Addison on the Dissection of a Beau’s Brain: Annotations and Analysis by Audrey Cossin

The Spectator[1] No. 275

Tuesday, January 15, 1712

Addison[2] on the Dissection of a Beau’s[3] Brain

Annotated by: Audrey Cossin

I was Yesterday engaged in an Assembly of Virtuoso’s, where one of them produced many curious Observations, which he had lately made in the Anatomy of an Human Body. Another of the Company communicated to us several wonderful Discoveries, which he had also made on the same Subject, by the Help of very fine Glasses. This gave Birth to a great Variety of uncommon Remarks, and furnished Discourse for the remaining Part of the Day.

The different Opinions which were started on this Occasion presented to my Imagination so many new Ideas, that by mixing with those which were already there, they employed my Fancy all the last Night, and composed a very wild Extravagant Dream.

I was invited, methoughts, to the Dissection of a Beau’s Head and of a Coquet’s[4]Heart, which were both of them laid on a Table before us. An imaginary Operator opened the first with a great deal of Nicety, which, upon a cursory and superficial View, appeared like the Head of another Man; but upon applying our Glasses to it, we made a very odd Discovery, namely, that what we looked upon as Brains, were not such in reality, but an Heap of strange Materials wound up in that Shape and Texture, and packed together with wonderful Art in the several Cavities of the Skull. For, as Homer tells us, that the Blood of the Gods is not real Blood, but only something like it; so we found that the Brain of a Beau is not real Brain, but only something like it.[5]

(press play to hear the previous paragraph read aloud)

The Pineal Gland,[6] which many of our Modern Philosophers suppose to be the Seat of the Soul, smelt very strong of Essence and Orange-Flower Water, and was encompassed with a kind of Horny Substance, cut into a thousand little Faces or Mirrours, which were imperceptible to the naked Eye, insomuch that the Soul, if there had been any here, must have been always taken up in contemplating her own Beauties.[7]

We observed a long Antrum or Cavity in the Sinciput, that was filled with Ribbons, Lace and Embroidery, wrought together in a most curious Piece of Network, the Parts of which were likewise imperceptible to the naked Eye.[8] Another of these Antrums or Cavities, was stuffed with invisible Billet-doux, Love-Letters, pricked Dances, and other Trumpery of the same nature. In another we found a kind of Powder, which set the whole Company a Sneezing, and by the Scent discovered it self to be right Spanish. The several other Cells were stored with Commodities of the same kind, of which it would be tedious to give the Reader an exact Inventory.[9]

There was a large Cavity on each side of the Head, which I must not omit. That on the right Side was filled with Fictions, Flatteries, and Falsehoods, Vows, Promises and Protestations; that on the left with Oaths and Imprecations. There issued out a Duct from each of these Cells, which ran into the Root of the Tongue, where both joined together, and passed forward in one common Duct to the Tip of it.[10] We discovered several little Roads or Canals running from the Ear into the Brain, and took particular care to trace them out through their several Passages. One of them extended itself to a bundle of Sonnets and little Musical Instruments. Others ended in several Bladders which were filled either with Wind or Froth. But the large Canal entered into a great Cavity of the Skull, from whence there went another Canal into the Tongue. This great Cavity was filled with a kind of Spongy Substance, which the French Anatomists call Galimatias, and the English, Nonsense.[11]

The Skins of the Forehead were extremely tough and thick, and what very much surprized us, had not in them any single Blood-Vessel that we were able to discover, either with or without our Glasses; from whence we concluded, that the Party when alive must have been entirely deprived of the Faculty of Blushing.[12]

The Os Cribriforme was exceedingly stuffed, and in some Places damaged with Snuff. We could not but take Notice in particular of that small Muscle, which is not often discovered in Dissections, and draws the Nose upwards, when it expresses the Contempt which the Owner of it has, upon seeing any thing he does not like, or hearing any thing he does not understand. I need not tell my learned Reader, this is that Muscle which performs the Motion so often mentioned by the Latin Poets, when they talk of a Man’s cocking his Nose, or playing the Rhinoceros.[13]

We did not find any thing very remarkable in the Eye, saving only, that the Musculi Amatorii, or, as we may translate it into English, the Ogling Muscles, were very much worn and decayed with use; whereas on the contrary, the Elevator or the Muscle which turns the Eye towards Heaven, did not appear to have been used at all.[14]

