The Art and Nature of Graphology

SOME years ago I became interested in the way in which a friend of mine analyzed signatures so as to disclose the characteristics of the writers. The results were so amazingly accurate as to excite my wonder and admiration, especially as most of the signatures were those of people whom he had never seen, and of whom he had not the slightest knowledge. The sequel to my admiration was a study of the art of graphology by the only possible method: the analysis of the signatures of the people whom I knew passing well, that I might detect in their autographs the reflection of familiar traits and characteristics. I found that there were many books written on the subject, but they merely led me astray, because in general they contained only a lot of rules, and I soon discovered that you cannot confine and compass the peculiarities and manifestations of human nature within such exact and definite limits. As I went on I realized that the signature had first to be studied as a complete entity, and that detailed analysis was a secondary function. The autograph, like its owner, has character and personality. Moreover, there is some dominant trait that stands out in bold relief: some peculiarity, some phase of temperament or of mentality, which is often the key to the puzzle or unwinds the tangled skein.

The procedure, as I followed it, became tremendously logical, though often it dealt with a most elusive and indefinite material. It was something more than a coincidence that treachery, deviousness, and all the evil ways of lying and deceit were easily known by fine-spun, winding lines which recalled to me the Hindu proverb that surely the trail of the snake is always crooked. Rules, however, were of no avail here, for sinuosities, which in the business man’s nature were symptomatic of underhand ways, frequently meant nothing more in the autograph of the lawyer or doctor than indifference to good penmanship, or haste and carelessness in writing. But, the strong rising signature is a sure indication of ambition, courage, and determination, just as the one that drops steadily tells of indwelling melancholy and discouragement.

Early in my study I was surprised to discover in some of my friends the possession of qualities that I had never suspected in all my long acquaintance. One instance is that of a young woman who was especially noted for her unfailing good humor and high spirits, yet the steady downward droop of her signature told an entirely different tale. Upon questioning her, she admitted the truth of my analysis and was greatly surprised that it was possiblefor her signature to betray the presence of a melancholy strain in her disposition which, she thought, was effectually hidden from all.

Another instance is that of a man with whom I was casually associated in business for many years, and whom I thought of as a creature of figures, expert in the casting-up of sales and receipts. By mere accident I analyzed his signature one day, and was surprised to discover in the capital letters the revelation of a thorough understanding of form and harmony, and an imaginative appreciation of art and nature: comprehension, rather than the ability to create, though the difference is often one of degree rather than of kind. This sympathetic understanding is not infrequent in cultivated and intelligent people, and is generally recognized by the limitation in the beauty and originality of the curves of the capital letters as contrasted with the boldness of expression found in the signature of the creative artist. Tennyson, Byron, and Burns are examples which come most readily to my mind. The truth seems to be that signatures are unconscious betrayals of ourselves, and therein lies their interest as indices of character. This is not true of handwriting to anything like the same degree, nor are the reasons far to seek. We are apt to make efforts to improve our handwriting so that it may be at least legible. But we rarely take thought concerning our signature although doubtless we have an unconscious desire to make it characteristic of ourselves in some fashion, we know not how. Hence, as we emerge from childhood and youth it gradually shapes itself along the lines of our thoughts and desires. Unlike our tones, our manner, our bearing, our conversation, it is expressed entirely without concealment, and without our being on our guard, as it never occurs to us that a signature in any way betrays us, or reveals that which we would keep secret. Thus it is even more indicative of our personality than the voice, since in conversation we constantly cultivate and assume certain tones, accents, and manners of speech which are not native to us. In this way the signature becomes the crystallized expression of our inborn traits and characteristics, and registers but slowly those which we often seek to acquire with patient care and purpose. This has always seemed to me to indicate that such acquirements are after all but the suits and trappings of our character and often go no deeper.

