English manual of practical chiromancy or palmistry

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By | Events and Visits, From the Collections

Ever wished you had the ability to accurately judge a person’s character from their appearance? Perhaps you want to know when your baby will be born? Or what message your new beard is giving to strangers? Well, you’re in luck. The Wellcome Library Archives and Manuscripts department have just the thing for you!

MS.8727 is a newly catalogued manual of practical chiromancy or palmistry, dating from 1648. The manuscript also includes sections on physiognomy and metoscopy, or the reading of lines on the forehead.

Using this manual, we learn that long, white fingernails are found on sickly, feverish people, whilst those with short, crooked nails are proud people who “delight in superfluity.” People with white or grey hair are slippery with “evill manners.” Narrow eyebrows of pale gold which consist only of short hairs demonstrate that a person is “one of good nature, apt to everything, fearful, but given to revenge.”

Even a person’s facial hair can be used to judge their personality. The man in the picture above, with his handsome beard, is apparently “melancholique. Also ingenious, sincere, cordiall, constant, resolute and valiant.” The manual suggests he would make a good soldier. However, if you are unable to grow such an impressive beard, remember that a lack of facial hair will lead people to believe you have “an evill nature.”

Expectant parents are given very specific advice on how to calculate exactly when a baby will be born by reading their own palms. For example: “if that line ends in the plaine of Mars it is borne in March or October upon a Tuesday; if the crosses or lines go towards Mercury and end there, they are borne in May or August Wednesday.”

Palmistry can also be used to amaze your friends by correctly guessing a stranger’s birth date: “if that line end toward the hill of Luna and it have a crosse, sure he or she was borne on 10th June on Monday.”

If you are interested in finding out more about the subject of face reading, the Wellcome Library Insights session on Fascinating Faces is next being held on Thursday 16 June at 3 O’Clock. More information about this and other events can be found on the Wellcome Collection website.

Natalie Walters

Natalie Walters is Archives Project Manager at the Wellcome Library. She specialises in the management and curation of born-digital records, and has a worrying knowledge of the history of poisoning.

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