Health and Education
by Charles Kingsley
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Throughout the great republic of the organic world, the motto of the majority is, and always has been as far back as we can see, what it is, and always has been, with the majority of human beings, "Every one for himself, and the devil take the hindmost." Over-reaching tyranny; the temper which fawns, and clings, and plays the parasite as long as it is down, and when it has risen, fattens on its patron's blood and life—these, and the other works of the flesh, are the works of average plants and animals, as far as they can practise them. At least, so says at first sight the science of bio-geology; till the naturalist, if he be also human and humane, is glad to escape from the confusion and darkness of the universal battle-field of selfishness into the order and light of Christmas-tide.

For then there comes to him the thought—And are these all the facts? And is this all which the facts mean? That mutual competition is one law of Nature, we see too plainly. But is there not, besides that law, a law of mutual help? True it is, as the wise man has said, that the very hyssop on the wall grows there because all the forces of the universe could not prevent its growing. All honour to the hyssop. A brave plant, it has fought a brave fight, and has its just deserts—as everything in Nature has—and so has won. But did all the powers of the universe combine to prevent it growing? Is not that a one-sided statement of facts? Did not all the powers of the universe also combine to make it grow, if only it had valour and worth wherewith to grow? Did not the rains feed it, the very mortar in the wall give lime to its roots? Were not electricity, gravitation, and I know not what of chemical and mechanical forces, busy about the little plant, and every cell of it, kindly and patiently ready to help it, if it would only help itself? Surely this is true; true of every organic thing, animal and vegetable, and mineral, too, for aught I know: and so we must soften our sadness at the sight of the universal mutual war by the sight of an equally universal mutual help.

But more. It is true—too true if you will—that all things live on each other. But is it not, therefore, equally true that all things live for each other?—that self-sacrifice, and not selfishness, is at the bottom the law of Nature, as it is the law of Grace; and the law of bio-geology, as it is the law of all religion and virtue worthy of the name? Is it not true that everything has to help something else to live, whether it knows it or not?—that not a plant or an animal can turn again to its dust without giving food and existence to other plants, other animals?—that the very tiger, seemingly the most useless tyrant of all tyrants, is still of use, when, after sending out of the world suddenly, and all but painlessly, many an animal which would without him have starved in misery through a diseased old age, he himself dies, and, in dying, gives, by his own carcase, the means of life and of enjoyment to a thousandfold more living creatures than ever his paws destroyed?

And so, the longer one watches the great struggle for existence, the more charitable, the more hopeful, one becomes; as one sees that, consciously or unconsciously, the law of Nature is, after all, self-sacrifice; unconscious in plants and animals, as far as we know; save always those magnificent instances of true self-sacrifice shown by the social insects, by ants, bees, and others, which put to shame by a civilization truly noble—why should I not say divine, for God ordained it?—the selfishness and barbarism of man. But be that as it may, in man the law of self-sacrifice—whether unconscious or not in the animals—rises into consciousness just as far as he is a man; and the crowning lesson of bio- geology may be, when we have worked it out, after all, the lesson of Christmas-tide—of the infinite self-sacrifice of God for man; and Nature as well as religion may say to us—

"Ah, could you crush that ever craving lust For bliss, which kills all bliss, and lose your life, Your barren unit life, to find again A thousand times in those for whom you die— So were you men and women, and should hold Your rightful rank in God's great universe, Wherein, in heaven or earth, by will or nature, Naught lives for self. All, all, from crown to base— The Lamb, before the world's foundation slain— The angels, ministers to God's elect— The sun, who only shines to light the worlds— The clouds, whose glory is to die in showers— The fleeting streams, who in their ocean graves Flee the decay of stagnant self-content— The oak, ennobled by the shipwright's axe— The soil, which yields its marrow to the flower— The flower, which feeds a thousand velvet worms Born only to be prey to every bird— All spend themselves on others: and shall man, Whose two-fold being is the mystic knot Which couples earth with heaven, doubly bound, As being both worm and angel, to that service By which both worms and angels hold their life, Shall he, whose every breath is debt on debt, Refuse, forsooth, to be what God has made him? No; let him show himself the creatures' Lord By free-will gift of that self-sacrifice Which they, perforce, by Nature's laws endure."

My friends, scientific and others, if the study of bio-geology shall help to teach you this, or anything like this; I think that though it may not make you more happy, it may yet make you more wise; and, therefore, what is better than being more happy, namely, more blessed.


It is an open question whether the policeman is not demoralizing us; and that in proportion as he does his duty well; whether the perfection of justice and safety, the complete "preservation of body and goods," may not reduce the educated and comfortable classes into that lap-dog condition in which not conscience, but comfort, doth make cowards of us all. Our forefathers had, on the whole, to take care of themselves; we find it more convenient to hire people to take care of us. So much the better for us, in some respects: but, it may be, so much the worse in others. So much the better; because, as usually results from the division of labour, these people, having little or nothing to do save to take care of us, do so far better than we could; and so prevent a vast amount of violence and wrong, and therefore of misery, especially to the weak: for which last reason we will acquiesce in the existence of policemen and lawyers, as we do in the results of arbitration, as the lesser of two evils. The odds in war are in favour of the bigger bully; in arbitration, in favour of the bigger rogue; and it is a question whether the lion or the fox be the safer guardian of human interests. But arbitration prevents war: and that, in three cases out of four, is full reason for employing it.

On the other hand, the lap-dog condition, whether in dogs or in men, is certainly unfavourable to the growth of the higher virtues. Safety and comfort are good, indeed, for the good; for the brave, the self-originating, the earnest. They give to such a clear stage and no favour wherein to work unhindered for their fellow-men. But for the majority, who are neither brave, self-originating, nor earnest, but the mere puppets of circumstance, safety and comfort may, and actually do, merely make their lives mean and petty, effeminate and dull. Therefore their hearts must be awakened, as often as possible, to take exercise enough for health; and they must be reminded, perpetually and importunately, of what a certain great philosopher called "whatsoever things are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, and of good report;" "if there be any manhood, and any just praise, to think of such things."

This pettiness and dulness of our modern life is just what keeps alive our stage, to which people go to see something a little less petty, a little less dull, than what they see at home. It is, too, the cause of—I had almost said the excuse for—the modern rage for sensational novels. Those who read them so greedily are conscious, poor souls, of capacities in themselves of passion and action, for good and evil, for which their frivolous humdrum daily life gives no room, no vent. They know too well that human nature can be more fertile, whether in weeds and poisons, or in flowers and fruits, than it is usually in the streets and houses of a well-ordered and tolerably sober city. And because the study of human nature is, after all, that which is nearest to every one and most interesting to every one, therefore they go to fiction, since they cannot go to fact, to see what they themselves might be had they the chance; to see what fantastic tricks before high heaven men and women like themselves can play; and how they play them.

Well: it is not for me to judge, for me to blame. I will only say that there are those who cannot read sensational novels, or, indeed, any novels at all, just because they see so many sensational novels being enacted round them in painful facts of sinful flesh and blood. There are those, too, who have looked in the mirror too often to wish to see their own disfigured visage in it any more; who are too tired of themselves and ashamed of themselves to want to hear of people like themselves; who want to hear of people utterly unlike themselves, more noble, and able, and just, and sweet, and pure; who long to hear of heroism and to converse with heroes; and who, if by chance they meet with an heroic act, bathe their spirits in that, as in May-dew, and feel themselves thereby, if but for an hour, more fair.

