- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Johann Gaspar Spurzheim

Born  1776
Died  1832

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German physician, born December 31, 1776, Longuich near Trier, Germany; died November 10, 1832, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Biography of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim

Among writers there seems to be some confusion about Spurzheim's correct name. We thank Dr John van Wyhe for correcting an error on whonamedit.com.

According to Wyhe, the middle name Christoph, used in some articles on Spurzheim, is utterly fictitious and was never used by Spurzheim himself. He was baptised as Caspar Spurzheim, but used the alternate spelling Gaspar in all of his extant letters and also on the title pages of his published works (that is those he personally oversaw during his lifetime). On these his name is given as "Dr G. Spurzheim". Johann was his father's name, and the corect full name is thus Johann Gaspar Spurzheim.

Dr John van Wyhe is Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore, and Affiliated Research Scholar Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science, Cambridge

Johann Christoph Spurzheim's early education was intended to prepare him for a clerical career. He studied Greek and Latin in his native village and in 1791, at the age of fifteen, entered the University of Trèves (now Trier), where he studied Hebrew, divinity, and philosophy. When the French republican army arrived around 1799, he moved to Vienna where he began the study of medicine and was engaged as a private tutor in a fine bourgeois home. Here he met Franz Josef Gall and in 1800 he attended Gall's private lectures. For the next thirteen years the two collaborated on neuroanatomical research. Spurzheim completed his medical studies in Vienna in 1804, and from 1805 he was Gall's secretary and assistant, accompanying Gall on journeys through Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and France.

They arrived in Paris in 1807 and on March 14, 1808, they presented their jointly authored work Recherches sur le système nerveux . . . to the Institut de France. This was published in Paris the following year. They subsequently began working on the publication of the major work Anatomie et physiologie du système nerveux en général . . . Publication of this four-volume work began in 1810, but in 1813, Gall and Spurzheim ended their collaboration after the first 146 pages of volume 2. The remainder was written by Gall alone. It was not until this year that Spurzheim was formally awarded his medical degree.

In 1817 he received licensure in London from the Royal College of Physicians, and in 1821 he became doctor of medicine in Paris with the thesis Du cerveau sous le rapport anatomique. Spurzheim received recognition from many learned societies, including honorary membership of the Royal Irish Academy. He remained a theorist all his life, however, for his scepticism regarding medicine as it was then understood led him to avoid private medical practice.

In 1813 Spurzheim broke with Gall and formalized his views, which he presented in 1815 in his first major publication, The Physiognomical System of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim . . . It was from this major effort that Spurzheim later extracted sections, extended them, and published them as separate works. Spurzheim felt that he was personally responsible for many of the neuroanatomical discoveries traditionally credited to Gall alone – especially those made between 1805 and 1813, en believed that he had been denied the recognition due to him as Gall’s collaborator. Spurzheim contributed to their joint efforts almost from the beginning. Gall had claimed to have discovered twenty-seven innate faculties of the mind, Spurzheim taught that there were no fewer than thirty-five.

In 1832 Spurzheim left England for North America, giving a series of lectures in Boston. This was almost completed when he caught typhus and died. His nephew was the physician Karl Spurzheim (1809-1872) who distinguished himself in his work to improve the conditions in Austrian mental asylums.