In comparing signatures of the same person written years apart, the changes are almost invariably found to be the result of evolution and development, not of addition and superficial acquisition. I remember the autographs, written three years apart, of a distinguished violinist whom I knew well. The record was merely the confirmation of my own observation at the concerts which I had attended during these years: a marked growth both in artistic conception and execution, and in breadth of understanding and sympathy. Yet the germ of these things was all in the earlier signature, much as was the primordial atomic globule of our race in the beginning of evolution. Conversely, I have had some unpleasant experiences in watching the growth in wealth and power of those whose early signatures gave a dark hint of the Old Adam of selfishness and insincerity which had not been baptized out of them, and which became stronger and more pronounced with years and success. It is something more than a literary analogy that the leopard cannot change his spots, and I have pondered much upon our responsibility for those seeds of evil in us, sown through no fault of ours.

In all matters of detail it is the logic of the evidence that most impresses me. Crossing your t’s and dotting your i's is the natural sign manual of carefulness and precision. The interest for the graphologist lies in the discovery that the way in which such things are done tells whether the carefulness is born in you, or merely acquired in after life. There is a certain perfunctoriness about the latter method that never equals the deliberation and naturalness of what you do unconsciously and because you cannot help it. If the small a’s and o’s are open at the top it is a fairly good indication that you have some of the milk of human kindness in you. Contrariwise, it is more than probable that Old Scrooge wrote a small, close-fisted hand, with the small a’s and o’s hermetically sealed at the top. A signature that is written continuously, without pause, naturally tells of logic and continuity of thought and, sometimes, of an impatient and irritable temperament as well. The nature of temperament is shown in the level of the line on which the signature is written. Unevenness, whether up or down, indicates only too truly whether the temperament moves to a rising or falling inflection; the even-tempered and self-contained go on an even keel. Singularly enough, temporary and passing fits of depression often leave fleeting impressions upon the handwriting though but rarely upon the signature.

If capital letters tell of the possession of imagination, or of its absence, they also tell of that fancy which so many mistake for the creative instinct. This is shown by a lack of originality and beauty in the capitals, and is most often found in the signatures of women. It tells of day dreams, of things which we vainly believe that we could accomplish, had we only opportunity, and it is as much a matter of temperament as of mentality; moreover it is something that the writers are usually very shy of confessing. They seem loath to have their fond fancies dragged into the light of day. Likewise, do capital letters tell of pride in all its degrees and ramifications — from that pride which caused Satan to fall from Heaven, to that which seeks to be judged only by its deportment, after the fashion of Mr. Turveydrop. To attempt to recite all the hints and suggestions of evidence that you gather from the details of the autograph is to have the sun go down upon the tale. After all they are not the main themes, but rather its incidental divertisements. Your knowledge comes not from the solution of minute details, but rather from an understanding of the spirit which the writing portrays. You hold the key to the inner meaning of the cuneiform inscription which lies before you, not through the separate analysis of the individual factors, but through the relation which they bear to the whole, and the way in which they are colored and affected by the personality of the writer. Graphology is not the painstaking determination of the value of unknown quantities in an algebraic formula. The task is not so simple as that.

In the beginning you get only a few ‘leads’ and indications, and upon this comparatively small foundation you construct the fabric of your characterization. There is much of deduction and induction. Certain characteristics indicate the possession of certain other characteristics. Most determined and ambitious men are not overburdened with scruples, nor with consideration for others, when their own interests are at stake; while the pure in heart, and you sometimes run across them, have charity and thoughtfulness, and all the traits which go with those who see God. Then, too, your signs and evidences are not invariable in their meaning, but are modified by the other traits with which they are associated. Pride in the conceited man is a far different matter from pride in the fine spirit who desires to be judged only for the things for which he stands. The indications for obstinacy, blind and unreasoning, in a signature, are much the same as those for unyielding determination in matters of faith and conviction. It is the difference in the association with other traits which makes the distinction so vital. Like all puzzles, the analysis of the signature opens up wide vistas when once you have arrived at the main components of the matter, and it is not difficult to go on to great refinements of definition and description. If you are quite sure of yourself in deduction, induction, and observation, you need not hesitate in your conclusions. I recall more than one instance where the writer of the signature manifested a profound love for lyric poetry, because of the obvious appreciation and understanding of harmony and rhythm set forth in the general character of the signature, especially in the capital letters. If it were a man, Burns was generally his peculiar admiration; if a woman, it was apt to be Tennyson, or Mrs. Browning. So, too, it not infrequently happens that I can say with entire assurance, of some woman, that her bedroom is a thing of beauty and good taste, with bits of color here and there, and with her wardrobe arranged neatly in that feminine fashion which is beyond a man’s understanding. All this is an easy deduction from the sense of form, color, and arrangement, that permeates the signature.