If any such shall chance to see these words, let me ask them to consider with me that one word Hero, and what it means.

Hero; Heroic; Heroism. These words point to a phase of human nature, the capacity for which we all have in ourselves, which is as startling and as interesting in its manifestations as any, and which is always beautiful, always ennobling, and therefore always attractive to those whose hearts are not yet seared by the world or brutalized by self-indulgence.

But let us first be sure what the words mean. There is no use talking about a word till we have got at its meaning. We may use it as a cant phrase, as a party cry on platforms; we may even hate and persecute our fellow-men for the sake of it: but till we have clearly settled in our own minds what a word means, it will do for fighting with, but not for working with. Socrates of old used to tell the young Athenians that the ground of all sound knowledge was—to understand the true meaning of the words which were in their mouths all day long; and Socrates was a wiser man than we shall ever see. So, instead of beginning an oration in praise of heroism, I shall ask my readers to think with me what heroism is.

Now, we shall always get most surely at the meaning of a word by getting at its etymology—that is, at what it meant at first. And if heroism means behaving like a hero, we must find out, it seems to me, not merely what a hero may happen to mean just now, but what it meant in the earliest human speech in which we find it.

A hero or a heroine, then, among the old Homeric Greeks, meant a man or woman who was like the gods; and who, from that likeness, stood superior to his or her fellow-creatures. Gods, heroes, and men, is a threefold division of rational beings, with which we meet more than once or twice. Those grand old Greeks felt deeply the truth of the poet's saying—

"Unless above himself he can Exalt himself, how poor a thing is man."

But more: the Greeks supposed these heroes to be, in some way or other, partakers of a divine nature; akin to the gods; usually, either they, or some ancestor of theirs, descended from a god or goddess. Those who have read Mr. Gladstone's 'Juventus Mundi' will remember the section (cap. ix. section 6) on the modes of the approximation between the divine and the human natures; and whether or not they agree with the author altogether, all will agree, I think, that the first idea of a hero or a heroine was a godlike man or godlike woman.

A godlike man. What varied, what infinite forms of nobleness that word might include, ever increasing, as men's notions of the gods became purer and loftier, or, alas! decreasing, as their notions became degraded. The old Greeks, with that intense admiration of beauty which made them, in after ages, the master sculptors and draughtsmen of their own, and, indeed, of any age, would, of course, require in their hero, their godlike man, beauty and strength, manners, too, and eloquence, and all outward perfections of humanity, and neglect his moral qualities. Neglect, I say, but not ignore. The hero, by virtue of his kindred with the gods, was always expected to be a better man than common men, as virtue was then understood. And how better? Let us see.

The hero was at least expected to be more reverent than other men to those divine beings of whose nature he partook, whose society he might enjoy even here on earth. He might be unfaithful to his own high lineage; he might misuse his gifts by selfishness and self-will; he might, like Ajax, rage with mere jealousy and wounded pride till his rage ended in shameful madness and suicide. He might rebel against the very gods, and all laws of right and wrong, till he perished in his [Greek text],

"Smitten down, blind in his pride, for a sign and a terror to mortals."

But he ought to have, he must have, to be true to his name of Hero, justice, self-restraint, and [Greek text]—that highest form of modesty, for which we have, alas! no name in the English tongue; that perfect respect for the feelings of others which springs out of perfect self-respect. And he must have, too—if he were to be a hero of the highest type—the instinct of helpfulness; the instinct that, if he were a kinsman of the gods, he must fight on their side, through toil and danger, against all that was unlike them, and therefore hateful to them. Who loves not the old legends, unsurpassed for beauty in the literature of any race, in which the hero stands out as the deliverer, the destroyer of evil? Theseus ridding the land of robbers, and delivering it from the yearly tribute of boys and maidens to be devoured by the Minotaur; Perseus slaying the Gorgon, and rescuing Andromeda from the sea-beast; Heracles with his twelve famous labours against giants and monsters; and all the rest—

"Who dared, in the god-given might of their manhood Greatly to do and to suffer, and far in the fens and the forests Smite the devourers of men, heaven-hated, brood of the giants; Transformed, strange, without like, who obey not the golden-haired rulers"—

These are figures whose divine moral beauty has sunk into the hearts, not merely of poets or of artists, but of men and women who suffered and who feared; the memory of them, fables though they may have been, ennobled the old Greek heart; they ennobled the heart of Europe in the fifteenth century, at the rediscovery of Greek literature. So far from contradicting the Christian ideal, they harmonised with—I had almost said they supplemented—that more tender and saintly ideal of heroism which had sprung up during the earlier Middle Ages. They justified, and actually gave a new life to, the old noblenesses of chivalry, which had grown up in the later Middle Ages as a necessary supplement of active and manly virtue to the passive and feminine virtue of the cloister. They inspired, mingling with these two other elements, a literature, both in England, France, and Italy, in which the three elements, the saintly, the chivalrous, and the Greek heroic, have become one and undistinguishable, because all three are human, and all three divine; a literature which developed itself in Ariosto, in Tasso, in the Hypnerotomachia, the Arcadia, the Euphues, and other forms, sometimes fantastic, sometimes questionable, but which reached its perfection in our own Spenser's 'Fairy Queen'—perhaps the most admirable poem which has ever been penned by mortal man.

And why? What has made these old Greek myths live, myths though they be, and fables, and fair dreams? What, though they have no body, and, perhaps, never had, has given them an immortal soul, which can speak to the immortal souls of all generations to come?

What but this, that in them—dim it may be and undeveloped, but still there—lies the divine idea of self-sacrifice as the perfection of heroism; of self-sacrifice, as the highest duty and the highest joy of him who claims a kindred with the gods?

Let us say, then, that true heroism must involve self-sacrifice. Those stories certainly involve it, whether ancient or modern, which the hearts, not of philosophers merely, or poets, but of the poorest and the most ignorant, have accepted instinctively as the highest form of moral beauty—the highest form, and yet one possible to all.

Grace Darling rowing out into the storm toward the wreck.—The "drunken private of the Buffs," who, prisoner among the Chinese, and commanded to prostrate himself and kotoo, refused in the name of his country's honour—"He would not bow to any Chinaman on earth:" and so was knocked on the head, and died surely a hero's death.—Those soldiers of the 'Birkenhead,' keeping their ranks to let the women and children escape, while they watched the sharks who in a few minutes would be tearing them limb from limb.—Or, to go across the Atlantic—for there are heroes in the Far West—Mr. Bret Harte's "Flynn of Virginia," on the Central Pacific Railway—the place is shown to travellers—who sacrificed his life for his married comrade,—

"There, in the drift, Back to the wall, He held the timbers Ready to fall. Then in the darkness I heard him call,— 'Run for your life, Jake! Run for your wife's sake! Don't wait for me.'

"And that was all Heard in the din— Heard of Tom Flynn, Flynn of Virginia."

Or the engineer, again, on the Mississippi, who, when the steamer caught fire, held, as he had sworn he would, her bow against the bank till every soul save he got safe on shore,—

"Through the hot black breath of the burning boat Jim Bludso's voice was heard; And they all had trust in his cussedness, And knew he would keep his word. And sure's you're born, they all got off Afore the smokestacks fell,— And Bludso's ghost went up alone In the smoke of the 'Prairie Belle.'

"He weren't no saint—but at judgment I'd run my chance with Jim 'Longside of some pious gentlemen That wouldn't shake hands with him. He'd seen his duty—a dead sure thing— And went for it there and then; And Christ is not going to be too hard On a man that died for men."