I have only mentioned in this Dissection such new Discoveries as we were able to make, and have not taken any notice of those Parts which are to be met with in common Heads. As for the Skull, the Face, and indeed the whole outward shape and figure of the Head, we could not discover any Difference from what we observe in the Heads of other Men.[15] We were informed, that the Person to whom this Head belonged, had passed for a Man above five and thirty Years; during which time he Eat and Drank like other People, dressed well, talked loud, laught frequently, and on particular Occasions had acquitted himself tolerably at a Ball or an Assembly; to which one of the Company added, that a certain knot of Ladies took him for a Wit. He was cut off in the flower of his Age by the blow of a Paring-Shovel, having been surprized by an eminent Citizen, as he was tendring some Civilities to his Wife.[16]

When we had thoroughly examin’d this Head with all its Apartments, and its several kinds of Furniture, we put up the Brain, such as it was, into its proper place, and laid it aside under a broad piece of Scarlet Cloth, in order to be prepared, and kept in a great Repository of Dissections; our Operator telling us that the Preparation would not be so difficult as that of another Brain, for that he had observed several of the little Pipes and Tubes which ran through the Brain were already filled with a kind of Mercurial Substance, which he looked upon to be true Quick-Silver.

He applied himself in the next Place to the Coquet’s Heart, which he likewise laid open with great Dexterity. There occurred to us many Particularities in this Dissection; but being unwilling to burden my Reader’s Memory too much, I shall reserve this Subject for the Speculation of another Day.[17]


The Spectator was a collaboration of essays between Addison and Steele released six times each week.

[1] The Spectator was a joint venture between Joseph Addison and his close companion Richard Steele. Steele and Addison met while attending the Charterhouse School in London at the age of thirteen, and, at the end of their schooling, they were both bound for Oxford. The Spectator was a series of essays, released six times a week, that provided social critique, criticism, moral reflections, and satire from the point of view of a well-traveled and intelligent ‘Spectator’. It is generally believed that Addison invented the social club that the ‘Spectator’ frequents and critiques, although the characters are most likely based on real people. Although Addison is generally considered to be the guiding hand of The Spectator, both Addison and Steele each contributed roughly 250 out of the total 555 essays. However, The Spectator is considered to be somewhat of a sequel to The Tatler, which was primarily run by Richard Steele (Rogers).

Joseph Addison, pictured right, and Sir Richard Steele, pictured left.


[2] Joseph Addison was both a successful writer and politician in the United Kingdom during the eighteenth century. His parents, Lancelot Addison and Jane Gulston, both came from clerical and royalist backgrounds. His father was quite successful as an author of theological books, but since he did not manage his money properly, Addison’s family lived rather modestly. Growing up, Addison received an education from various schools, including Linchfield Grammar School and the Charterhouse School, where he met his closest companion, Richard Steele. Addison later earned a degree from Magdalen College and began to write. His writings earned him a small pension, and he was able to travel Europe writing and studying politics. After returning to the United Kingdom, Addison helped form the Kit-Cat Club, a men’s social club, helped write and publish The Spectator, and held various government positions (Rogers).

[3] A Beau is “a man who gives particular, or excessive, attention to dress, mien, and social etiquette” (“beau, adj. and n.”). “Beau” was a popular term in the eighteenth century and is synonymous with “exquisite”, “fop”, and “dandy”. The term was used more often with negative, rather than positive, connotations in order to characterize a man who was too concerned or obsessed with his appearances (“beau, adj. and n.”).

[4] A Coquet is “a man who from vanity or selfish motives aims at making himself generally attractive to the other sex” (“coquet, adj. and n.1.”). This term, like “Beau”, was popular during the eighteenth century and is synonymous with “male flirt” and “lady-killer”. “Coquet”, originally a French word, refers to the “strutting gait and amorous characteristics of the cock” (“coquet, adj. and n.1.”). “Coquet”, like “Beau”, is meant to be a negative term. Men who are Coquets and Beaus are not “real men”, as they are too vain and obsessed with themselves.

