of anthropometry, from McClure's Magazine, March 1894
"I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic
a skull or such well-marked supra-orbital development. Would you
have any objection to my running my finger along your parietal fissure?
A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would
be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention
to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull."
Mortimer means that Holmes has a long head and a developed forehead.
He would like to run his finger along the top of Holmes's head, where
the bony plates join.
His terminology comes from phrenology, a 19th-century,
pseudo-scientific practice, which held that the qualities of intelligence
and personality could be read from the shape of the brain, and therefore
from the shape of the skull. Various parts of the brain were considered
to be the seat of certain qualities, functions, or passions. Today,
we know this to be true, but the phrenological map was almost completely
inaccurate, and its practice was spurious. By Conan Doyle's time,
phrenology had passed out of serious consideration as a science and
into the realm of "common knowledge."
"Indeed, sir! May
I inquire who has the honour to be the first?" asked Holmes with some
being taken according to Bertillon's system, from McClure's
Magazine, March 1894
"To the man of precisely scientific mind the work
of Monsieur Bertillon must always appeal strongly."
"Then had you not better consult him?"
Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914), French
police official and pioneer in forensics and identity science, invented
the "mug shot" and developed anthropometry, a system of bodily measurements
meant to reliably identify individuals. This system, never foolproof,
was replaced by fingerprinting, which, in turn, is slowly being replaced
by DNA testing. The most famous illustration of the weakness of Bertillon's
system is the story of Will West and William West, two inmates incarcerated
at Leavenworth in 1901 and 1903, who had identical measurements and
nearly identical names. Their fingerprints, however, were different.
Holmes is right to resent the comparison. Bertillon is infamous for
being the handwriting "expert" whose inaccurate testimony
convicted Captain Alfred Dreyfus for treason in 1894.