To which gallant poem of Colonel John Hay's—and he has written many gallant and beautiful poems—I have but one demurrer: Jim Bludso did not merely do his duty, but more than his duty. He did a voluntary deed, to which he was bound by no code or contract, civil or moral; just as he who introduced me to that poem won his Victoria Cross—as many a cross, Victoria and other, has been won—by volunteering for a deed to which he, too, was bound by no code or contract, military or moral. And it is of the essence of self-sacrifice, and, therefore, of heroism, that it should be voluntary; a work of supererogation, at least towards society and man: an act to which the hero or heroine is not bound by duty, but which is above though not against duty.

Nay, on the strength of that same element of self-sacrifice, I will not grudge the epithet heroic, which my revered friend Mr. Darwin justly applies to the poor little monkey, who once in his life did that which was above his duty; who lived in continual terror of the great baboon, and yet, when the brute had sprung upon his friend the keeper, and was tearing out his throat, conquered his fear by love, and, at the risk of instant death, sprang in turn upon his dreaded enemy, and bit and shrieked till help arrived.

Some would now-a-days use that story merely to prove that the monkey's nature and the man's nature are, after all, one and the same. Well: I, at least, have never denied that there is a monkey-nature in man as there is a peacock-nature, and a swine-nature, and a wolf-nature—of all which four I see every day too much. The sharp and stern distinction between men and animals, as far as their natures are concerned, is of a more modern origin than people fancy. Of old the Assyrian took the eagle, the ox, and the lion—and not unwisely—as the three highest types of human capacity. The horses of Homer might be immortal, and weep for their master's death. The animals and monsters of Greek myth—like the Ananzi spider of Negro fable—glide insensibly into speech and reason. Birds—the most wonderful of all animals in the eyes of a man of science or a poet—are sometimes looked on as wiser, and nearer to the gods, than man. The Norseman—the noblest and ablest human being, save the Greek, of whom history can tell us—was not ashamed to say of the bear of his native forests that he had "ten men's strength and eleven men's wisdom." How could Reinecke Fuchs have gained immortality, in the Middle Ages and since, save by the truth of its too solid and humiliating theorem—that the actions of the world of men were, on the whole, guided by passions but too exactly like those of the lower animals? I have said, and say again, with good old Vaughan—

"Unless above himself he can Exalt himself, how mean a thing is man."

But I cannot forget that many an old Greek poet or sage, and many a sixteenth and seventeenth century one, would have interpreted the monkey's heroism from quite a different point of view; and would have said that the poor little creature had been visited suddenly by some "divine afflatus"—an expression quite as philosophical and quite as intelligible as most philosophic formulas which I read now-a-days—and had been thus raised for the moment above his abject selfish monkey-nature, just as man requires to be raised above his. But that theory belongs to a philosophy which is out of date and out of fashion, and which will have to wait a century or two before it comes into fashion again.

And now: if self-sacrifice and heroism be, as I believe, identical, I must protest against a use of the word sacrifice which is growing too common in newspaper-columns, in which we are told of an "enormous sacrifice of life;" an expression which means merely that a great many poor wretches have been killed, quite against their own will, and for no purpose whatsoever: no sacrifice at all, unless it be one to the demons of ignorance, cupidity or mismanagement.

The stout Whig undergraduate understood better the meaning of such words, who, when asked, "In what sense might Charles the First be said to be a martyr?" answered, "In the same sense that a man might be said to be a martyr to the gout."

And I must protest, in like wise, against a misuse of the words hero, heroism, heroic, which is becoming too common, namely, applying them to mere courage. We have borrowed the misuse, I believe, as we have more than one beside, from the French press. I trust that we shall neither accept it, nor the temper which inspires it. It may be convenient for those who flatter their nation, and especially the military part of it, into a ruinous self-conceit, to frame some such syllogism as this—"Courage is heroism: every Frenchman is naturally courageous: therefore every Frenchman is a hero." But we, who have been trained at once in a sounder school of morals, and in a greater respect for facts, and for language as the expression of facts, shall be careful, I hope, not to trifle thus with that potent and awful engine—human speech. We shall eschew likewise, I hope, a like abuse of the word moral, which has crept from the French press now and then, not only into our own press, but into the writings of some of our military men, who, as Englishmen, should have known better. We were told again and again, during the late war, that the moral effect of such a success had been great; that the morale of the troops was excellent; or again, that the morale of the troops had suffered, or even that they were somewhat demoralised. But when one came to test what was really meant by these fine words, one discovered that morals had nothing to do with the facts which they expressed; that the troops were in the one case actuated simply by the animal passion of hope, in the other simply by the animal passion of fear. This abuse of the word moral has crossed, I am sorry to say, the Atlantic; and a witty American, whom we must excuse, though we must not imitate, when some one had been blazing away at him with a revolver, he being unarmed, is said to have described his very natural emotions on the occasion, by saying that he felt dreadfully demoralised. We, I hope, shall confine the word demoralisation, as our generals of the last century would have done, when applied to soldiers, to crime, including, of course, the neglect of duty or of discipline; and we shall mean by the word heroism in like manner, whether applied to a soldier or to any human being, not mere courage; not the mere doing of duty: but the doing of something beyond duty; something which is not in the bond; some spontaneous and unexpected act of self-devotion.

I am glad, but not surprised, to see that Miss Yonge has held to this sound distinction in her golden little book of 'Golden Deeds;' and said, "Obedience, at all costs and risks, is the very essence of a soldier's life. It has the solid material, but it has hardly the exceptional brightness, of a golden deed."

I know that it is very difficult to draw the line between mere obedience to duty and express heroism. I know also that it would be both invidious and impertinent in an utterly unheroic personage like me, to try to draw that line; and to sit at home at ease, analysing and criticising deeds which I could not do myself: but—to give an instance or two of what I mean—

To defend a post as long as it is tenable is not heroic. It is simple duty. To defend it after it has become untenable, and even to die in so doing, is not heroic, but a noble madness, unless an advantage is to be gained thereby for one's own side. Then, indeed, it rises towards, if not into, the heroism of self-sacrifice.

Who, for example, will not endorse the verdict of all ages on the conduct of those Spartans at Thermopylae, when they sat "combing their yellow hair for death" on the sea-shore? They devoted themselves to hopeless destruction: but why? They felt—I must believe that, for they behaved as if they felt—that on them the destinies of the Western World might hang; that they were in the forefront of the battle between civilisation and barbarism, between freedom and despotism; and that they must teach that vast mob of Persian slaves, whom the officers of the Great King were driving with whips up to their lance-points, that the spirit of the old heroes was not dead; and that the Greek, even in defeat and death, was a mightier and a nobler man than they. And they did their work. They produced, if you will, a "moral" effect, which has lasted even to this very day. They struck terror into the heart, not only of the Persian host, but of the whole Persian empire. They made the event of that war certain, and the victories of Salamis and Plataea comparatively easy. They made Alexander's conquest of the East, 150 years afterwards, not only possible at all, but permanent when it came; and thus helped to determine the future civilisation of the whole world.

They did not, of course, foresee all this. No great or inspired man can foresee all the consequences of his deeds: but these men were, as I hold, inspired to see somewhat at least of the mighty stake for which they played; and to count their lives worthless, if Sparta had sent them thither to help in that great game.

