Combe Collection


Combe Collection


This collection was part of the library of George Combe WS (1788-1858), founder of the Edinburgh Phrenological Society and author of many works propagating the influential 19th-century pseudo-science of phrenology. Combe was educated at Edinburgh High School and at Edinburgh University, where he studied law. He became a Writer to the Signet in 1812. Around this time, he began to study the phrenological works of Franz Josef Gall and Johann Kaspar Spurzheim, and soon became a fervent advocate of phrenology. In 1837 he gave up his legal practice to devote himself to spreading the causes of phrenology, secular education, and criminal and prison reform, travelling widely in Europe and America. His views on practical education and moral training were pioneering and his book 'The constitution of man', first published in 1828 became one of the best-selling books of the 19th century. However, with phrenology becoming increasingly discredited by the second half of the 19th century, Combe has become a largely forgotten figure.

The printed collection comprises over 1,000 items, including many editions of Combe's own writings, proof copies of books and articles, reviews of his works and polemics against his views, and pamphlets published in Europe and America on phrenology, secular education, prison reform and physiology.


The books have been catalogued individually and have the shelfmark 'Combe.'.


The collection was bequeathed to the Faculty of Advocates and received by the Advocates Library around 1868. Ownership was transferred to the National Library after its foundation in 1925.

Related collections

In 1950 Combe's papers were presented to the National Library by the Combe Trustees, these consist of his correspondence, notebooks and journals, lecture notes, financial and legal papers bound up in 315 volumes, and 16 charters. The manuscripts are held at MSS.7201-7515. They are described and indexed in volume 5 of the Library's Catalogue of manuscripts.


'The Combe Collection in the National Library of Scotland', JE Sait, The Bibliotheck, 8 (1976), 53-54.