John Bulwer  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

John Bulwer (baptised May 16, 1606 – buried October 16, 1656) was an English physician and early Baconian natural philosopher who wrote five works exploring the Body and human communication, particularly by gesture. He was the first person in England to propose educating deaf people, the plans for an Academy he outlines in Philocophus and The Dumbe mans academie.

Chirologia and Chironomia

Chironomia, Chirogram from Chirologia

Chirologia: or the naturall language of the hand. Composed of the speaking motions, and discoursing gestures thereof. Whereunto is added Chironomia: or, the art of manuall rhetoricke. Consisting of the naturall expressions, digested by art in the hand, as the chiefest instrument of eloquence. London: Thomas Harper. 1644.

Although issued as a single volume Chirologia and Chironomia have different pagination. Bulwer always referred to them as separate works but over time they have come to be seen as a single volume. Francis Bacon had described gestures as "Transient Hieroglyphics" and suggested that Gesture should be the focus of a new scientific enquiry, Bulwer was the first to undertake the task. For Bulwer Gesture was a universal character of Reason.
[The hand] “speaks all languages,and as universal character of Reason is generally understood and known by all Nations, among the formal differences of their Tongue. And being the only speech that is natural to Man, it may well be called the Tongue and General language of Human Nature, which, without teaching, men in all regions of the habitable world doe at the first sight most easily understand”

Chirologia is often cited as Bulwer’s link to later Deaf studies because it focuses on hand gestures which have come to be seen as the domain of deaf communication. In fact the book only mentions the deaf in passing. He believed it was Nature's recompense that deaf people should communicate through gesture, "that wonder of necessity that Nature worketh in men that are born deafe and dumb; who can argue and dispute rhetorically by signes" (page 5). The handshapes described in Chirologia are still used in British Sign Language. Bulwer does mention fingerspelling describing how "the ancients did...order an alphabet upon the joints of their fingers...showing those letters by a distinct and grammatical succession" , in addition to their use as mnemonic devices Bulwer suggest that manual alphabets could be "ordered to serve for privy ciphers for any secret intimation" (Chironomia, p149). Chirologia is a compendium of manual gestures, citing their meaning and use from a wide range of sources; literary, Religious and Medical. Chironomia is a manual for the effective use of Gesture in public speaking.




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