Or shall we refuse the name of heroic to those three German cavalry regiments who, in the battle of Mars La Tour, were bidden to hurl themselves upon the chassepots and mitrailleuses of the unbroken French infantry, and went to almost certain death, over the corpses of their comrades, on and in and through, reeling man over horse, horse over man, and clung like bull-dogs to their work, and would hardly leave, even at the bugle-call, till in one regiment thirteen officers out of nineteen were killed or wounded? And why?

Because the French army must be stopped, if it were but for a quarter of an hour. A respite must be gained for the exhausted Third Corps. And how much might be done, even in a quarter of an hour, by men who knew when, and where, and why to die. Who will refuse the name of heroes to these men? And yet they, probably, would have utterly declined the honour. They had but done that which was in the bond. They were but obeying orders after all. As Miss Yonge well says of all heroic persons—"'I have but done that which it was my duty to do,' is the natural answer of those capable of such actions. They have been constrained to them by duty or pity; have never deemed it possible to act otherwise; and did not once think of themselves in the matter at all."

These last true words bring us to another element in heroism: its simplicity. Whatsoever is not simple; whatsoever is affected, boastful, wilful, covetous, tarnishes, even destroys, the heroic character of a deed; because all these faults spring out of self. On the other hand, wherever you find a perfectly simple, frank, unconscious character, there you have the possibility, at least, of heroic action. For it is nobler far to do the most commonplace duty in the household, or behind the counter, with a single eye to duty, simply because it must be done—nobler far, I say, than to go out of your way to attempt a brilliant deed, with a double mind, and saying to yourself not only—"This will be a brilliant deed," but also—"and it will pay me, or raise me, or set me off, into the bargain." Heroism knows no "into the bargain." And therefore, again, I must protest against applying the word heroic to any deeds, however charitable, however toilsome, however dangerous, performed for the sake of what certain French ladies, I am told, call "faire son salut"—saving one's soul in the world to come. I do not mean to judge. Other and quite unselfish motives may be, and doubtless often are, mixed up with that selfish one: womanly pity and tenderness; love for, and desire to imitate, a certain incarnate ideal of self-sacrifice, who is at once human and divine. But that motive of saving the soul, which is too often openly proposed and proffered, is utterly unheroic. The desire to escape pains and penalties hereafter by pains and penalties here; the balance of present loss against future gain—what is this but selfishness extended out of this world into eternity? "Not worldliness," indeed, as a satirist once said with bitter truth, "but other-worldliness."

Moreover—and the young and the enthusiastic should also bear this in mind—though heroism means the going beyond the limits of strict duty, it never means the going out of the path of strict duty. If it is your duty to go to London, go thither: you may go as much further as you choose after that. But you must go to London first. Do your duty first; it will be time after that to talk of being heroic.

And therefore one must seriously warn the young, lest they mistake for heroism and self-sacrifice what is merely pride and self-will, discontent with the relations by which God has bound them, and the circumstances which God has appointed for them. I have known girls think they were doing a fine thing by leaving uncongenial parents or disagreeable sisters, and cutting out for themselves, as they fancied, a more useful and elevated line of life than that of mere home duties; while, after all, poor things, they were only saying, with the Pharisees of old, "Corban, it is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;" and in the name of God, neglecting the command of God to honour their father and mother.

There are men, too, who will neglect their households and leave their children unprovided for, and even uneducated, while they are spending their money on philanthropic or religious hobbies of their own. It is ill to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs; or even to the angels. It is ill, I say, trying to make God presents, before we have tried to pay God our debts. The first duty of every man is to the wife whom he has married, and to the children whom she has brought into the world; and to neglect them is not heroism, but self-conceit; the conceit that a man is so necessary to Almighty God, that God will actually allow him to do wrong, if He can only thereby secure the man's invaluable services. Be sure that every motive which comes not from the single eye; every motive which springs from self; is by its very essence unheroic, let it look as gaudy or as beneficent as it may.

But I cannot go so far as to say the same of the love of approbation—the desire for the love and respect of our fellow-men.

That must not be excluded from the list of heroic motives. I know that it is, or may be proved to be, by victorious analysis, an emotion common to us and the lower animals. And yet no man excludes it less than that true hero, St. Paul. If those brave Spartans, if those brave Germans, of whom I spoke just now, knew that their memories would be wept over and worshipped by brave men and fair women, and that their names would become watchwords to children in their fatherland: what is that to us, save that it should make us rejoice, if we be truly human, that they had that thought with them in their last moments to make self-devotion more easy, and death more sweet?

And yet—and yet—is not the highest heroism that which is free even from the approbation of our fellow-men, even from the approbation of the best and wisest? The heroism which is known only to our Father who seeth in secret? The Godlike deeds alone in the lonely chamber? The Godlike lives lived in obscurity?—a heroism rare among us men, who live perforce in the glare and noise of the outer world: more common among women; women of whom the world never hears; who, if the world discovered them, would only draw the veil more closely over their faces and their hearts, and entreat to be left alone with God. True, they cannot always hide. They must not always hide; or their fellow-creatures would lose the golden lesson. But, nevertheless, it is of the essence of the perfect and womanly heroism, in which, as in all spiritual forces, woman transcends the man, that it would hide if it could.

And it was a pleasant thought to me, when I glanced lately at the golden deeds of woman in Miss Yonge's book—it was a pleasant thought to me, that I could say to myself—Ah! yes. These heroines are known, and their fame flies through the mouths of men. But if so, how many thousands of heroines there must have been, how many thousands there may be now, of whom we shall never know. But still they are there. They sow in secret the seed of which we pluck the flower and eat the fruit, and know not that we pass the sower daily in the street; perhaps some humble ill-drest woman, earning painfully her own small sustenance. She who nurses a bedridden mother, instead of sending her to the workhouse. She who spends her heart and her money on a drunken father, a reckless brother, on the orphans of a kinsman or a friend. She who—But why go on with the long list of great little heroisms, with which a clergyman at least comes in contact daily—and it is one of the most ennobling privileges of a clergyman's high calling that he does come in contact with them—why go on, I say, save to commemorate one more form of great little heroism—the commonest, and yet the least remembered of all—namely, the heroism of an average mother? Ah, when I think of that last broad fact, I gather hope again for poor humanity; and this dark world looks bright, this diseased world looks wholesome to me once more—because, whatever else it is or is not full of, it is at least full of mothers.

While the satirist only sneers, as at a stock butt for his ridicule, at the managing mother trying to get her daughters married off her hands by chicaneries and meannesses, which every novelist knows too well how to draw—would to heaven he, or rather, alas! she, would find some more chivalrous employment for his or her pen—for were they not, too, born of woman?—I only say to myself—having had always a secret fondness for poor Rebecca, though I love Esau more than Jacob—Let the poor thing alone. With pain she brought these girls into the world. With pain she educated them according to her light. With pain she is trying to obtain for them the highest earthly blessing of which she can conceive, namely, to be well married; and if in doing that last, she manoeuvres a little, commits a few basenesses, even tells a few untruths, what does all that come to, save this—that in the confused intensity of her motherly self- sacrifice, she will sacrifice for her daughters even her own conscience and her own credit? We may sneer, if we will, at such a poor hard-driven soul when we meet her in society: our duty, both as Christians and ladies and gentlemen, seems to me to be—to do for her something very different indeed.

But to return. Looking at the amount of great little heroisms, which are being, as I assert, enacted around us every day, no one has a right to say, what we are all tempted to say at times—"How can I be heroic? This is no heroic age, setting me heroic examples. We are growing more and more comfortable, frivolous, pleasure-seeking, money-making; more and more utilitarian; more and more mercenary in our politics, in our morals, in our religion; thinking less and less of honour and duty, and more and more of loss and gain. I am born into an unheroic time. You must not ask me to become heroic in it."

