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From C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries
(London: Henry S. King & Co., 1876), 289-90


William Nicholson to William Godwin

Newman Street, Sept. 18, 1797.

Dear Sir, -- When I had the pleasure of seeing your little daughter this morning, and you asked my opinion concerning her physiognomy, I experienced some difficulty, partly from an ill-grounded sense of ridicule in seeming to assume the character of fortune-teller, partly from a consciousness of imperfect knowledge, but chiefly from the little probability that the opportunity would afford time for a calm consideration of the individual, and of my own associated notions, which require meditation and development before I can satisfy myself. My view was, in fact, slight and momentary. I had no time to consider, compare, and combine. Yet I am disposed to think the following imperfect observation may lead you to more than a suspicion that our organization at the birth may greatly influence those motives which govern the series of our future acts of intelligence, and that we may even possess moral habits, acquired during the foetal state.

  1. The outline of the head viewed from above, its profile, the outline of the forehead, seen from behind and in its horizontal are such as I have invariably and exclusively seen in subjects who possessed considerable memory and intelligence.
  2. The base of the forehead, the eyes and eyebrows, are {290} familiar to me in subjects of quick sensibility, irritable, scarcely irascible, and surely not given to rage. That part of the outline of the forehead, which is very distinct in patient investigators, is less so in her. I think her powers, of themselves, would lead to speedy combination, rather than continued research.
  3. The lines between the eyes have much expression, but I had not time to develope them. They simply confirmed to me the inductions in the late paragraph.
  4. The form of the nose, the nostrils, its insertion between the eyes, and its changes by muscular action, together with the side of the face in which the characteristic marks of affection are most prominent, were scarcely examined. Here also is much room for meditation and remark.
  5. The mouth was too much employed to be well observed. It has the outlines of intelligence. She was displeased, and it denoted much more of resigned vexation than either scorn or rage.
On this imperfect sight it would be silly to risk a character; for which reason I will only add that I conjecture that her manner may be petulant in resistance, but cannot be sullen. I have chosen to send you these memoranda, rather than seem to shrink from the support of truth by declining to practise what I have asserted could be done without difficulty in the case of my own children.

That she may be everything your parental affection can desire is the sincere wish of -- Yours, with much regard,

Wm. Nicholson.