    A list of Spurzheim's works is in A. A. Walsh’s introduction to Observations on the deranged manifestations of the Mind, or Insanity, by J. G. Spurzheim. Gainesville, Florida, 1970.
  • F. J. Gall and J. C. Spurzheim:
    Anatomie et physiologie du système nerveux en général et du cerveau en particulier; avec des observations sur la possibilité de reconnaître plusieurs dispositions intellectuelles et morales de l’homme et des animaux par la configuration de leur têtes.
    4 volumes and Atlas. Paris, F. Schoell, 1810-1819.
    Volume 1, 1810. Volume 2, 1812.
    Volume 3, 1818. Volume 4, 1819.
    Spurzheim was co-author of the first two volumes. The two authors parted in 1813, after the first 146 pp of volume 2. The remainder was written by Gall alone.
    The one hundred plates which comprise the atlas are exquisitely rendered.
    German translation of volume 1, 1810.
    2nd, revised edition, as aSur les fonctions du cerveau . . . See below.
  • F. J. Gall and J. C. Spurzheim:
    Observations sur la phrénologie, ou la connaissance de l’homme moral et intellectuel, fondée sur les fonctions du système nerveux.
    Strasbourg and Paris, 1810; new edition 1818.
  • F. J. Gall and J. C. Spurzheim:
    Des dispositions innées de l’âme et de l’esprit; du matérialisme, du fatalisme et de la liberté morale, avec des réflections sur l’éducation et sur la legislation criminelle.
    Paris, 1811.
    This is a separate printing of extracts from volumes 1-2 of Anatomie et physiologie du système nerveux
    refuting accusations of materialism.
  • F. J. Gall and J. C. Spurzheim:
    Crâne. In: Dictionnaire des sciences médicales. Volume 7, Paris, 1813, pp. 260-266.
  • F. J. Gall and J. C. Spurzheim:
    Cerveau. In: Dictionnaire des Sciences Medicales. Volume 4, Paris, 1813, pp. 447-9.
    Reprinted in Appendix to John Gordon, Observations on the Structure of the Brain, 1817, pp. 185-207. Spurzheim:
  • Observations sur la phrénologie, ou la connaissance de l’homme moral et intellectuel, fondée sur les fonctions du système nerveux.
    Paris, Treuttel: Würtz, 1818.
  • Des dispositions innées de l’âme et de l’esprit; du materialisme, du fatalisme et de liberté morale; etc.
    Written with Franz Josef Gall. Strassburg (and Paris?), 1812.
  • The Physiognomical System of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim: Founded on an Anatomical and Physiological Examination of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular; and indicating the Dispositions and Manifestations of the Mind. Being at the same time a book of reference for Dr. Spurzheim’s demonstrative lectures.
    London, 1815.
  • Outlines of the Physiognomical System of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim etc.
    London, 1815.
  • Observations on the Deranged Manifestations of the Mind, or Insanity.
    London, 1817. Boston, 1833, 1835, 1836;
    New edition: Observations on insanity. 1840.
    French translation, Paris, 1818.
    German by Elieser Salomo von Embden (born 1775):
    Beobachtungen über den Wahnsinn. Hamburg, 1818.
  • Examinations of the objections in Britain against the doctrines of Gall and Spurzheim.
    Edinburgh, 1817; Boston, 1833.
  • Observations sur la phrénologie. Paris, 1818.
  • Essai philosophique sur la nature morale et intellectuelle de l’homme.
    Paris, 1820.
    German translation by Jacob Hergenröther, Würzburg, 1822.
  • Du cerveau sous le rapport anatomique. Doctoral thesis, Paris, 1821.
  • A View of the Elementary Principles of Education Founded on the Study of the Nature of Man.
    Edinburgh, 1821; London, 1828, 1840.
    New York, 1847; French translation, 1822.
    18: . . . of the human nature.
  • Précis de phrénologie, contenant l’exposition du buste. Paris, 1825.
  • Phrenology: or, The doctrine of the mind, and of the relations between its manifestations and the body.
    London 1825, 1840; Boston, 1832.
    Spurzheim produced several English works on phrenology. In this book he presents the major tenets of the science, such as the belief that the brain is an “aggregation of organs”, including such parts as the “organ of self-esteem,” “organ of marvelousness,” “organ of ideality, etc. Drawings of appropriately shaped craniums are included to demonstrate the dominance of the various traits and their corresponding protubeances.
  • A view of the philosophical principles of phrenology.
    London, 1825, 1826, 1840.
  • Phrenology in connexion with the study of physiognomy.
    2 volumes, London and Edinburgh, 1826; 4th edition, Boston, 1833.
  • The anatomy of the brain, with a general view of the nervous system.
    Translated from the unpublished French manuscript by Robert Willis (1799-1878), etc. London, 1826, 1840; Boston, 1834, 1836.
  • Appendix to the anatomy of the Brain. 1830.
  • Outlines of phrenology being also a manual of reference for the marked busts; etc.
    London, 1828; Boston, 1832.
  • Sketch of the natural laws of man. Edinburgh, 1828.
  • Manuel de phrénologie. Paris, 1832.
  • Biography of the author. By Spurzheim in his Phrenology in connexion with the study of physiognomy. Boston, 1833, pp 9-168. Works on Spurzheim and his time.
    See also bibliography under Franz Josef Gall.
  • Andrew Carmichael:
    A Memoir of the Life and Philosophy of Spurzheim.
    Boston, 1833.
    The only complete book on Spurzheim’s life. Considered generally well done, despite some errors.
  • Nahum Capen:
    Reminiscences of Dr. Spurzheim and George Combe: And a Review of the Science of Phrenology, From the Period of Its Discovery by Dr. Gall to the Time of the Visit of George Combe to the United States, 1838, 1840.
    Boston, 1881.
  • W. M. Williams:
    A Vindication of Phrenology. London, 1894.
    Discusses Spurzheim in England, pp. 328-340.
  • A. Walsh:
    The American Tour of Dr. Spurzheim.
    Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Oxford, 1972; 27: 187-205.
    Johann Christoph Spurzheim and the Rise and Fall of Scientific Phrenology in Boston.
    Doctoral dissertation, University of New Hampshire, 1974. See also The History of Phrenology on the Web

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