I do not deny that it is more difficult to be heroic, while circumstances are unheroic round us. We are all too apt to be the puppets of circumstance; all too apt to follow the fashion; all too apt, like so many minnows, to take our colour from the ground on which we lie, in hopes, like them, of comfortable concealment, lest the new tyrant deity, called public opinion, should spy us out, and, like Nebuchadnezzar of old, cast us into a burning fiery furnace—which public opinion can make very hot—for daring to worship any god or man save the will of the temporary majority.

Yes, it is difficult to be anything but poor, mean, insufficient, imperfect people, as like each other as so many sheep; and, like so many sheep, having no will or character of our own, but rushing altogether blindly over the same gap, in foolish fear of the same dog, who, after all, dare not bite us; and so it always was and always will be.

For the third time I say,—

"Unless above himself he can Exalt himself, how poor a thing is man."

But, nevertheless, any man or woman who will, in any age and under any circumstances, can live the heroic life and exercise heroic influences.

If any ask proof of this, I shall ask them, in return, to read two novels; novels, indeed, but, in their method and their moral, partaking of that heroic and ideal element, which will make them live, I trust, long after thousands of mere novels have returned to their native dust. I mean Miss Muloch's 'John Halifax, Gentleman,' and Mr. Thackeray's 'Esmond,' two books which no man or woman ought to read without being the nobler for them.

'John Halifax, Gentleman,' is simply the history of a poor young clerk, who rises to be a wealthy mill-owner in the manufacturing districts, in the early part of this century. But he contrives to be an heroic and ideal clerk, and an heroic and ideal mill-owner; and that without doing anything which the world would call heroic or ideal, or in anywise stepping out of his sphere, minding simply his own business, and doing the duty which lies nearest him. And how? By getting into his head from youth the strangest notion, that in whatever station or business he may be, he can always be what he considers a gentleman; and that if he only behaves like a gentleman, all must go right at last. A beautiful book. As I said before, somewhat of an heroic and ideal book. A book which did me good when first I read it; which ought to do any young man good who will read it, and then try to be, like John Halifax, a gentleman, whether in the shop, the counting-house, the bank, or the manufactory.

The other—an even more striking instance of the possibility, at least, of heroism anywhere and everywhere—is Mr. Thackeray's 'Esmond.' On the meaning of that book I can speak with authority. For my dear and regretted friend told me himself that my interpretation of it was the true one; that this was the lesson which he meant men to learn therefrom.

Esmond is a man of the first half of the eighteenth century; living in a coarse, drunken, ignorant, profligate, and altogether unheroic age. He is—and here the high art and the high morality of Mr. Thackeray's genius is shown—altogether a man of his own age. He is not a sixteenth-century or a nineteenth-century man born out of time. His information, his politics, his religion, are no higher than of those round him. His manners, his views of human life, his very prejudices and faults, are those of his age. The temptations which he conquers are just those under which the men around him fall. But how does he conquer them? By holding fast throughout to honour, duty, virtue. Thus, and thus alone, he becomes an ideal eighteenth-century gentleman, an eighteenth-century hero. This was what Mr. Thackeray meant—for he told me so himself, I say—that it was possible, even in England's lowest and foulest times, to be a gentleman and a hero, if a man would but be true to the light within him.

But I will go further. I will go from ideal fiction to actual, and yet ideal, fact; and say that, as I read history, the most unheroic age which the civilized world ever saw was also the most heroic; that the spirit of man triumphed most utterly over his circumstances, at the very moment when those circumstances were most against him.

How and why he did so is a question for philosophy in the highest sense of that word. The fact of his having done so is matter of history. Shall I solve my own riddle?

Then, have we not heard of the early Christian martyrs? Is there a doubt that they, unlettered men, slaves, weak women, even children, did exhibit, under an infinite sense of duty, issuing in infinite self-sacrifice, a heroism such as the world had never seen before; did raise the ideal of human nobleness a whole stage—rather say, a whole heaven—higher than before; and that wherever the tale of their great deeds spread, men accepted, even if they did not copy, those martyrs as ideal specimens of the human race, till they were actually worshipped by succeeding generations, wrongly, it may be, but pardonably, as a choir of lesser deities?

But is there, on the other hand, a doubt that the age in which they were heroic was the most unheroic of all ages; that they were bred, lived, and died, under the most debasing of materialist tyrannies, with art, literature, philosophy, family and national life dying or dead around them, and in cities the corruption of which cannot be told for very shame—cities, compared with which Paris is the abode of Arcadian simplicity and innocence? When I read Petronius and Juvenal, and recollect that they were the contemporaries of the Apostles; when—to give an instance which scholars, and perhaps, happily, only scholars, can appreciate—I glance once more at Trimalchio's feast, and remember that within a mile of that feast St. Paul may have been preaching to a Christian congregation, some of whom—for St. Paul makes no secret of that strange fact—may have been, ere their conversion, partakers in just such vulgar and bestial orgies as those which were going on in the rich freedman's halls: after that, I say, I can put no limit to the possibility of man's becoming heroic, even though he be surrounded by a hell on earth; no limit to the capacities of any human being to form for himself or herself a high and pure ideal of human character; and, without "playing fantastic tricks before high heaven," to carry out that ideal in every-day life; and in the most commonplace circumstances, and the most menial occupations, to live worthy of—as I conceive—our heavenly birthright, and to imitate the heroes, who were the kinsmen of the gods.


Having accepted the very great honour of being allowed to deliver here two lectures, I have chosen as my subject Superstition and Science. It is with Superstition that this first lecture will deal.

The subject seems to me especially fit for a clergyman; for he should, more than other men, be able to avoid trenching on two subjects rightly excluded from this Institution; namely, Theology—that is, the knowledge of God; and Religion—that is, the knowledge of Duty. If he knows, as he should, what is Theology, and what is Religion, then he should best know what is not Theology, and what is not Religion.

For my own part, I entreat you at the outset to keep in mind that these lectures treat of matters entirely physical; which have in reality, and ought to have in our minds, no more to do with Theology and Religion than the proposition that theft is wrong, has to do with the proposition that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles.

It is necessary to premise this, because many are of opinion that superstition is a corruption of religion; and though they would agree that as such, "corruptio optimi pessima," yet they would look on religion as the state of spiritual health, and superstition as one of spiritual disease.

Others, again, holding the same notion, but not considering that corruptio optimi pessima, have been in all ages somewhat inclined to be merciful to superstition, as a child of reverence; as a mere accidental misdirection of one of the noblest and most wholesome faculties of man.

This is not the place wherein to argue with either of these parties; and I shall simply say that superstition seems to me altogether a physical affection, as thoroughly material and corporeal as those of eating or sleeping, remembering or dreaming.

After this, it will be necessary to define superstition, in order to have some tolerably clear understanding of what we are talking about. I beg leave to define it as—Fear of the unknown.

Johnson, who was no dialectician, and, moreover, superstitious enough himself, gives eight different definitions of the word; which is equivalent to confessing his inability to define it at all:—

"1. Unnecessary fear or scruples in religion; observance of unnecessary and uncommanded rites or practices; religion without morality.

"2. False religion; reverence of beings not proper objects of reverence; false worship.

"3. Over nicety; exactness too scrupulous."