It is difficult to describe on the printed page how certain forms of writing indicate such traits and characteristics as I have spoken of. Yet the most unimaginative can easily see the connection when it is pointed out in the handwriting. For instance, there is usually, though not always, marked and profound difference between the signatures of men and women, and this difference emphasizes the equally profound and fundamental difference between the sexes. It is very rarely that one is in doubt as to the sex of the writer. Yet to endeavor to put the difference on paper intelligibly, is to attempt a task that would probably involve the student in one of those fogs of words that mark Algernon Blackwood’s latest mystery stories. Again, although most women’s signatures are very feminine, there is a very wide distinction between the feminity of the flapper, and that of the mother of the family; and the writing does not fail to indicate it.

Some thirty years ago, when I first essayed the study of graphology, the greatest puzzle I found in women’s signatures was their apparent lack of individuality; they were too much cast in the same mould. They would have been more easily decipherable had they run less true to sex. That I rarely encounter this difficulty now is, I believe, a mute testimony to the extent and rapidity of woman’s emancipation in the last generation. I still encounter this obstacle in the signatures of many Europeans whose individual expression seems smothered and concealed by the burden of tradition and inheritance.

Of even greater interest than traits and characteristics are the revelations of hopes, desires, and aspirations that the writing discloses. You discover them in most unexpected surroundings, and with strange and apparently uncongenial associates. Artistic conceptions and understandings in the autographs of business men, whom you have always thought of in connection with the prayer of the Pirates of Penzance: all they asked was life, without one touch of poetry. An inextinguishable, though seemingly dormant, love of beauty and color and form in Nature, in personalities who, you thought, worshiped only the God of things as they are, and not as they should be. Suppressed Freudian desires and ambitions, sometimes suppressed because of lack of opportunity or of money. In a married woman with many children we may discover, carefully concealed, the thought of the actress or the singer that she knew she might have been but for the man whom she had chosen instead and who never even suspected her fond regret. You often suspect the existence of the regret, without giving it definite form or nature; but when you tell the writers of your discovery, they rarely ever deny it, either because it does not seem worth while, or because they are not sorry to have a confidant. You get a fleeting glimpse of a human entity that is all new to you, and more interesting than before. Nor do you soon forget the irreparable tragedy of a matter that it is too late to do anything about. Yet often to the principal actor in the drama it does not bear so serious an aspect, save for the passing moment; for time is a great consoler. But to the onlooker this makes the tragedy all the worse. Not infrequently the tragedy becomes pathetic because it is nothing more substantial than the hopes of those who lack purpose and ability to make those hopes realities, even had they both opportunity and the necessary wherewithal. You get hints and evidences of such matters from half-formed or undeveloped artistic traits and characteristics, touches of imaginative ability and conception, poetic formations of the letters, or hints of the love of form, color, and harmony, cropping out here and there throughout the signature.

In all the matters which I have set forth there is nothing that is not easily susceptible of logical explanation, nothing that is ‘uncanny,’ or mysterious. It is not difficult to explain to an intelligent person how your conclusions are reached, and how perfectly logical is the entire process, although, like everything else, it requires a certain fitness and experience for its successful outcome.

There is another phase of the matter concerning which I have never been able to do more than conjecture. It is in no way a part of the study of graphology, as generally pursued, and I have never known but two other people besides myself who exercised it. It is the ability to deduce from a signature some of the physical characteristics of the writer, although he may be an entire stranger to you, and you may never have seen or heard of him. The description is not a photograph, but rather the perception of certain physical traits, or peculiarities, which are readily recognized by those familiar with the person in question.

