George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to Francis Bailey, 26 January 1791

Tobias Lear to Francis Bailey

Philadelphia, January 26th 1791

The President of the United States has received Mr Bailey’s polite note offering him the perusal of an english translation of Lavater’s treatise on physiognomy and has commanded T. Lear to return his thanks to Mr Bailey for his politeness, and to inform him that the President’s time is so much occupied by business as not to permit him to profit of Mr Bailey’s offer.1


1Johann Caspar Lavater (1741–1801), a Swiss Protestant preacher and physiognomist, was the author of Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe (Leipzig and Winterthur, 1775), a pseudoscientific work outlining a system for deducing personality characteristics and intellectual capacities from facial features. An English translation of Lavater’s treatise was published in three volumes as Essays on Physiognomy: For the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind (London, 1789). Bailey was probably offering GW the abridged version, entitled Physiognomy: or, The Corresponding Analogy between the Conformation of the Features and the Ruling Passions of the Mind (London, 1790). No evidence has been found that GW was familiar with either of these works, but he did own Lavater’s Remonstrance, Addressed to the Executive Directory of the French Republic against the Invasion of Switzerland (London, 1798) at the time of his death (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Washington Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 120).

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