Eight meanings; which, on the principle that eight eighths, or indeed 800, do not make one whole, may be considered as no definition. His first thought, as often happens, is the best—"Unnecessary fear." But after that he wanders. The root-meaning of the word is still to seek. But, indeed, the popular meaning, thanks to popular common sense, will generally be found to contain in itself the root-meaning.

Let us go back to the Latin word Superstitio. Cicero says that the superstitious element consists in "a certain empty dread of the gods"—a purely physical affection, if you will remember three things:—

1. That dread is in itself a physical affection.

2. That the gods who were dreaded were, with the vulgar, who alone dreaded them, merely impersonations of the powers of nature.

3. That it was physical injury which these gods were expected to inflict.

But he himself agrees with this theory of mine; for he says shortly after, that not only philosophers, but even the ancient Romans, had separated superstition from religion; and that the word was first applied to those who prayed all day ut liberi sui sibi superstites essent—might survive them. On the etymology no one will depend who knows the remarkable absence of any etymological instinct in the ancients, in consequence of their weak grasp of that sound inductive method which has created modern criticism. But if it be correct, it is a natural and pathetic form for superstition to take in the minds of men who saw their children fade and die; probably the greater number of them beneath diseases which mankind could neither comprehend nor cure.

The best exemplification of what the ancients meant by superstition is to be found in the lively and dramatic words of Aristotle's great pupil, Theophrastus.

The superstitious man, according to him, after having washed his hands with lustral water—that is, water in which a torch from the altar had been quenched, goes about with a laurel-leaf in his mouth, to keep off evil influences, as the pigs in Devonshire used, in my youth, to go about with a withe of mountain ash round their necks to keep off the evil eye. If a weasel crosses his path, he stops, and either throws three pebbles into the road, or, with the innate selfishness of fear, lets some one else go before him, and attract to himself the harm which may ensue. He has a similar dread of a screech-owl, whom he compliments in the name of its mistress, Pallas Athene. If he finds a serpent in his house, he sets up an altar to it. If he pass at a four-cross-way an anointed stone, he pours oil on it, kneels down, and adores it. If a rat has nibbled one of his sacks he takes it for a fearful portent—a superstition which Cicero also mentions. He dare not sit on a tomb, because it would be assisting at his own funeral. He purifies endlessly his house, saying that Hecate—that is, the moon—has exercised some malign influence on it; and many other purifications he observes, of which I shall only say that they are by their nature plainly, like the last, meant as preservatives against unseen malarias or contagions, possible or impossible. He assists every month with his children at the mysteries of the Orphic priests; and finally, whenever he sees an epileptic patient, he spits in his own bosom to avert the evil omen.

I have quoted, I believe, every fact given by Theophrastus; and you will agree, I am sure, that the moving and inspiring element of such a character is mere bodily fear of unknown evil. The only superstition attributed to him which does not at first sight seem to have its root in dread is that of the Orphic mysteries. But of them Muller says that the Dionusos whom they worshipped "was an infernal deity, connected with Hades, and was the personification, not merely of rapturous pleasure, but of a deep sorrow for the miseries of human life." The Orphic societies of Greece seem to have been peculiarly ascetic, taking no animal food save raw flesh from the sacrificed ox of Dionusos. And Plato speaks of a lower grade of Orphic priests, Orpheotelestai, "who used to come before the doors of the rich, and promise, by sacrifices and expiatory songs, to release them from their own sins, and those of their forefathers;" and such would be but too likely to get a hearing from the man who was afraid of a weasel or an owl.

Now, this same bodily fear, I verily believe, will be found at the root of all superstition whatsoever.

But be it so. Fear is a natural passion, and a wholesome one. Without the instinct of self-preservation, which causes the sea-anemone to contract its tentacles, or the fish to dash into its hover, species would be extermined wholesale by involuntary suicide.

Yes; fear is wholesome enough, like all other faculties, as long as it is controlled by reason. But what if the fear be not rational, but irrational? What if it be, in plain homely English, blind fear; fear of the unknown, simply because it is unknown? Is it not likely, then, to be afraid of the wrong object? to be hurtful, ruinous to animals as well as to man? Any one will confess that, who has ever seen a horse inflict on himself mortal injuries, in his frantic attempts to escape from a quite imaginary danger. I have good reasons for believing that not only animals here and there, but whole flocks and swarms of them, are often destroyed, even in the wild state, by mistaken fear; by such panics, for instance, as cause a whole herd of buffalos to rush over a bluff, and be dashed to pieces. And remark that this capacity of panic, fear—of superstition, as I should call it—is greatest in those animals, the dog and the horse for instance, which have the most rapid and vivid fancy. Does not the unlettered Highlander say all that I want to say, when he attributes to his dog and his horse, on the strength of these very manifestations of fear, the capacity of seeing ghosts and fairies before he can see them himself?

But blind fear not only causes evil to the coward himself: it makes him a source of evil to others; for it is the cruellest of all human states. It transforms the man into the likeness of the cat, who, when she is caught in a trap, or shut up in a room, has too low an intellect to understand that you wish to release her; and, in the madness of terror, bites and tears at the hand which tries to do her good. Yes; very cruel is blind fear. When a man dreads he knows not what, he will do he cares not what. When he dreads desperately, he will act desperately. When he dreads beyond all reason, he will behave beyond all reason. He has no law of guidance left, save the lowest selfishness. No law of guidance: and yet his intellect, left unguided, may be rapid and acute enough to lead him into terrible follies. Infinitely more imaginative than the lowest animals, he is for that very reason capable of being infinitely more foolish, more cowardly, more superstitious. He can—what the lower animals, happily for them, cannot—organise his folly; erect his superstitions into a science; and create a whole mythology out of his blind fear of the unknown. And when he has done that—Woe to the weak! For when he has reduced his superstition to a science, then he will reduce his cruelty to a science likewise, and write books like the Malleus Maleficarum, and the rest of the witch-literature of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries; of which Mr. Lecky has of late told the world so much, and told it most faithfully and most fairly.

But, fear of the unknown? Is not that fear of the unseen world? And is not that fear of the spiritual world? Pardon me: a great deal of that fear—all of it, indeed, which is superstition—is simply not fear of the spiritual, but of the material; and of nothing else.

The spiritual world—I beg you to fix this in your minds—is not merely an invisible world which may become visible, but an invisible world which is by its essence invisible; a moral world, a world of right and wrong. And spiritual fear—which is one of the noblest of all affections, as bodily fear is one of the basest—is, if properly defined, nothing less or more than the fear of doing wrong; of becoming a worse man.

But what has that to do with mere fear of the unseen? The fancy which conceives the fear is physical, not spiritual. Think for yourselves. What difference is there between a savage's fear of a demon, and a hunter's fear of a fall? The hunter sees a fence. He does not know what is on the other side: but he has seen fences like it with a great ditch on the other side, and suspects one here likewise. He has seen horses fall at such, and men hurt thereby. He pictures to himself his horse falling at that fence, himself rolling in the ditch, with possibly a broken limb; and he recoils from the picture he himself has made; and perhaps with very good reason. His picture may have its counterpart in fact; and he may break his leg. But his picture, like the previous pictures from which it was compounded, is simply a physical impression on the brain, just as much as those in dreams.

