« AnkstesnisTęsti »
he appreciated capacity in his subordinates, and was never stingy of praise where praise was deserved. Nowhere do we find in his letters those querulous condemnations of his officers which disfigure the correspondence of too many commanders. His tenderness of heart towards his suffering
. sailors is proved not only by the expressions in his letters, but also by his readiness to relieve their necessities out of his own purse.
He is a pattern to be imitated by all naral officers. The sang-froid of Drake, J. Hawkyns, Wynter, and the English commanders generally, is not more conspicuous than their complete understanding of the belligerent problems by which they were confronted.
In these days of centralised administrative arrangements we may well learn how efficiently men could work a system in which they were allowed still to remain men, and were not moulded into mere machines. In Elizabeth's reign it was not thought necessary to overwhelm with minutely detailed instructions and regulations, drawn up by clerks or specialists on shore, officers thought capable of holding high commands. The view which this collection of State papers permits us to take of the Elizabethan administration shows it to have been admirably efficient. Energy, foresight, reasonable frugality, and a consistent determination to hold every one responsible for his acts, are its characteristics. The spirit of the great queen pervades the whole. If we can learn, if we have not
. unfitted ourselves for learning, the lessons which these volumes contain, there will be good cause for gratitude to the society which has put them within our reach.
VOL. CLXXXI. NO. CCCLXXI.
Art. IV.-1. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research. Part XXVI. Vol. X. London: 1894. 2. Apparitions and Thought- Transference : an Examination
of the Evidence for Telepathy. By FRANK PODMORE, M.A.
The Contemporary Science Series. London : 1894. 3. Cock Lane and Common Sense. By ANDREW LANG.
London : 1894. 4. Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, addressed to J. G.
Lockhart, Esq. By Sir WALTER Scott, Bart. London:
1831. 5. Report of Dr. Benjamin Franklin and other Commis
sioners charged by the King of France with the Examination of Animal Magnetism as now practised at Paris. Trans
lated from the French. London: 1785. 6. A True Relation of Dr. Dee's Actions with Spirits. With a Preface by MERIC CASAUBON, D.D. London : 1639.
: THERE "HERE are few things more curious in the history of man
than the different mental attitude assumed by him in different ages with regard to the supernatural.
It is now more than twenty years since Mr. Lecky published his thoughtful and deeply interesting work on the
Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe.' Men had believed, so Mr. Lecky impressed upon his readers, what they were predisposed to believe, rather than what evidence proved to be true. Sir Walter Scott half a century earlier had, in discussing popular superstitions, arrived at the same conclusion. To the middle of the seventeenth century, the belief in witchcraft, for instance, was almost universal. Judges of the highest character and greatest learning convicted and sentenced to death old women for the crime of witchcraft: nay, persons themselves frequently confessed to the possession of supernatural and diabolical powers, though they knew that the result of their confessions would be their own doom.
Witch-trials at length came to an end, not because no further evidence was forthcoming, but because intelligent men no longer believed the evidence when it was produced ; and stories which a generation or two earlier would have claimed the belief and excited the terrors of a whole countryside were dismissed as old wives' tales. How did it happen that what in one age was the common belief of the wisest in the land became a few years later the derision of all who had emerged from the lowest depth of ignorance? A rationalistic spirit was permeating the minds of men. The previous predisposition to belief in the constant intervention of supernatural causes was largely dependent on the views generally accepted as to the government of the world and on the religious conceptions of the time; the increased knowledge of science, the perception that the operations of nature were subject to general laws, the great spread of education, had their effect. The causes of occurrences formerly attributed to supernatural agency were investigated, till at length not only was the belief in witchcraft abandoned, but men found it hardly possible to believe in the credulity of their own ancestors.
Superstitions, though at one period more prevalent than at another, are of every age, and of almost every degree, from the heroic to the most vile and contemptible. There is generally a suitability or conformity of superstition with the sentiments of the time. If, for instance, the Romans thought that, in the very heat of battle, they saw their gods Castor and Pollux leading them to victory; if fervent Catholics, in warring with the infidel, recognised the martial figures of Christian saints, St. George or St. James, at their head, the belief in each case seemed a natural enough one. No one, of course, in the present day gives the least credence to these tales; but the tales themselves help us to understand the times when they were believed. According to Sir Walter Scott, apparitions such as these, which, of course, any one acquainted with history could multiply without limit, being generally visible to a multitude, have in 'all times been supported by the greatest strength of testi'mony.' In moments of intense excitement or enthusiasm,
the number of persons present, which would otherwise lead 'to a detection of the fallacy, become the means of
strengthening it.' Than Sir Walter Scott no one more highly valued the romantic legends of an earlier day, nor took more sympathetic interest in the tales which still beguiled the popular fancy of the remoter parts of rural Scotland even in his own time. Yet experience taught that prince of story-tellers that tales of ghosts and demonology should be addressed to the young ; that it was only in the morning of life that this feeling of superstition “comes «"o'er us like a summer cloud,” affecting us with fear which is solemn and awful, rather than painful.' Sir Walter Scott, in the last of his letters on demonology and witchcraft, half doubts whether his time had been well spent upon such a subject at suel a period of the world's history.
