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Excerpts from

How To Read Human Nature:
Its Inner States and Outer Forms
by William Walker Atkinson

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Book Description
Instead of studying the philosophy or metaphysics of character, or even its general psychology, in this particular volume the author directs our attention to the elements which go to form the character of each and every person, so that we may understand them when we meet them in manifested form, and lets us learn the Outer Form which ac­company these Inner States. This illustrated ebook edition contains 145 pages.



"Human Nature" is a term most fre­quently used and yet but little understood. The average person knows in a general way what he and others mean when this term is employed, but very few are able to give an off hand definition of the term or to state what in their opinion constitutes the real es­sence of the thought expressed by the famil­iar phrase. We are of the opinion that the first step in the process of correct under­standing of any subject is that of acquaint­ance with its principal terms, and, so, we shall begin our consideration of the subject of Human Nature by an examination of the term used to express the idea itself.

"Human," of course, means "of or per­taining to man or mankind". Therefore, Human Nature means the nature of man or mankind. "Nature", in this usage, means: "The natural disposition of mind of any per­son; temper; personal character; individual constitution; the peculiar mental character­istics and attributes which serve to distin­guish one person from another."

Thus we see that the essence of the nature of men, or of a particular human being, is the mind, the mental qualities, characteris­tics, properties and attributes. Human Nature is then a phase of psychology and subject to the laws, principles and meth­ods of study, examination and consider-ation of that particular branch of science.

But while the general subject of psychology includes the consideration of the inner work­ings of the mind, the processes of thought, the nature of feeling, and the operation of the will, the special subject of Human Na­ture is concerned only with the question of character, disposi-tion, temperament, per­sonal attributes, etc., of the individuals mak­ing up the race of man. Psychology is gen­eral—Human Nature is particular. Psychol­ogy is more or less abstract—Human Nature is concrete. Psychology deals with laws, causes and principles—Human Nature deals with effects, manifestations, and expressions.

Human Nature expresses itself in two general phases, i.e., (1) the phase of Inner States; and (2) the phase of Outer Forms. These two phases, however, are not separate or opposed to each other, but are complemen­tary aspects of the same thing. There is al­ways an action and reaction between the In­ner State and the Outer Form—between the Inner Feeling and the Outer Expression. If we know the particular Inner State we may infer the appropriate Outer Form; and if we know the Outer Form we may infer the In­ner State.

That the Inner State affects the Outer Form is a fact generally acknowledged by men, for it is in strict accor-dance with the general experience of the race. We know that certain mental states will result in im­parting to the countenance certain lines and expressions appropriate thereto; certain pe­culiarities of carriage and manner, voice and demeanor. The facial characteristics, man­ner, walk, voice and gestures of the miser will be recognized as entirely different from that of the generous person; those of the coward differ materially from those of the brave man; those of the vain are distinguished from those of the modest. We know that certain mental attitudes will produce the correspond­ing physical expressions of a smile, a frown, an open hand, a clenched fist, an erect spine or bowed shoulders, respectively. We also know that certain feelings will cause the eye to sparkle or grow dim, the voice to become resonant and positive or to become husky and weak; according to the nature of the feelings.

Prof. Wm. James says: "What kind of emotion of fear would be left if the feeling neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible for me to think. Can one fancy the state of rage and picture no ebullition in the chest, no flushing of the face, no dilation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth, no impulse to vigor­ous action, but in their stead limp muscles, calm breathing, and a placid face?"

