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The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Epidemic Delusions

by Amos Norton Craft


No human being can be wholly skeptical. The imagination of the skeptic is imprisoned, and his hope is bound in fetters. Therefore, he who begins a skeptic and denies the established beliefs of his fellows, being left alone with an empty mind and heart, must soon begin to look about for some positive system of belief. Having scorned the foundation rock and being impelled to build, he must build on the sand. Having rejected the true materials, he must build a castle of the air. Thus the most daring skeptics become the wildest visionaries. As two men setting out to travel in opposite directions shall meet face to face when each has gone halfway around the world, so skepticism and superstition are two extremes which meet, though starting forth in opposite directions. The superstitious and the skeptical are sure to be found in each other's company at last. Who was more skeptical than Comte? Yet his skepticism ripened into a superstition, which Professor Huxley describes as Eomanism, with Christianity left out. Who is more skeptical and who is more superstitions than Andrew Jackson Davis, denying the existence of a personal God, the freedom of the will, moral obligation, the evidences of Christianity, the sacredness of the marriage bond, and striking a blow at the established convictions of Christendom; yet describing minutely the spheres of the spirit world, the color of the eyes of the people of the planet Mars, and the freaks and appearance of the " Diakkas," a race of elementary spirits in the lower circles of the invisible world, % and receiving, without the semblance of proof, the wildest dreams of his fellow spiritualists?

The following formula exhibits the common sophistry of superstition: If it is not what is it?

We do not know. Therefore, it is . The

name of any favorite fetich or force is inserted in the blank spaces, according to the desire of the individual who consciously or unconsciously employs the formula. Professor Crookes, F. R. S., looking upon the jugglery of Mr. Home and Mrs. Fay, asks: "If it is not psychic force, what is it?" He answers, "I do not know;" and concludes: "Therefore, it is psychic force." A spiritualist looking upon the same phenomena reasons in the same manner; but arrives at a different conclusion: "If it is not a spirit, what is it? I do not know; therefore, it is a spirit." "I do not know," is a hard saying, even for philosophers. They prefer the utterance: "I do not know; therefore, I know." Epictetus remarked: "The first business of the philosopher is to part with self-conceit." We trace this common sophistry of superstition in the entire history of speculative philosophy.

Thales (640 B. C), who has been called the father of natural philosophy, looked forth upon the mysterious phenomena of life in the world around him, and asked the question so often propounded by the thoughtful: "From what do they proceed?" Observing that germinating seeds in the earth are moist, he reasoned: If it is not water which causes the phenomena of life, what is it? We do not know. Therefore, it must be water. By this sophistry he convinced himself and many eminent disciples after him, that water is the source of all things. By the same process of thought he came to the conclusion that the magnet is a living creature, because it attracts iron. His error of substituting hypothesis for proof, may still be found among some of the most conspicuous scientists of our day. A logical possibility is often confounded with certainty, and the scientific teacher stands before us like a highpriest of nature, bewildering us into belief by announcements ex cathedra, and silencing opposition by the ever ready interrogatory: "If that is not it, what is it?"

Anaximander (611 B. C), by the common sophistry of superstition, came to the conclusion that at the beginning of the universe matter in a rarefied state existed in infinite quantity; and, being subject to eternal motion, condensations and combinations occur, producing worlds and spiritual beings. The earth being in the center of the universe, and in the form of a cylinder, remains motionless. Living beings are generated from the substance of the earth, by heat and moisture. Anaximenes, who lived about this time, affirmed that the earth, being flat and round, like a plate, floats on the air which fills the universe, and which is the essence and cause of all things. Diogenes also entertained the same theory of the origin of the universe. "If it is not air, what is it?" would silence objections and make innumerable disciples.

Heraclitus gave his disciples an elaborate description of the manner in which substances and life were caused by fire; while the followers of Pythagoras, being fond of mathematics and music, affirmed that numbers are the substance of things, and that the human soul is a harmony.

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