Now, does the fact of the ditch, the fall, and the broken leg, being unseen and unknown, make them a spiritual ditch, a spiritual fall, a spiritual broken leg? And does the fact of the demon and his doings, being as yet unseen and unknown, make them spiritual, or the harm that he may do, a spiritual harm? What does the savage fear? Lest the demon should appear; that is, become obvious to his physical senses, and produce an unpleasant physical effect on them. He fears lest the fiend should entice him into the bog, break the hand-bridge over the brook, turn into a horse and ride away with him, or jump out from behind a tree and wring his neck—tolerably hard physical facts, all of them; the children of physical fancy, regarded with physical dread. Even if the superstition proved true; even if the demon did appear; even if he wrung the traveller's neck in sound earnest, there would be no more spiritual agency or phenomenon in the whole tragedy than there is in the parlour table, when spiritual somethings make spiritual raps upon spiritual wood; and human beings, who are really spirits—and would to heaven they would remember that fact, and what it means—believe that anything has happened beyond a clumsy juggler's trick.

You demur? Do you not see that the demon, by the mere fact of having produced physical consequences, would have become himself a physical agent, a member of physical Nature, and therefore to be explained, he and his doings, by physical laws? If you do not see that conclusion at first sight, think over it till you do.

It may seem to some that I have founded my theory on a very narrow basis; that I am building up an inverted pyramid; or that, considering the numberless, complex, fantastic shapes which superstition has assumed, bodily fear is too simple to explain them all.

But if those persons will think a second time, they must agree that my base is as broad as the phenomena which it explains; for every man is capable of fear. And they will see, too, that the cause of superstition must be something like fear, which is common to all men: for all, at least as children, are capable of superstition; and that it must be something which, like fear, is of a most simple, rudimentary, barbaric kind; for the lowest savage, of whatever he is not capable, is still superstitious, often to a very ugly degree. Superstition seems, indeed, to be, next to the making of stone-weapons, the earliest method of asserting his superiority to the brutes which has occurred to that utterly abnormal and fantastic lusus naturae called man.

Now let us put ourselves awhile, as far as we can, in the place of that same savage; and try whether my theory will not justify itself; whether or not superstition, with all its vagaries, may have been, indeed must have been, the result of that ignorance and fear which he carried about with him, every time he prowled for food through the primeval forest.

A savage's first division of nature would be, I should say, into things which he can eat, and things which can eat him; including, of course, his most formidable enemy, and most savoury food—his fellow-man. In finding out what he can eat, we must remember, he will have gone through much experience which will have inspired him with a serious respect for the hidden wrath of nature; like those Himalayan folk, of whom Hooker says, that as they know every poisonous plant, they must have tried them all—not always with impunity.

So he gets at a third class of objects—things which he cannot eat, and which will not eat him; but will only do him harm, as it seems to him, out of pure malice, like poisonous plants and serpents. There are natural accidents, too, which fall into the same category, stones, floods, fires, avalanches. They hurt him or kill him, surely for ends of their own. If a rock falls from the cliff above him, what more natural than to suppose that there is some giant up there who threw it at him? If he had been up there, and strong enough, and had seen a man walking underneath, he would certainly have thrown the stone at him and killed him. For first, he might have eaten the man after; and even if he were not hungry, the man might have done him a mischief; and it was prudent to prevent that, by doing him a mischief first. Besides, the man might have a wife; and if he killed the man, then the wife would, by a very ancient law common to man and animals, become the prize of the victor. Such is the natural man, the carnal man, the soulish man, the [Greek text] of St. Paul, with five tolerably acute senses, which are ruled by five very acute animal passions—hunger, sex, rage, vanity, fear. It is with the working of the last passion, fear, that this lecture has to do.

So the savage concludes that there must be a giant living in the cliff, who threw stones at him, with evil intent; and he concludes in like wise concerning most other natural phenomena. There is something in them which will hurt him, and therefore likes to hurt him: and if he cannot destroy them, and so deliver himself, his fear of them grows quite boundless. There are hundreds of natural objects on which he learns to look with the same eyes as the little boys of Teneriffe look on the useless and poisonous Euphorbia canariensis. It is to them—according to Mr. Piazzi Smyth—a demon who would kill them, if it could only run after them; but as it cannot, they shout Spanish curses at it, and pelt it with volleys of stones, "screeching with elfin joy, and using worse names than ever, when the poisonous milk spurts out from its bruised stalks."

And if such be the attitude of the uneducated man towards the permanent terrors of nature, what will it be towards those which are sudden and seemingly capricious?—towards storms, earthquakes, floods, blights, pestilences? We know too well what it has been—one of blind, and therefore often cruel, fear. How could it be otherwise? Was Theophrastus's superstitious man so very foolish for pouring oil on every round stone? I think there was a great deal to be said for him. This worship of Baetyli was rational enough. They were aerolites, fallen from heaven. Was it not as well to be civil to such messengers from above?—to testify by homage to them due awe of the being who had thrown them at men, and who though he had missed his shot that time, might not miss it the next? I think if we, knowing nothing of either gunpowder, astronomy, or Christianity, saw an Armstrong bolt fall within five miles of London, we should be inclined to be very respectful to it indeed. So the aerolites, or glacial boulders, or polished stone weapons of an extinct race, which looked like aerolites, were the children of Ouranos the heaven, and had souls in them. One, by one of those strange transformations in which the logic of unreason indulges, the image of Diana of the Ephesians, which fell down from Jupiter; another was the Ancile, the holy shield which fell from the same place in the days of Numa Pompilius, and was the guardian genius of Rome; and several more became notable for ages.

Why not? The uneducated man of genius, unacquainted alike with metaphysics and with biology, sees, like a child, a personality in every strange and sharply-defined object. A cloud like an angel may be an angel; a bit of crooked root like a man may be a man turned into wood—perhaps to be turned back again at its own will. An erratic block has arrived where it is by strange unknown means. Is not that an evidence of its personality? Either it has flown hither itself, or some one has thrown it. In the former case, it has life, and is proportionally formidable; in the latter, he who had thrown it is formidable.

I know two erratic blocks of porphyry—I believe there are three—in Cornwall, lying one on serpentine, one, I think, on slate, which—so I was always informed as a boy—were the stones which St. Kevern threw after St. Just when the latter stole his host's chalice and paten, and ran away with them to the Land's End. Why not? Before we knew anything about the action of icebergs and glaciers, that is, until the last eighty years, that was as good a story as any other; while how lifelike these boulders are, let a great poet testify; for the fact has not escaped the delicate eye of Wordsworth:

"As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie Couched on the bald top of an eminence; Wonder to all who do the same espy, By what means it could thither come, and whence, So that it seems a thing endued with sense; Like a sea-beast crawled forth, that on a shelf Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself."

To the civilised poet, the fancy becomes a beautiful simile; to a savage poet, it would have become a material and a very formidable fact. He stands in the valley, and looks up at the boulder on the far-off fells. He is puzzled by it. He fears it. At last he makes up his mind. It is alive. As the shadows move over it, he sees it move. May it not sleep there all day, and prowl for prey all night? He had been always afraid of going up those fells; now he will never go. There is a monster there.

Childish enough, no doubt. But remember that the savage is always a child. So, indeed, are millions, as well clothed, housed, and policed as ourselves—children from the cradle to the grave. But of them I do not talk; because, happily for the world, their childishness is so overlaid by the result of other men's manhood; by an atmosphere of civilisation and Christianity which they have accepted at second-hand as the conclusions of minds wiser than their own, that they do all manner of reasonable things for bad reasons, or for no reason at all, save the passion of imitation. Not in them, but in the savage, can we see man as he is by nature, the puppet of his senses and his passions, the natural slave of his own fears.