Prof. Halleck says: "All the emotions have well-defined muscular expression. Dar­win has written an excellent work entitled, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, to which students must refer for a detailed account of such expression. A very few examples must suffice here. In all the ex­hilarating emotions, the eyebrows, the eye­lids, the nostrils, and the angles of the mouth are raised. In the depressing passions it is the reverse. This general statement conveys so much truth, that a careful observer can read a large part of the history of a human being written in the face. For this reason many phrenologists have wisely turned phys­iognomists. Grief is expressed by raising the inner ends of the eyebrows, drawing down the corners of the mouth, and trans­versely wrinkling the middle part of the fore­head. In Terra del Fuego, a party of na­tives conveyed to Darwin the idea that a certain man was low-spirited, by pulling down their cheeks in order to make their faces long. Joy is expressed by drawing back­ward and upward the corners of the month. The upper lip rises and draws the cheeks up­ward, forming wrinkles under the eyes. The elevation of the upper lip and the nostrils ex­presses contempt. A skillful observer can frequently tell if one person admires another. In this case, the eyebrows are raised, disclos­ing a brightening eye and a relaxed expres­sion; sometimes a gentle smile plays about the mouth. Blushing is merely the physical expression of certain emotions. We notice the expression of emotion more in the counte­nance, because the effects are there more plainly visible; but the muscles of the entire body, the vital organs, and the viscera, are also vehicles of expression.''

These things need but a mention in order to be recognized and admitted. This is the action of the Inner upon the Outer. There is, however, a reaction of the Outer upon the Inner, which while equally true is not so gen­erally recognized nor admitted, and we think it well to briefly call your attention to the same, for the reason that this correspondence between the Inner and the Outer—this reac­tion as well as the action—must be appre­ciated in order that the entire meaning and content of the subject of Human Nature may be fully grasped.

That the reaction of the Outer Form upon the Inner State may be understood, we ask you to consider the following opinions of well-known and accepted authorities of the New Psychology, regarding the established fact that a physical expression related to a mental state, will, if voluntarily induced, tend to in turn induce the mental state ap­propriate to it. We have used these quota­tions in other books of this series, but will insert them here in this place because they have a direct bearing upon the particular sub­ject before us, and because they furnish di­rect and unquestioned authority for the statements just made by us. We ask you to consider them carefully, for they express a most important truth.

Prof. Halleck says: "By inducing an ex­pression we can often cause its allied emo­tion… Actors have frequently testi­fied to the fact that emotion will arise if they go through the appropriate muscular move­ments. In talking to a character on the stage, if they clench the fist and frown, they often find themselves becoming really angry, if they start with counterfeit laughter, they find themselves growing cheerful. A German professor says that he cannot walk with a schoolgirl’s mincing step and air without feeling frivolous."

Prof. Wm. James says: "Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. If we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those con­trary disposit-ions which we wish to cultivate. Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must in­deed be frigid if it does not gradually thaw."

Dr. Wood Hutchinson, says: "To what extent muscular contractions condition emo­tions, as Prof. James has suggested, may be easily tested by a quaint and simple little ex­periment upon a group of the smallest volun­tary muscles of the body, those that move the eyeball. Choose some time when you are sitting quietly in your room, free from all disturbing influences. Then stand up, and assuming an easy position, cast the eyes up­ward and hold them in that position for thirty seconds. Instantly and involuntarily, you will be conscious of a tendency toward reverential, devotional, contemplative ideas and thoughts. Then turn the eyes sideways, glancing directly to the right or to the left, through half-closed lids. Within thirty sec­onds images of suspicion, of uneasiness, or of dislike will rise unbidden to the mind. Turn the eyes on one side and slightly downward, and suggestions of jealousy or coquetry will be apt to spring unbidden. Direct your gaze downward toward the floor, and you are likely to go off into a fit of reverie or ab­straction. ''

Prof. Maudsley says: "The specific mus­cular action is not merely an exponent of pas­sion, but truly an essential part of it. If we try while the features are fixed in the expres­sion of one passion to call up in the mind a different one, we shall find it impossible to do so.

We state the fact of the reaction of the Outer upon the Inner, with its supporting quotations from the authorities, not for the purpose of instructing our readers in the art of training the emotions by means of the physical, for while this subject is highly im­portant, it forms no part of the particular subject under our present consideration—but that the student may realize the close rela­tionship existing between the Inner State and the  Outer  Form. These two elements   or phases, in their constant action and reaction, manifest the phenomena of Human Nature, and a knowledge of each, and both give to us the key which will open for us the door of the understanding of Human Nature.

