No sooner do I post about Auden and include 'The Fall of Rome' ('Cerebrotonic Cato may / Extol the Ancient Disciplines'), than up pops 'cerebrotonic' in another blog post.
'Cerebrotonic' sounds like an Auden coinage, but isn't. Here's the OED:
A. adj. Designating or characteristic of a type of personality which is introverted, intellectual, and emotionally restrained, classified by Sheldon as being associated with an ECTOMORPHIC physique. B. n. One having this type of personality. So cerebrotonia (-tn), cerebrotonic personality or characteristics.
1937 A. HUXLEY Ends & Means xi. 165 Dr. William Sheldon, whose classification [of types of human beings] in terms of somatotonic, viscerotonic and cerebrotonic I shall use. Ibid. xii. 193 The cerebrotonic is not such a ‘good mixer’ as the viscerotonic. 1940 W. H. SHELDON Var. Human Physique 8 In the economy of the cerebrotonic individual the sensory and central nervous systems appear to play dominant roles. 1945 A. HUXLEY Let. 2 Apr. (1969) 517 There was just enough of the somatotonic in his..cerebrotonic make-up to make him regret his cerebrotonia. 1950 Themes & Var. i. 121 Too secretively the introvert, too inhibitedly cerebrotonic, to be willing to take the risk of ‘giving himself away’. 1951 AUDEN Nones (1952) 28 Cerebrotonic Cato may Extol the Ancient Disciplines. 1954 R. FULLER Fantasy & Fugue iv. 75 You..unfortunately incline to the cerebrotonic ectomorphyou worry too much, you're too good looking, and you can't abandon yourself happily to booze.
I discovered his writings when I was 20, and trying to understand my own problems and potentialities better. Sheldon proposed what seems at first like a very simple way to measure body types. He isolates three basic components: fatness, muscularity and thinness, which he calls endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy. … "Ectomorphy means linearity, fragility, flatness of the chest, and delicacy throughout the body," he wrote. "We find a relatively scant development of both the visceral and the somatic structures. The ectomorph has long, slender, poorly muscled extremities with delicate pipe-stem bones, and he has, relative to his mass, the greatest surface area and therefore the greatest sensory exposure to the outside world. He is thus in one sense overly exposed and naked to the world." …
I'm a classic ectomorph, which means that by temperament I'm a cerebrotonic. In ectomorph-cerebrotonics, "the sensory-receptor properties are well developed. As a consequence however the central nervous system (CNS) is soon overloaded and rapidly tires. The cerebrotonic has the gift of concentrating his attention on the external world as well as on his internal world. His vigilance and autonomic reactivity make him behave in an inhibited and uncertain way: introverted behaviour. He has problems with expressing his feelings and with establishing social relationships, and can very well bear to be alone. The elementary strategies of coping with life are perception, reconnaissance and vigilance, cognition and anticipation, and a certain amount of privacy." …
Personally, I like people who structure the world boldly, especially if their structurations ring true. I don't take any structuration as holy writ, though -- I like to play with them, snap them together and pull them apart. But I also like it when structurations make for lovely poetry. The way Sheldon describes the ectomorph has a behaviourist beauty, a 1940s severity. He has "a relative predominance of skin and its appendages, which includes the nervous system; lean, fragile, delicate body; small delicate bones; droopy shoulders; small face, sharp nose, fine hair; relatively little body mass and relatively great surface area".
"The cerebrotonic may be literate or illiterate," says Sheldon, "may be trained or untrained in the conventional intellectual exercises of his milieu, may be an avid reader or may never read a book, may be a scholastic genius or may have failed in every sort of schooling. He may be a dreamer, a poet, philosopher, recluse, or builder of utopias and of abstract psychologies. He may be a schizoid personality, a religious fanatic, an ascetic, a patient martyr, or a contentious crusader. All these things depend upon the intermixture of other components, upon other variables in the symphony, and also upon the environmental pressures to which the personality has been exposed. The essential characteristic of the cerebrotonic is his acuteness of attention. The other two major functions, the direct visceral and the direct somatic functions, are subjugated, held in check, and rendered secondary. The cerebrotonic eats and exercises to attend."
I know next to nothing about Sheldon and need to go back to Momus and read it all again. John Fuller, in his W H Auden: A Commentary, says only this apropos 'The Fall of Rome' and 'cerebrotonic':
Stanza 4: Auden was inclined to prefer the endomorphic type to either the ectomorphic ('Cerebrotonic Cato') or the mesomorphic ('muscle-bound Marines'). The typology is from W H Sheldon.
Momus, quoting Sheldon on endomorphs and mesomorphs:
For comparison, in endomorphs "The body is rounded and exhibits a central concentration of mass. The trunk predominates over the limbs, the abdomen over the thorax, and the proximal segments of the limbs predominate over the distal segments. The bones are gracile and the muscle system is poorly developed. Muscle relief and bone projections are absent. The body displays a smoothness of contour owing to subcutaneous padding. The head is large and spherical, the face is wide with full cheeks. The neck is frequently short and forms in side view an obtuse angle with the chin. The shoulders are high and rounded. The trunk is relatively long and straight, the chest is wide at the base. The limbs are comparatively short and tapering with small hands and feet."
"When mesomorphy predominates, the body is sturdy, hard and firm. The bones are large and heavy, the muscles well-developed, massive and prominent. The heavily muscled thorax predominates over the abdomen. The proximal and distal segments of the limbs are evenly proportioned. The bones of the head are heavy. The face is large in relation to the cranial part of the head. Massive cheekbones and square jaws are the rule. The arms and legs are uniformly massive and muscular, strongly built knees, massive wrists."
Oh, and one other gem from Momus:
Interestingly, Sheldon met and befriended Aldous Huxley during a residence at a writers and artists' refuge at Dartington Hall in Devon, England. Huxley also recognized himself as an ectomorph and cerebrotonic, and saw it as a limitation …
(Have another look at the clip from the OED above. Wouldn't it be interesting if we could overlay the OED with transfers of social and intellectual relationships? … Hey OUP, open up the OED!) You'll have to click through to iMomus to hear what Huxley had to say.