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Brief history of graphology

French abbot and novelist, Hippolyte Michon (1806-1881), coined the term graphology in his first published book on handwriting analysis. However, people were scrutinising handwriting centuries before that.

The Roman historian, Suetonius, commented on the writing of the Emperor Octavius Augustus Caesar in 120 C.E: "One thing I have noticed about his handwriting is that he leaves no space between the words, and that, rather than carrying surplus letters forward from one line to the next, he places them immediately beneath the end of the line, and draws a line around them."

An 11th century Chinese philosopher, Kuo Jo-hsu, claimed that "handwriting always shows whether it is written by a noble or a peasant." We would not make such judgements today.

Although there was early interest in the subject, no other documents relating to graphology can be found before the 17th century. This is probably due to the fact that most people were illiterate and specially trained scribes were appointed to write down the thoughts of others in a colourless, official style. In 1609 a short passage appears in a French book by Francois Demelle. According to the author, there is "a way of comparing handwriting and signatures as a guide to practice, and as a way of detecting forgeries." He claimed that handwriting reveals a person's character just as well as physiognomony (the art of judging character from appearance, especially from the face).

A fascinating book published in the 17th century by the Italian Camillo Baldo made it clear that it is possible to study the relationship between personality and handwriting. Gottffried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646- 1716), the great German philosopher and mathematician, wrote: "With few exceptions, handwriting expresses, in one way or another, a person's natural temperament, unless it is the work of a master, and in some cases even then." In the late 18th century, encouraged by Goethe, Lavater collected and studied autographs. He aimed to draw the attention of the public to the striking similarity between carriage, language and handwriting. He published his findings in The Art of Knowing Men in 1775. In 1816 Hocquart published The Art of Judging the Character of Men through their Writing. This extremely rare book contains 24 plates and displays the handwriting of several notable people.

Various writers made all sorts of observations over the years, some laudable, others incredible. Eventually, Jules Crepieux-Jamin, a dentist from Rouen, published Practical Treatise on Graphology (undated) and Handwriting and Character (1899). He thoroughly sorted out, tidied up and classified all the known and verified personality traits. These two books were widely translated and triggered modern graphology as we know it today. Graphology quickly became a worthy subject to be studied scientifically and was carried forward by Max Pulver of Switzerland, Ludwig Klages of Germany, Robert Saudek, H. J. Jacoby and Klara Roman. The leading countries to study graphology have tended to concentrate in mainland Europe: Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland. North America has embraced it, particularly in relation to staff recruitment in business corporations.

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