Let us now call your attention to an illustration which embodies both principles—that of the Inner and the Outer—and the action and reaction between them, as given by that master of subtle ratiocination, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe in his story "The Purloined Let­ter" tells of a boy at school who attained great proficiency in the game of "even or odd" in which one player strives to guess whether the marbles held in the hand of his opponent are odd or even. The boy's plan was to gauge the intelligence of his opponent regarding the matter of making changes, and as Poe says: "this lay in mere observation and admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents." Poe describes the process as fol­lows: "For example, an arrant simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are they even or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd', and loses; but upon the second trial he wins, for he then says to himself, 'the simpleton had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I will therefore guess odd;'—he guesses and wins. Now, with a simple­ton a degree above the first, he would have reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and, in the second, he will propose to himself upon the first impulse, a simple variation from even to odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting it even as before. I will there­fore guess even;' he guesses even and wins."

Poe continues by stating that this "is merely an identification of the reasoner's in­tellect with that of his opponent. Upon in­quiring of the boy by what means he effected the thorough identification in which his suc­cess consisted, I received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accu­rately as possible in accordance with the ex­pression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression'. This response of the school boy lies at the bottom of all the spurious pro­fundity which has been attributed to Roche­foucauld, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campa-nella."

In this consideration of Human Nature we shall have much to say about the Outer Form. But we must ask the reader to always remem­ber that the Outer Form is always the expres­sion and manifestation of the Inner State, be that Inner State latent and dormant within the depths of the subconscious mentality, or else active and dynamic in conscious expres­sion. Just as Prof. James so strongly in­sists, we cannot imagine an inner feeling or emotion without its corresponding outward physical expression, so is it impossible to imagine the outward expressions generally associated with a particular feeling or emotion without its corresponding inner state. Whether or not one of these, the outer or in­ner, is the cause of the other—and if so, which one is the cause and which the effect—need not concern us here. In fact, it would seem more reasonable to accept the theory that they are correlated and appear simultane­ously. Many careful thinkers have held that action and reaction are practically the same thing—merely the opposite phases of the same fact. If this be so, then indeed when we are studying the Outer Form of Human Nature we are studying psychology just as much as when we are studying the Inner States. Prof. Wm. James in his works upon psychology insists upon the relevancy of the consideration of the outward expressions of the inner feeling and emotion, as we have seen. The same authority speaks even more emphatically upon this phase of the subject, as follows:

"The feeling, in the coarser emotions, re­sults from the bodily expression… My theory is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion… Particu­lar perceptions certainly do produce wide­spread bodily effects by a sort of immediate physical influence, antecedent to the arousal of an emotion or   emotional idea… Every one of the bodily changes, whatsoever it may be, is felt, acutely or obscurely, the moment it occurs… If we fancy some strong emotion,  and then try  to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its bodily symptoms, we have nothing left behind… A disembodied human emo­tion is a sheer nonentity. I do not say that it is a contradiction in the nature of things, or  that  pure  spirits  are necessarily  con­demned to cold intellectual lives; but I say that for us emotion disassociated from all bodily feeling is inconceivable. The more closely I scrutinize my states, the more per­suaded I become that whatever 'coarse' af­fections and passions I have are in very truth constituted by, and made up of, those bodily changes which we ordinarily call their ex­pression or consequence… But our emotions must always be inwardly what they are, whatever may be the physiological ground of their apparition. If they are deep, pure, worthy, spiritual facts on any con­ceivable theory of their physiological source, they remain no less deep, pure, spiritual, and worthy of regard on this present sensational theory.''

Kay says: "Does the mind or spirit of man, whatever it may be, in its actings in and through the body, leave a material im­pression or trace in its structure of every conscious action it performs, which remains permanently fixed, and forms a material record of all that it has done in the body, to which it can afterward refer as to a book and recall to mind, making it again, as it were, present to it?... We find nature every­where around us recording its movements and marking the changes it has undergone in material forms,—in the crust of the earth, the composition of the rocks, the structure of the trees, the conformation of our bodies, and those spirits of ours, so closely connected with our material bodies, that so far as we know, they can think no thought, perform no action, without their presence and co-opera­tion, may have been so joined in order to preserve a material and lasting record of all that they think and do."

