Box icon Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801)

Scientist of expressions

Portrait of Johann Kasper Lavater

John Murray I published in partnership with Joseph Johnston the English translation of Johann Kaspar Lavater's 'Essays on Physiognomy' (1788-1799). Lavater was a Swiss physician who argued that character could be understood from facial expressions and the shape of the head. The work was sold by subscription in 41 parts at 12 shillings each or £24 for a complete set.

At a total cost of over £10,000 to produce it was a very expensive book. It had over 800 engravings, which included illustrations by James Gillray and William Blake. The publication was very successful and was John Murray I's most profitable publication making him around £1,000 profit.

In 1795 the former 'Essays on Physiognomy' partners, which included the engraver Thomas Holloway and the translator Henry Hunter, raised a legal action against the estate of John Murray I. By 1802 arbiters decided finally against the Murray estate and the executors had to pay out £3,900.




NRA Name: Lavater, Johann Gaspar Christian (1741-1801) Swiss German Poet and physiognomist.

The National Register of Archives (NRA) contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history in archival holdings in the UK and overseas. You can find more information on the National Register of Archives name authority catalogue.


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'The proprietors of Physiognomy have now got so many subscribers that they tread on velvet.'
– Murray to William Creech, 16 May 1788 (Ms.41905).


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