[5] If the brain of a Beau is not a real brain, then a Beau cannot be a “real man”. Superficially, the brain of the Beau appears to be a real brain, but upon further examination, it is evident that the brain is just “heap of strange materials wound up in that shape and texture”. As the dissection furthers, the observers discover an assortment of different objects and trinkets within the brain, where brain matter is typically found. Brain matter is what allows a person to process thoughts and develop arguments, so if a Beau has other objects where he should have brain matter, then he will not be able to form arguments or think like a “real man” is able to. Addison clearly does not equate the intelligence levels of a “real man” and a “Beau”.

The pineal gland is highlighted here in green.

[6] The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland that lies between the two hemispheres of the brain. Although the function of the pineal gland is not completely understood, it is known to play a role in regulating sleep cycles, female reproduction, and sexual maturation. The pineal gland both creates and secretes melatonin, which tells the body when to go to sleep and when to wake up. Melatonin also aids in the regulation of female reproductive hormones, and abnormally high levels of melatonin are linked to delayed sexual maturation (“Pineal Gland”).

[7] I find it interesting that Addison refers to the Beau with the pronoun “her”, instead of the pronoun “him”, when he mentions the Beau “contemplating her own Beauties”. I also find it remarkable that the “mirrors” surround the pineal gland, which is considered to the “Seat of the Soul”. Addison is arguing that the soul of a Beau is conceited and self-absorbed. Since the pineal gland is surrounded by mirrors, the soul is inaccessible. If the Beau were to try to access it, he would only receive a reflection of his own image, which is all he really cares about. Conceited and self-absorbed are typically characteristics of women, hence Addison’s use of the pronoun “she”. Addison argues that only women, not men, should be obsessed with their appearances to a degree that a Beau is, as beauty is one of the only qualities that gives women value. On the other hand, men should have more redeeming qualities than just their appearance.

[8] The ribbons, lace, and embroidery represent the frivolous nature of the Beau. A Beau, according to Addison, cares too much about his appearance. As fashion progressed into the eighteenth century, men’s outfits became increasingly less frivolous, as excess decorations were removed. Women’s clothing, on the hand, became even more embellished. The Beau’s brain is filled with ribbons, lace, and embroidery, which are all ornaments that belong on women’s, not men’s, clothing. Addison therefore argues that a Beau’s brain, in addition to his appearance, more closely resembles that of a woman’s, rather than a man’s.

[9] The Beau’s brain is filled with items that Addison considers to be indicative of his character. There are many different objects and commodities stored within his brain, which is typically where thoughts should be contained. Addison characterizes these items as “trumpery” because they have little value. The love-letters do not help the Beau to think and make intelligent conversation. Billet-doux are meant to be sent to a woman, to court and persuade her into marriage. The Beau’s brain also contains “right Spanish”, which is a type of drug available in the eighteenth century. Evident by what Addison finds inside the Beau’s brain, he does not typically engage in intelligent and thoughtful conversation, as a “real man” should. Instead, the Beau spends all his time courting women and doing drugs.

[10] In the Beau’s head, a duct combines the contents of the left and right hemispheres of the brain in the tongue, even before the information ever leaves his body. The right side of the brain contains lies and flatteries, while the left side contains truths and promises. When the Beau speaks, his words come simultaneously from information stored in both sides of the brain. Therefore, his vows and falsehoods are mixed. Addison argues that everything that a Beau says has elements of both truth and lies intertwined. Any promise that a Beau makes is not to be trusted. His vows are combined with flatteries and falsehoods, simply because he is a Beau and that is the way that his brain is structured. He makes promises to flatter other people and get what he wants, but his words are filled with lies, and he has no intention of following through with his commitments.

[11] I think it is rather remarkable that the largest canal running from the Beau’s ear leads into a cavity in the tongue filled with “Nonsense”. Addison does not consider the Beau to have a very high intelligence level, since a lot of what the Beau hears travels into his brain and comes out as nonsense. There is, in fact, so much nonsense, that it begins to fill the cavity in the tongue. Addison considers the men who lounge around in Men’s clubs, discussing and debating intelligent topics, to be the “real” and “proper” men. A Beau cannot engage in this type of conversation if his tongue is filled with nonsense, and he cannot be a “proper man” if he is not intelligent enough to contribute to these types of conversations.

Caricature of a Beau.