The present fashion of the world seemed to be ill suited for studies of this fantastic nature, and the most ordinary mechanic has learning sufficient to laugh at the figments which in former times were believed by persons far advanced in the deepest knowledge of the age. I cannot, however, in conscience carry my opinion of my country men's good sense so far as to exculpate them entirely from the charge of credulity. Those who are disposed to look for them may, without much trouble, see such manifest signs, both of superstition and the disposition to believe in its doctrines, as may render it no useless occupation to compare the follies of our fathers with our own. The sailors have a proverb that every man in his lifetime must eat a peck of impurity; and it seems yet more clear that every generation of the human race must swallow a certain measure of nonsense.' So wrote the author of Waverley 'sixty years since.' We doubt whether he would use different language to-day.
Mr. Andrew Lang, the title of whose recent book appears at the head of this article, has collected, within very moderate compass, a large mass of interesting information bearing upon popular superstition. Not only does he show that in ancient and in modern times, amongst civilised and uncivilised people, have ghosts and apparitions roused the wonder and excited the fears of man, but even that the knocks, raps, floating lights, the whirring sound of wings, which to-day so often indicate an unearthly presence, have been in all climes, and throughout all time, the usual accompaniments of ghostly visitation. There is, it seems, little new in the alleged spiritual phenomena of the present day; yet we are living in an age which boasts its superiority to superstition, its rationalistic spirit, its respect for science. Scott believed that when the torch of science' was lighted, when the
' Royal Society had been incorporated by royal charter, and had begun to publish its transactions, the day of superstitious belief in demons and fairies, in ghosts and apparitions, in warnings and in dreams, in magic of every kind, was approaching its end.
Mr. Lecky certainly cannot find in the general mental attitude of educated men in the present day any predisposition to believe' in the supernatural or the miraculous. It is to the men of science, and to the methods of scientific inquiry, that the world now turns for its knowledge, often, undoubtedly, seeking from that source knowledge of a kind which will never be thence obtained.
In the past year Lord Salisbury at Oxford has done good service in pointing out that, great and magnificent as have been the strides made in recent years by every department of science, yet barriers to our knowledge close us in on every
side, and defy, as triumphantly as ever, our puny efforts to surmount them. Perhaps our philosophical historians may have been too sanguine in counting so surely upon the entire defeat of superstition by the growing enlightenment of the age. Do the miracles of Lourdes, the visions of poor Bernadette, the thousands of miserable pilgrims that throng to the sacred grotto, the streams of gold that enrich the churches and the priests—do all these tend to show any great advance upon the religious superstitions of mediaeval times? It is hardly half a century since the modern developement of spirit-rapping inaugurated in New York by the Fox family was introduced to Europe, and since educated men and women began in considerable numbers to believe that the spirits of the dead are recalled to earth, and communicate more or less freely with the living by the expedient of rapping out on a table the letters of the alphabet. It is but yesterday that Madame Blavatsky was retailing to her disciples (educated men and women who trusted her) the contents of messages projected to her through supernatural agency direct and instantaneous from Thibet. Whatever may be the general tendency of the age, and we cannot doubt that, on the whole, Mr. Lecky rightly characterises it as a rationalistic age, a strong bias towards superstition undoubtedly affects, and probably will always affect, very many individuals. The direction of the main stream cannot be mistaken, though here and there we find a backwater. There is in some minds a craving for the supernatural; a feeling of impatience of, almost of hostility to, any explanation, based upon natural causes, of those marvels in which there is an inclination to believe. To sift with perfect frankness the accounts of believers fresh from a spiritualistic experience is not generally possible. Men of a sceptical turn know well the truth of Scott's statement that ' a supernatural tale is in most cases received as an agreeable mode of amusing society, and he would rather be accounted a sturdy moralist than an entertaining companion who should employ himself in assail. ing its credibility. It would indeed be a solecism in manners, some. thing like that of impeaching the genuine value of the antiquities exhibited by a good-natured collector for the gratification of his guests. This difficulty will appear greater should a company have the rare good fortune to meet the person who himself witnessed the wonders which he tells; a well-bred or prudent man will, under such circumstances, abstain from using the rules of cross-examination practised in a court of justice; and if in any case he presumes to do so, he is in danger of receiving answers, even from the most candid and honourable persons, which are rather fitted to support the credit of the story