Marsh says: "Every human movement, every organic act, every volition, passion, or emotion, every intellectual process, is accom­panied with atomic disturbance." Picton says: "The soul never does one single action by itself apart from some excitement of bod­ily tissue.'' Emerson says: ''The rolling rock leaves its scratches on the mountain; the river its channel in the soil; the animal its bones in the stratum; the fern and leaf their modest epitaph in the coal. The falling drop makes its sculpture in the sand or stone… The ground is all memoranda and signatures, and every object covered over with hints which speak to the intelligent. In nature this self-registration is incessant." Morell says: "The mind depends for the manifestation of all its activities upon a ma­terial organism." Bain says: "The organ of the mind is not the brain by itself; it is the brain, nerve, muscles, organs of sense, vis­cera… It is uncertain how far even thought, reminiscence, or the emotions of the past and absent could be sustained without the more distant communication between the brain and the rest of the body." And, thus, as we consider the subject carefully we see that psychology is as much concerned with the physical mani-festations of the mental im­pulses and states as with the metaphysical aspect of those states—as much with the Outer Form as with the Inner State—for it is practically impossible to permanently sep­arate them.

As an illustration of the physical accom­paniment or Outer Form, of the psychical feeling or Inner State, the following quota­tion from Darwin's "Origin of the Emo­tions'', will well serve the purpose:

"Fear is often preceded by astonishment, and is so far akin to it that both lead to the senses of sight and hearing being instantly aroused. In both cases, the eyes and mouth are widely opened and the eyebrows raised. The frightened man at first stands like a statue, motionless and breathless, or crouches down as if instinctively to escape observa­tion. The heart beats quickly and violently, so that it palpitates or knocks against the ribs; but it is very doubtful if it then works more efficiently than usual, so as to send a greater supply of blood to all parts of the body; for the skin instantly becomes pale as during incipient faintness. This paleness of the surface, however, is probably in large part, or is exclusively, due to the vaso-motor centre being affected in such a manner as to cause the contraction of the small arteries of the skin. That the skin is much affected under the sense of great fear, we see in the marvelous manner in which perspiration im­mediately exudes from it. This exudation is all the more remarkable, as the surface is then cold, and hence the term, a cold sweat; whereas the sudorific glands are properly excited into action when the surface is heated. The hairs also on the skin stand erect, and the superficial muscles shiver. In connection with the disturbed action of the heart the breathing is hurried. The salivary glands act imperfectly; the mouth becomes dry and is often opened and shut. I have noticed that under slight fear there is a strong ten­dency to yawn. One of the best marked symptoms is the trembling of all the muscles of the body; and this is often seen in the lips.

From this cause, and from the dryness of the mouth, the voice becomes husky or indistinct or may altogether fail... As fear in­creases into an agony of terror, we behold, as under all violent emotions, diversified re­sults. The heart beats wildly or fails to act and faintness ensues; there is a death-like pallor; the breathing is labored; the wings of the nostrils are widely dilated; there is a gasping and convulsive motion of the lips; a tremor of the hollow cheek, a gulping and catching of the throat; the uncovered and protruding eyeballs are fixed on the object of terror; or they may roll restlessly from side to side. The pupils are said to be enor­mously dilated. All the muscles of the body may become rigid or may be thrown into con­vulsive movements. The hands are alterna­tely clenched and opened, often with a twitch­ing movement. The arms may be protruded as if to avert some dreadful danger, or may be thrown wildly over the head. The Rev. Mr. Hagenauer has seen this latter action in a terrified Australian. In other cases there is a sudden and uncontrolled tendency to headlong flight; and so strong is this that the boldest soldiers may be seized with a sudden panic.''