[12] Blushing is a sign of embarrassment. A person can only become embarrassed, though, if he cares about the opinions of those around him. The Beau cares too much about his own appearances to even consider what others might be thinking about him, therefore he does not need to have blood vessels in his face or forehead, which would give him the ability to blush. The skin of the Beau’s forehead is “extremely tough and thick”, as well, which indicates that he is very stubborn. Addison views Beaus as hardheaded and self-absorbed idiots. They don’t need the faculty of blushing if they are too self-absorbed to become embarrassed or if their skin is too thick to pay attention to any outsider’s comments.

[13] Addison is sure to mention the Beau’s excess use of the small muscle which draws the nose upward. This muscle is “not often discovered in dissections”, indicating that most people do not use it very often. However, Beaus, according to Addison, make excess use of this muscle, which is why it has become developed enough to be noticed in the dissection. Addison characterizes Beaus as judgmental, as they often see things that that they do not like or hear things that they do not understand. They often cock their noses, or “play Rhinoceros”, which is indicative of their self-absorbed character.

[14] I find it interesting that Addison mentions that the Beau’s elevator, or “the Muscle which turns the Eye towards Heaven”, had not been used at all. Addison does not see this Beau as a particularly godly man. The Beau never looked toward Heaven, indicating that he never prayed or even paid much attention to God. This accusation is meant as an insult, especially since religion played such an important role in everyday life in the eighteenth century. Instead of using his elevator to gaze towards Heaven, the Beau excessively used his Ogling Muscles to admire other women. “Real men”, in Addison’s opinion, should not spend all of their time admiring other women and should instead spend some of that time admiring God.

[15] Judging from outward appearances alone, the structure of a Beau’s head and a “real man’s” head appears to be exactly the same, which may be why Addison chooses to include the dissection of a Beau’s brain in The Spectator. Even though Beaus and “real men” have a similar structure and skull shape, Addison argues that they deserve to be judged differently. Beaus are inherently superficial, deceitful, and stupid, as evident by the useless trinkets that fill their brains and canals that mix truth and lies. Beaus do not deserve to be given the same merit as “real men” should be given. Addison attempts to warn his audience of Beaus disguised as “proper men” by stating that this differentiation cannot always be made based on outward appearances alone.

[16] A “Wit” is “a person of great mental ability” (“wit, n.”). In this passage, Addison is using the term “Wit” in positive manner. The women that this Beau is interacting with think that he is a “learned, clever, or intellectual person” (“wit, n.”). A “Wit” is a type of man that Addison would consider to be a “real man”, since he is intelligent, talented, and capable of reason and conversing intelligently. Here, the Beau is impersonating a Wit. He is acting, dressing, and eating like he is supposed to, but he is eventually killed for “tendering some Civitlites” to another man’s wife. Addison argues that a Beau can try to act and become a “real man”, but he is inherently not, and will never be, a “proper gentleman”. A Beau has the brain of Beau, and not the brain of a gentleman, so he can never truly become a “real man”, and eventually, he will expose himself.

[17] I find it interesting that Addison neglects to include a dissection of a female body part. In the two passages in The Spectator, the Operator dissects both a brain and a heart, but both of these organs have come from men. I do not think that Addison is particularly concerned with the contents of a woman’s organs, as he does not view men and women as equally interesting. Addison prefers to study a Beau’s brain or a Coquet’s heart in order to investigate what makes them different from “real men”. Addison views men as superior to women, therefore they deserved to be studied and women do not.

Works Cited:

“beau, adj. and n.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, Accessed 24 September 2018

“coquet, adj. and n.1.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, Accessed 24 September 2018.

“No. 275.” The Spectator. in The Commerce of Everyday Life: Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator. ed. Erin Mackie. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998. 528-531.

“Pineal Gland.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 8 Jan. 2015, Accessed 24 September 2018.

Rogers, Pat. “Addison, Joseph (1672–1719).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 28 May 2015, Accessed 24 September 2018.

“wit, n.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, Accessed 24 September 2018.

Picture Citations

Dighton, Richard. “1805 Caricature of Brummell.” Artlark,, 2018, Accessed 24 September 2018.

“Joseph Addison (1672–1719), and Sir Richard Steele (1672–1729).” Art UK, The Public Catalogue Foundation, 2018, Accessed 24 September 2018.

“Pineal Gland – Medial View.” Kenhub, Kenhub, 2018, Accessed 24 September 2018.

“The Spectator .” The British Library , The British Library Board, 2018, Accessed 24 September 2018.