
This is a curious lacuna in the methods of a researcher of the scientific type (fig. 13) whose level of thoroughness and thoughtfulness is evident almost everywhere.
Heads, Faces, Types, Races, Victor Gabriel Rocine, Vaught-Rocine publishing company, Chicago, 1910.
This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2016 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!
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