Lavater, John Caspar

, the celebrated physiognomist, was born at Zurich, Nov. 15, 1741. He was from his earliest years of a gentle, timid disposition, but restless in the pursuit of knowledge. At school he was perpetually varying his studies by attempting mechanical operations, and often showed indications of genius and invention in his amusements. When he reached the upper classes of school, his diligence in study was encouraged by the advice of Bodmer and Breitenger, and quickened by a wish to emulate some school -fellows of superior talent. His turn of thinking was original, liberal, and manly. As he grew up he wrote some essays on subjects of morals and religion, which gained him the hearts of his countrymen. Having gone through the usual course of reading and instruction for the ecclesiastical profession, he was admitted into orders in May 1761, and two years afterwards he travelled with the brothers Hess, two amiable friends, of whom death deprived him, and, with Henry Fuseli, our celebrated painter. They went over Prussia, under the tuition of professor Sulzer, and Lavater made a considerable stay with Spalding, then curate of Barth in Pomeranian Prussia, and afterwards counsellor of the grand consistory. On his return to Zurich he became a very eloquent and much admired preacher, and proved himself the father of his flock by the most benevolent attention to their wants bodily and | mental. After having been for some years deacon of th Orphans’ church, he was in 1774 appointed first pastor. In 1778 the parishioners of the church of St. Peter, the only persons in the canton of Zurich who have a right to chuse their own minister, made choice of Lavater as deacon; and, in 1786, as first pastor. Here he remained, intenton the duties of his office, and on his physiognomical studies until Zurich was stormed in 1797. On this occasion he was wounded by a Swiss soldier, on whom he had conferred important benefits; from the effects of this he never recovered, although he lived in full possession of his faculties till Jan. 2, 1801, when he expired in the sixtieth year of his age. His principal works are, 1. “Swiss Songs,” which he composed at the desire of the Helvetic society, aud which were sung in that society, and in other cantons. 2. Three collections of “Spiritual Songs, or Hymns,” and two volumes of “Odes,” in blank verse. 3. “Jesus Messiah, or the Evangelists and Acts of the Apostles,” 4 vols. a poetical history of our Saviour, ornamented with 72 engravings from his designs, executed by Chodoweiki, Lips, &c. 4. “A Look into Eternity,” which being severely criticised by Gothe, Lavater, who loved truth in every shape, instead of being offended at the liberties he took, sought out the author, and became his friend and correspondent. 5. “The secret Journal of a Self-Observer,” which was published here in 1795. In this Lavater unveils his secret conduct, and displays the motions of his heart.*


Many of his opinions and singularities are also perceivable in his “Aphorisms,” a translation of which was published by Mr. Fuseli in 1788.

It may justly be said that every good heart is generally in unison with him, but it is impossible not to differ from many of his opinions, and not to perceive in them an uncommon degree of extravagance and enthusiasm. We learn from his Journal, however, and indeed from all his works, that a warm desire to promote the honour of God, and the good of his fellow creatures, was the principal feature in his character, and the leading motive of all he did. Next to these were an indefatigable placability, and an inexhaustible love for his enemies.

But his physiognomical work is that which procured him most reputation in Europe. Accident is said to have led him to the study of physiognomy; standing one day at a window with Dr. Zimmerman, he was led to make such | remarks on the singular countenance of a soldier that wms passing by, as induced Zimmerman to urge him to pursue and methodize his ideas. He accordingly considered the subject more seriously, and acquired not only a fondness fof it, but a steady conviction of the reality of the physiognomical science, and of the vast importance of the discoveries he had made in it. In 1776, he published the first fruits of his labaurs in a quarto volume, entitled “Fragments,” in which he took a wide range of inquiry, and carried his ideas of physiognomy beyond the observation of those parts of the countenance which exhibit to a common eye the impressions of mental qualities and affections, and maintained, as a leading position, *' that the powers and faculties of the mind have representative signs in the solid parts of the countenance." Two more volumes appeared in succession, which presented a most extraordinary assemblage of curious observations, subtle and refined reasoning, delicate feeling, and philanthropical and pious sentiment, together with a large admixture of paradox, mysticism, whim, and extravagance. The whole is illustrated with a great number of engravings; many of which are highly finished and singularly expressive. The work was soon translated into the French and English languages, and for a time became the favourite topic of literary discussion, but has now ceased to maintain much interest. Lavater, we are told, was not only nn enthusiast in this art, but was so far carried away by his imagination, as to believe in the continuation of miracles, and the power of casting out spirits to these days; opinions which he did not scruple to make public, and maintain with all boldness. 1


Meister’s Portraits des hommes illustres de la Suisse. ---Rees’s Cyclopædia. —Saxii Onomasticon.