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That which was promulgated as coming by the direct inspiration of the god, and being accomplished by supernatural ways, carried a sanction with it which it could not have had as coming by the inspiration of a good understanding, and being accomplished by natural ways; the omen and prayer were the mysterious means of bringing supernaturally to pass that which the sagacious mind, seeing farther ahead than the multitude, had foreseen, or had designed, by operating impressively on less enlightened minds, to bring about.
It was not always in such cases that the deception was entirely wilful-pure and unmixed fraud; deliberately devised and systematically executed fraud of that kind is rare in the world. There was most often, no doubt, a subtle collusion with self, a large measure of secret self-connivance, which made the author of the deception to some extent its victim also; for when any one has interest or pleasure in duping others, and, letting his will loose from moral restraint, makes a practice of acting such a part, his nature grows inevitably and easily to the habit of its exercise and so brings him finally to dupe himself: deliberate impostor by art, he becomes an ingrained impostor by second nature; a surely avenging destiny thus charging itself with the stern fulfilment of the consequences of action. Note a familiar example of this process of demoralization in the ease with which one who begins by telling, in dramatic fashion, stories that excite wonder goes on sometimes to exaggerate and embellish and invent until they become complete romances, and in the end he is not himself sure what is true and what is false in them.
There is not a province of human observation and thought which, when its history is examined, is not found to teem with superstitious fallacies and fancies; but whosoever would have instructive proof, in a comparatively modern instance, of the vitality of bad observation grown into superstition, could hardly do better than study the records of witchcraft in civilized countries. If he be cynically minded, he will not fail to find ample gratification of his mood in the horrible and heartrending stories of the terrible tortures and deaths that were inflicted on multitudes of innocent people who were believed to be witches, and in the reflection that the condemnation of these poor barmless wretches received the sanction of the good and wise men of the time of a most learned and distinguished judge, Sir Matthew Hale, and of a not less learned and distinguished physician, Sir Thomas Browne, so late as the year 1662. The particular reasons which Sir Matthew Hale gave for his judgment on the occasion of condemning to death
the last two old women who were executed for bewitching children in England, have a general and lasting interest. “ That there were such creatures as witches he made no doubt at all; for, first, the Scriptures had affirmed so much ; secondly, the wisdom of all nations had provided laws against such persons, which is an argument of their confidence of such crime.” A third reason, which had its weight in determining the verdict, was the statement of Sir Thomas Browne, who "was clearly of opinion that the persons were bewitched; that in Denmark there had lately been a great discovery of witches, who used the very same way of afflicting persons.' All which was, in effect, to say that the belief must be true because it had the sacred sanction of religion, because it was a universal belief, and because it had been attested lately by common report of a remarkable instance.
Now, it is plain that all these sanctions rested at bottom on the same fallacious authority, namely, the common malobservation which, taking note of
* “A Short Treatise touching Sheriffs' Accompts ;” to which is added, “ A Tryal of Witches," written by the Right Honourable Sir Matthew Hale, Kt. London, 1716. Rose Cullender and Amy Duny, indicted at the Assizes at Bury St. Edmunds, executed March 17, 1662. Although Sir M. Hale says that the Judge and all the Court were fully satisfied with the verdict,” yet it appears from the report that Mr. Serjeant Keeling “seemed much unsatisfied with it” (the evidence), “ and thought it not sufficient to convict the prisoners.”
agreeing, takes no note of contradicting, instances, and overlooks entirely the real cause of the event when the attention is fixed on fictitious causes. The fallacy probably gave rise, in the first instance, to common report; then common report spread widely into common belief ; and finally common belief acquired the sanctity of a religious tenet. The example may fitly teach that a belief is not necessarily true because it has the religious sanction, is believed by all the world, even by the most learned and upright, and has the reported confirmation of striking examples from time to time. It is only too true that nations have received, as beliefs necessary to salvation, doctrines and dogmas which would be thought now to do discredit to the observation of a well-trained school-boy. What pledge have men, or can they have, that the supernatural beliefs of the present day will not, like their predecessors, fall into disrepute, and in their turn serve as humiliating memorials of the credulity and infatuation of the people who entertain them ?
THE NATURAL DEFECTS AND ERRORS OF OBSERVATION
Causes of Erroneous Observation. So many and great errors and evils having flowed from bad observation and reasoning, it is a natural question to ask how it comes to pass that man observes and reasons so badly when his business is to observe and reason.
Because he is a limited being, with very limited capacities, while that which he has to observe and reason about is illimitable. In this relation it has to be borne in mind that observation is a process of growth, not a process of mental photography, slow and tedious necessarily, and only to be perfected by degrees; for it is the organic construction of an internal order of mind, a mental organization, in conformity with the external order of nature by mutual interaction. Had the order of nature been entirely objective, men might have found it all out ere now, since they would have had nothing