Johann Kaspar Lavater

Johann Kaspar Lavater

1741–1801, Swiss theologian and mystic. He wrote several books on metaphysics, but he is chiefly remembered for his work on physiognomy, the art of determining character from facial characteristics.

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Johann Kaspar Lavater Quotes

Action, looks, words, steps, form the alphabet by which you may spell character.

Conscience is the sentinel of virtue.

Don't speak evil of someone if you don't know for certain, and if you do know ask yourself, why am I telling it?

Have you ever seen a pedant with a warm heart?

He submits to be seen through a microscope, who suffers himself to be caught in a fit of passion.

He who has no taste for order, will be often wrong in his judgment, and seldom considerate or conscientious in his actions.

He who seldom speaks, and with one calm well-timed word can strike dumb the loquacious, is a genius or a hero.

Him, who incessantly laughs in the street, you may commonly hear grumbling in his closet.

I am prejudiced in favor of him who, without impudence, can ask boldly. He has faith in humanity, and faith in himself. No one who is not accustomed to giving grandly can ask nobly and with boldness.

If you wish to appear agreeable in society, you must consent to be taught many things which you know already.

Intuition is the clear conception of the whole at once.

Mistrust the person who finds everything good, and the person who finds everything evil, and mistrust even more the person who is indifferent to everything.

The craftiest trickery are too short and ragged a cloak to cover a bad heart.

The great rule of moral conduct is next to God, respect time.

The jealous are possessed by a mad devil and a dull spirit at the same time.

The prudent see only the difficulties, the bold only the advantages, of a great enterprise; the hero sees both; diminishes the former and makes the latter preponderate, and so conquers.

There are three classes of men; the retrograde, the stationary and the progressive.

Trust him not with your secrets, who, when left alone in your room, turns over your papers.

Who makes quick use of the moment is a genius of prudence.

You are not very good if you are not better than your best friends imagine you to be.

You may tell a man thou art a fiend, but not your nose wants blowing; to him alone who can bear a thing of that kind, you may tell all.

Quotes originally compiled by

Johann Kaspar Lavater Biography

Johann Kaspar Lavater (November 15, 1741 - January 2, 1801), was a poet and physiognomist.

He was born at Zürich, and educated at the Gymnasium there, where J. J. Bodmer and J. J. Breitinger were among his teachers. When barely twenty-one, he greatly distinguished himself by denouncing, in conjunction with his friend, the painter Henry Fuseli, an iniquitous magistrate, who was compelled to make restitution of his ill-gotten gains.

In 1769 Lavater took Holy Orders, and officiated till his death as deacon or pastor in churches in his native city. His oratorical fervour and genuine depth of conviction gave him great personal influence; he was extensively consulted as a casuist, and was welcomed with enthusiasm on his journeys through Germany. His mystical writings were also widely popular.

In the same year of 1769 Lavater tried to convert Moses Mendelssohn to Christianity, by sending him a translation of Charles Bonnet's Palingenesie philosophique, and demanding that he either publickly refute Bonnet's arguments or convert. Mendelssohn refused to do either. In this affair many prominent intellectuals took Mendelssohn's side - among them Lichtenberg and Herder.

Lavater's name would now be forgotten but for his work on physiognomy, Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe (1775-1778). The fame of this book, which found admirers in France and England as well as in Germany, rests upon the handsome style of publication and the accompanying illustrations. The two principal sources from which Lavater developed his study of physiognomy were from the writings of the Italian polymath Giambattista della Porta and the observations made by Sir Thomas Browne in his Religio Medici (translated into German in 1748 and praised by Lavater).

As a poet, Lavater published Christliche Lieder (1776-1780) and two epics, Jesus Messias (1780) and Joseph von Arimathia (1794), in the style of Klopstock. More important and characteristic of the religious temperament of Lavater's age are his introspective Aussichten in die Ewigkeit (4 vols. 1768-1778); Geheimes Tagebuch von einem Beobachter seine selbst (2 vols., 1772-1773) and Pontius Pilatus, oder der Mensch in allen Gestalten (4 vols., 1782-1785).

From 1774 on, Goethe was intimately acquainted with Lavater, but later he fell out with him, accusing him of superstition and hypocrisy. Lavater had a mystic's indifference to historical Christianity, and, although regarded as a champion of orthodoxy, was in fact only an antagonist of rationalism.

During the later years of his life his influence waned, and he incurred ridicule by his vanity. His patriotic conduct during the French occupation of Switzerland brought about his tragic death. On the taking of Zürich by the French in 1799, Lavater, while endeavouring to appease the aggressors, was shot by an infuriated grenadier; he died over a year later, after long sufferings borne with great fortitude.

Lavater himself published two collections of his writings, Vermischte Schriften (2 vols., 1774-1781), and Kleinere prosaische Schriften (3 vols., 1784-1785). His Nachgelassene Schriften were edited by G. Gessner (5 vols., 1801-1802); Sämtliche Werke (poems only) (6 vols., 1836-1838); Ausgewählte Schriften (8 vols., 1841-1844). See G Gessner, Lavaters Lebensbeschreibung (3 vols., 1802—1803); U. Hegner, Beiträge zur Kenntnis Lavaters (1836); F. W. Bodemann, Lavater nach seinem Leben, Lehren und Wirken (1856; 2nd ed., 1877); F. Muocker, J. K. Lavater (1883); H. Waser, J. K. Lavater nach Hegners Aufzeichnungen (1894); J. K. Lavater, Denkschrift zum 100. Todestag (1902).

(For more information see Wikipedia)


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