In conclusion, let us say that just as the above striking description  of  the master-scientist, Darwin, shows us that the particu­lar emotion has its outer manifestations—the particular Inner State its Outer Form—so has the general character of the person its outer manifestation, and Outer Form. And, just as to the eye of the experienced observer at a distance (even in the case of a photo­graphic representa-tion, particularly in the case of a moving picture) may recognize the Inner State from the Outer Form of the feel­ing or emotion, so may the experienced character reader interpret the whole char­acter of the person from the Outer Form thereof. The two interpretations are based on exactly the same general principles. The inner thought and feeling manifest in the outer physical form. He who learns the al­phabet of Outer Form may read page after page of the book of Human Nature.



Do you know what "character" is? The word itself, in its derivation and original usage, means: "a stamp, mark or sign, en­graved or stamped." As time passed the term was applied to the personal peculiarities of individuals, and was denned as: "the per­sonal qualities or attributes of a person; the distinguishing traits of a person. Later the term was extended to mean: "the part en­acted by anyone in a play".

In the common usage of the term we seek to convey an idea in which each and all of the above stated mean­ings are combined. A man's character is the result of impressions made upon his own mind, or those of the race. It is also the sum of his personal qualities and attributes. It is also, in a sense, the part he plays in the great drama of life.

Each man's character has its inner phase consisting of the accumulated impressions of the past which seek to manifest in the pres­ent. And, likewise, the character of each man manifests in an outer phase of form, mark, and stamp of personality. There are no two characters precisely alike. There is an infinite possibility of combination of the elements that go to make up character. This is accordance with what appears to be a uni­versal law of nature, for there are no two blades of grass exactly alike, nor two grains of sand bearing an exact resemblance to each other. Nature seems to seek after and to manifest variety of form and quality. But, still, just as we may classify all things, ani­mate and inanimate, into general classes and then into subordinate ones—each genus and each species having its particular character­istics, qualities and attributes, so we may, and do, classify human character into general classes and then into particular subdivisions into which each individual is found to fit. This fact makes it possible for us to study Human Nature as a science.

The character of each individual is held to be the result of the impressions made upon the plastic material of the mind, either in the form of past impressions upon his ancestors or of past impressions received by the individual. The  past  impressions reach him through the channel of heredity, while the personal impressions come to him through environment. But by heredity we do not mean the transmission of the personal char­acteristics of one's parents or even grand­parents, but something far deeper and broader. "We believe that one inherits far less of the qualities of one's parents than is generally  believed. But,   we  believe that much that goes to make up our character is derived from the associated qualities and im­pressions of many generations of ancestors. Inasmuch as each individual contains within him the transmitted qualities of nearly every individual who lived several thousand years ago, it may be said that each individual is an heir to the accumulated impressions of the race, which however  form  in  an  infinite variety of combinations, the result being that although the root of the race is the same yet each individual differs in combination from each other individual. As Luther Burbank has said: "Heredity means much, but what is heredity? Not some hideous ancestral specter, forever crossing the path of a human being. Heredity is simply the sum of all the effects of all the environments of all past gen­erations on the responsive ever-moving life-forces."

The records of the past environment of the race are stored away in the great region of the subconscious mentality, from whence they arise in response to the call of some at­tractive object of thought or perception, al­ways, however, modified and restrained by the opposite characteristics. As Prof. Elmer Gates has said: "At least ninety per cent of our mental life is sub-conscious. If you will analyze your mental operations you will find that conscious thinking is never a continu­ous line of consciousness, but a series of con­scious data with great intervals of sub-consciousness. We sit and try to solve a prob­lem and fail. We walk around, try again and fail. Suddenly an idea dawns that leads to a solution of the problem. The sub-conscious processes were at work. We do not volitionally create our own thinking. It takes place in us. We are more or less passive recip­ients. We cannot change the nature of a thought, or of a truth, but we can, as it were, guide the ship by a moving of the helm."