The incredulity with which this statement is always received is equaled only by the puzzled surprise at the actual performance. Obviously, he who essays this task cannot afford to make so much as a single mistake, or he is thoroughly discredited. I never have the slightest concern in my own case, and am absolutely sure of my ground for there is never any doubt of what I see. In analyzing any signature there must come to me first the vision of the writer, else I am not confident of my accuracy and do not attempt to proceed, for at such times the spirits summoned from the vasty deep refuse to come. Once I carried in my pocket the signature of a man who, I afterwards learned, was generally regarded as a sphinx, but who gave up all his secrets when there suddenly dawned upon me the somewhat nebulous vision of a close-lipped being with eyes severe, and a firm tread that told of determination and resolve. Such visions are indefinite, save as to those traits and peculiarities which stand out boldly, and which are all that you see clearly. The things that you see, probably in your mind’s eye, vary greatly in different people and apparently without rhyme or reason, though they have one common denominator in that they are always most characteristic and easily recognizable. Sometimes, as in the gait or bearing, they are directly inferred from some peculiarity in the signature; but usually they have no connection with anything in the writing. The nature of the walk is usually apparent, whether a firm tread, or a swinging gait, or an uncertain motion. I recall one man who shuffled in his walk, and who also giggled a good deal, and whose teeth were not good. Nearly always you get an impression of the mouth, whether full-or close-lipped, or weak, or firm-set, and constantly of the teeth, as to whether they are good or the reverse. Also of the eyes, whether restless, or steady, or of a fixed gaze from under beetling brows.

Cordial hand grasps are usually easy of detection, as are unusually charming smiles.

Sometimes tricks of manner are most prominent, as of looking knives at you out of the corner of the eyes, like the French maid in Bleak House; or putting a hand upon your arm in earnest conversation. Not infrequently you see some fashion of dress in a woman, that differs from the ordinary. I remember one young woman in those remote days when they wore long skirts, who picked up her dress in crossing the street in such an unusual manner as to attract attention. I could not describe what the peculiarity was only I knew that it was there.

Occasionally you can tell whether the person wears glasses, and the kind of headgear he affects.

Some personal peculiarities that you see have no connection whatever with anything in the signature, as far as you can discover, and yet they stand out vividly. One man carried a cane which he was always dropping and picking up. Another walked a little lame in his right leg. Another slammed things around in his fits of temper, which description much amused his wife who gave me his signature to analyze. Another man looked straight at you while you talked, and worked his mouth in a peculiar manner while he listened.

Of late years I have found that you get the same results from the voice that you do from the signature; that is, by talking over the telephone with one who is an entire stranger to you in every way. But that is another story.

Now I am not so much concerned in producing evidence for such matters as I have set forth — though it is available — and thus preserving my reputation for veracity, as I am in finding the raison d’être of the entire matter. What is the connection between that signature and the physical appearance which I deduce from the writing? Frankly, I do not know, nor have I the slightest idea how the deduction is made, though I am always equally sure of the correctness of such deduction. There is, of course, nothing mysterious about it, other than that anything is mysterious which we do not understand; usually because it is beyond our ken.

It has occurred to me, however, that I have unconsciously reversed our usual method of judging people, which is to infer certain mental and temperamental traits from their physical appearance. In other words, having deduced certain mental peculiarities from a physical signature, it is perfectly logical to associate them with corresponding physical characteristics, even though I am not conscious of the process by which I arrive at such conclusions.

This naturally leads to the conclusion to which I have come from this study; that our physical and mental being is one and indivisible, and not two separate and distinct things. We are gross mentally, and that is why we are gross physically; and the reverse is equally true. We are not separate entities, but a concrete whole in the same shell, alike and indissoluble, at least so far as this world is concerned.

If this is so, then much antiquated philosophy can be laid on the shelf, and we need not excuse ourselves by laying the blame on the weakness of the flesh, when in truth the mind is most industrious in conceiving the mischief. If there be not such intimate connection, what else can be the explanation of the discerning and telling of physical things when only mental and temperamental matters arc presented to you and within your ken!