William Henry Jackson is one of the American West’s best-known photographers, and History Colorado is fortunate to hold a large portion of his photographic oeuvre as well as a manuscript collection (MSS #341) containing correspondence, diaries, and other records of Jackson’s remarkable life. One of the more unusual items in our Jackson manuscript collection is a full report of a phrenological examination performed on Jackson when he was 18 years old by “Professor” O.S. Fowler. The pseudoscience of phrenology was popular in the 19th century and posited that the size and shape of a person’s head revealed information about that individual’s personality, character, and capabilities. While the practice has been thoroughly debunked, Fowler at least seems to have hit on something when he described Jackson’s capacity for artistic genius.
Rutland Vermont Oct 6th 1861
“Professor” O.S. Fowler was a noted phrenologist, and at the time of this examination a tall, fine looking man; with long grey beard – and probably 60 years old. Giving lectures in Rutland, and examining bumps on the heads of such as offered themselves, of whom I was one – he had these charts written out for each one for $2 each. How well he “sized me up,” as a boy of 18, let my life’s history tell
“You Sir have a noble head throughout, you inherit it from both your parents, but I think most from your mother and her father but one side your ancestors are nature’s noblemen. You have a fine body, and a good head, have a powerful constitution, have physical stamina enough to sustain your head, and yet you have been brought up a great deal too delicately. You require to rough it more than you have done. Require exercise, drilling, wrestling, and the cultivation of your physical powers throughout. Are beginning to be a little impaired in your digestion and nervous system as well as circulation, yet if you take anything like proper care, you can have the best health in the world. You need quantities of sleep, do not be up late nights, and tell your father to let you sleep mornings till your sleep is out and see to it that your habits are regular.
You have been indoors too much and studied too much, and thereby produced a slight heart affection, with nervousness and flustration [sic], the cure of which consists in bringing the blood back to the surface by physical exercise. Should knock about outdoors, skate, slide downhill, tear around, anything for exercise, and remember unless you do take good care of your bodily powers, they will not be adequate to the development of your head, so that your splendid talents will wane.
Your largest organ is Benevolence. Are pre-eminently kind and sympathetic. Will live quite as much to do good as to carry forward selfish ends, are even too generous, and not sufficiently selfish. I beg that you would cultivate monetary grip, and learn the value of a dollar, even if you had to go to college to do it. You allow your friends often to persuade you, when it would be to your own interest not to do so.
Your social affections are hearty, your fondness for the other sex, will entitle you to be very devoted as a lover and fond as a husband, and your manners will be peculiarly appropriate as a man to woman. You are gallant, are easily influenced by mother, will be by wife, but I beg you will put and keep this faculty on high ground. Your love of home is large, so is friendship, so is love of children, in fact all your social affections are hearty, and hence you will be much prized by those who know you, and esteemed most by those who know you best, for you will bear acquaintance, and wear well.
Your patience to dwell on is weak, your mind does not finish as it goes, you incline to learn to do a little about many things, rather than much about any one thing, and should cultivate patience, and a plodding cast of intellect, and make a more thorough work not that you lack firmness, but that that finishes as you go. Have not quite enough energy of character, have always been troubled with the I can’ts. I presume your mother has waited upon you too much, and have not had occasion to put forth your energies, so that they have become rusty.
You might to be pitched right in, head-long into the river of business of life, and told to sink or swim as you choose and made to do your own work. Will hang on to father too long. Are too cautious, and procrastinating, will hesitate too long about pursuing your business, and then pursue it too tamely.
You need roughening up, for your were too delicately born, and educated.
Have been rather too reserved, kept too many things to yourself. Have waited till the favorable moment for action in past. Have always been just in season to be too late, simply because you lack promptness, and really Sir you have a lame spot in your character. You always have lacked self trust. Should plant yourself in some position where you are made to grapple in with and defy consequences. Your mother lacked expectation, so that you were born with two [sic] little spirit of adventure, please cultivate it and also marry a hopeful light-hearted wife, who is constantly looking aloft, and who paints the future with glowing colors. Are a little inclined to practical sadness, so cheer up. Are utterly wanting in belief, unless you see demonstrative evidence, and in religious matters do up your even thinking, and all of it, but have really an exalted moral head, as well as a high toned, excellent character, and will live upon a high social platform.
Will never do anything to disgrace yourself, or break faith.
Your love of the beautiful and perfect is large, have really a fine imagination, are stylish and elevated in sentiment and conduct. You are noted for the classical throughout your character in manners, in sentiment, in expression in everything, and could never give yourself up to the coarse or gross.
You love the jocose, but your sense of propriety keeps you back from the manifestation of fun. Gratify your love of nature and scenery, nothing will improve you as much. Mix up more with men, and will find going into the army of real service to you. You love facts and knowledge, and ought to live by your intellect. Are a tiptop scholar, none better. You have great powers of thought, as well as an original cast of mind. You both plan on a large scale, and arguably your talents win towards the purely literary and philosophical rather than practical.
Would excel as a newspaper editor or writer. Are a good judge of human nature, and were always fond of metaphysics, besides being agreeable and acceptable. Have an accurate eye, and a truly artistic one, and measure by eye with perfect accuracy besides having a first-rate memory of countenances.
Your mechanical genius is far above mediocrity, and will enable you to draw, make, copy, anything you like, and give you excellence as a painter, perhaps even sculpture, for you are really a genius, and no mistake, both in the mechanical and artistical line, and in general power of intellect, and unless you break your constitution are sure to make your mark, and do something every way worthy.
Your life is to be a decidedly success, just in proportion as you preserve your health, so make that paramount. Nature has done splendidly by you, and your natural place is a mechanical, or artistical, or both united.”
(Mss.00341, FF 23)