But character is dependent upon race in­heritance only for its raw materials, which are then worked into shape by the influence of environment and by the will of the indi­vidual. A man's environment is, to some ex­tent at least, dependent upon the will. A man may change his environment, and by the use of his will he may overcome many inherited tendencies. As Halleck well says: "Hered­ity is a powerful factor, for it supplies raw material for the will to shape. Even the will cannot make anything without material. Will acts through choice, and some kinds of en­vironment afford far more opportunities for choice than others. Shakespeare found in London the germ of true theatrical taste, al­ready vivified by a long line of miracle plays, moralities and interludes. In youth he con­nected himself with the theatre, and his will responded powerfully to his environment. Some surroundings are rich in suggestion, affording opportunity for choice, while others are poor. The will is absolutely confined to a choice between alternatives. Character then, is a resultant of will power, heredity and environment. The modern tendency is to overestimate the effects of heredity and environment in forming character; but, on the other hand, we must not underestimate them.     The child of a Hottentot  put  in Shakespeare's home, and   afterward sent away to London with him, would never have made a Shakespeare; for heredity would not have given the will sufficient raw material to fashion over into such a noble product. We may also suppose a case to show the great power of environment. Had a band of gyp­sies stolen Shakespeare at birth, carried him to Tartary, and left him among the nomads, his environment would never have allowed him to produce such plays as he placed upon the English stage."

Many persons are reluctant to admit the effect of heredity upon character. They seem to regard heredity as the idea of a monster ruling the individual with an iron hand, and with an emphasis upon undesirable traits of character. Such people lose sight of the fact that at the best heredity merely supplies us with the raw material of character rather than the finished product, and that there is much good in this raw material. We receive our inheritance of good as well as bad. De­prive a man of the advantage of his heredity, and we place him back to the plane of the savage, or perhaps still lower in the scale. Heredity is simply the shoulders of the race affording us a place for our feet, in order that we may rise higher than those who lived before. For heredity, substitute evolution, and we may get a clearer idea of this ele­ment of character.

As for environment, it is folly to deny its influence. Take two young persons of equal ability, similar tastes, and the game heredity, and place them one in a small village, and the other in a great metropolis, and keep them there until middle age, and we will see the influence of environment. The two may be equally happy and contented, and may possess the same degree of book education, but, never-theless, their experiences will have been so different that the character of the two individuals must be different. In the same way, place the two young persons, one in the Whitechapel district, and the other amidst the best surroundings and example, and see the result. Remember, that in environment is included the influence of other persons. The effect of environment arises from Sug­gestion, that great moulding and creative principle of the mind. It is true that, "As a man thinketh, so is he," but a man's thoughts depend materially upon the associations of environment, experience, and suggestion. As Ziehen says: "We cannot think as we will, but we must think as just those associations which happen to be present prescribe."

But, without going further into the ques­tion of the elements which go toward form­ing character, let us take our position firmly upon the fact that each individual is stamped with the impression of a special character—a character all his own. Each has his own character or part to play in the great drama of life. The character of some seems fixed and unchangeable, while that of others is seen to be in the process of change. But in either case each and every man has his own char­acter or manifestation of Human Nature, in its inner and outer aspects. And each in­dividual, while in a sense forming a special class by himself, nevertheless belongs to a larger class, which in turn is a part of a still larger, and so on.

Instead of studying the philosophy or metaphysics of character, or even its general psychology, let us in this particular volume devote our attention to the elements which go to form the character of each and every person, so that we may understand them when we meet them in manifested form. And let us learn the Outer Form which ac­company these Inner States.

Upon the stage of Life move backward and forward many characters, each having his or her own form, manner and appearance, which like those of the characters upon the mimic stage, may be recognized if we will but bestow a little care upon the subject. The Othellos, Hamlets, Shylocks, Iagos, Richards, Lears, and the rest are to be found in every­day life. The Micawbers, Chuzzlewits, Twists, and the rest are in as full evidence on the streets and in the offices, as in the books. The person who is able to read and interpret Human Nature is possessed of a knowledge far more useful to him than that contained within the covers of musty books upon impractical subjects.

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