But has the savage no other faculties, save his five senses and five passions? I do not say that. I should be most unphilosophical if I said it; for the history of mankind proves that he has infinitely more in him than that. Yes: but in him that infinite more, which is not only the noblest part of humanity; but, it may be, humanity itself, is not to be counted as one of the roots of superstition. For in the savage man, in whom superstition certainly originates, that infinite more is still merely in him; inside him; a faculty: but not yet a fact. It has not come out of him into consciousness, purpose, and act; and is to be treated as non-existent: while what has come out, his passions and senses, is enough to explain all the vagaries of superstition; a vera causa for all its phenomena. And if we seem to have found a sufficient explanation already, it is unphilosophical to look further, at least till we have tried whether our explanation fits the facts.

Nevertheless, there is another faculty in the savage, to which I have already alluded, common to him and to at least the higher vertebrates—fancy; the power of reproducing internal images of external objects, whether in its waking form of physical memory—if, indeed, all memory be not physical—or in its sleeping form of dreaming. Upon this last, which has played so very important a part in superstition in all ages, I beg you to think a moment. Recollect your own dreams during childhood; and recollect again that the savage is always a child. Recollect how difficult it was for you in childhood, how difficult it must be always for the savage, to decide whether dreams are phantasms or realities. To the savage, I doubt not, the food he eats, the foes he grapples with, in dreams, are as real as any waking impressions. But, moreover, these dreams will be very often, as children's dreams are wont to be, of a painful and terrible kind. Perhaps they will be always painful; perhaps his dull brain will never dream, save under the influence of indigestion, or hunger, or an uncomfortable attitude. And so, in addition to his waking experience of the terrors of nature, he will have a whole dream-experience besides, of a still more terrific kind. He walks by day past a black cavern mouth, and thinks, with a shudder—Something ugly may live in that ugly hole: what if it jumped out upon me? He broods over the thought with the intensity of a narrow and unoccupied mind; and a few nights after, he has eaten—but let us draw a veil before the larder of a savage—his chin is pinned down on his chest, a slight congestion of the brain comes on; and behold he finds himself again at that cavern's mouth, and something ugly does jump out upon him: and the cavern is a haunted spot henceforth to him and to all his tribe. It is in vain that his family tell him that he has been lying asleep at home all the while. He has the evidence of his senses to prove the contrary. He must have got out of himself, and gone into the woods. When we remember that certain wise Greek philosophers could find no better explanation of dreaming than that the soul left the body, and wandered free, we cannot condemn the savage for his theory. Now, I submit that in these simple facts we have a group of "true causes" which are the roots of all the superstitions of the world.

And if any one shall complain that I am talking materialism: I shall answer, that I am doing exactly the opposite. I am trying to eliminate and get rid of that which is material, animal, and base; in order that that which is truly spiritual may stand out, distinct and clear, in its divine and eternal beauty.

To explain, and at the same time, as I think, to verify my hypothesis, let me give you an example—fictitious, it is true, but probable fact nevertheless; because it is patched up of many fragments of actual fact: and let us see how, in following it out, we shall pass through almost every possible form of superstition.

Suppose a great hollow tree, in which the formidable wasps of the tropics have built for ages. The average savage hurries past the spot in mere bodily fear; for if they come out against him, they will sting him to death; till at last there comes by a savage wiser than the rest, with more observation, reflection, imagination, independence of will—the genius of his tribe.

The awful shade of the great tree, added to his terror of the wasps, weighs on him, and excites his brain. Perhaps, too, he has had a wife or a child stung to death by these same wasps. These wasps, so small, yet so wise, far wiser than he: they fly, and they sting. Ah, if he could fly and sting; how he would kill and eat, and live right merrily. They build great towns; they rob far and wide; they never quarrel with each other: they must have some one to teach them, to lead them—they must have a king. And so he gets the fancy of a Wasp-King; as the western Irish still believe in the Master Otter; as the Red Men believe in the King of the Buffalos, and find the bones of his ancestors in the Mammoth remains of Big-bone Lick; as the Philistines of Ekron—to quote a notorious instance—actually worshipped Baal-zebub, lord of the flies.

If they have a king, he must be inside that tree, of course. If he, the savage, were a king, he would not work for his bread, but sit at home and make others feed him; and so, no doubt, does the wasp-king.

And when he goes home he will brood over this wonderful discovery of the wasp-king; till, like a child, he can think of nothing else. He will go to the tree, and watch for him to come out. The wasps will get accustomed to his motionless figure, and leave him unhurt; till the new fancy will rise in his mind that he is a favourite of this wasp-king: and at last he will find himself grovelling before the tree, saying—"Oh great wasp-king, pity me, and tell your children not to sting me, and I will bring you honey, and fruit, and flowers to eat, and I will flatter you, and worship you, and you shall be my king."

And then he would gradually boast of his discovery; of the new mysterious bond between him and the wasp-king; and his tribe would believe him, and fear him; and fear him still more when he began to say, as he surely would, not merely—"I can ask the wasp-king, and he will tell his children not to sting you:" but—"I can ask the wasp-king, and he will send his children, and sting you all to death." Vanity and ambition will have prompted the threat: but it will not be altogether a lie. The man will more than half believe his own words; he will quite believe them when he has repeated them a dozen times.

And so he will become a great man, and a king, under the protection of the king of the wasps; and he will become, and it may be his children after him, priest of the wasp-king, who will be their fetish, and the fetish of their tribe.

And they will prosper, under the protection of the wasp-king. The wasp will become their moral ideal, whose virtues they must copy. The new chief will preach to them wild eloquent words. They must sting like wasps, revenge like wasps, hold all together like wasps, build like wasps, work hard like wasps, rob like wasps; then, like the wasps, they will be the terror of all around, and kill and eat all their enemies. Soon they will call themselves The Wasps. They will boast that their king's father or grandfather, and soon that the ancestor of the whole tribe, was an actual wasp; and the wasp will become at once their eponym hero, their deity, their ideal, their civiliser; who has taught them to build a kraal of huts, as he taught his children to build a hive.

Now, if there should come to any thinking man of this tribe, at this epoch, the new thought—Who made the world? he will be sorely puzzled. The conception of a world has never crossed his mind before. He never pictured to himself anything beyond the nearest ridge of mountains; and as for a Maker, that will be a greater puzzle still. What makers or builders more cunning than those wasps of whom his foolish head is full? Of course, he sees it now. A Wasp made the world; which to him entirely new guess might become an integral part of his tribe's creed. That would be their cosmogony. And if, a generation or two after, another savage genius should guess that the world was a globe hanging in the heavens, he would, if he had imagination enough to take the thought in at all, put it to himself in a form suited to his previous knowledge and conceptions. It would seem to him that The Wasp flew about the skies with the world in his mouth, as he carries a bluebottle fly; and that would be the astronomy of his tribe henceforth. Absurd enough; but—as every man who is acquainted with old mythical cosmogonies must know—no more absurd than twenty similar guesses on record. Try to imagine the gradual genesis of such myths as the Egyptian scarabaeus and egg, or the Hindoo theory that the world stood on an elephant, the elephant on a tortoise, the tortoise on that infinite note of interrogation which, as some one expresses it, underlies all physical speculations, and judge: must they not have arisen in some such fashion as that which I have pointed out?

This, I say, would be the culminating point of the wasp-worship, which had sprung up out of bodily fear of being stung.

But times might come for it in which it would go through various changes, through which every superstition in the world, I suppose, has passed or is doomed to pass.

The wasp-men might be conquered, and possibly eaten, by a stronger tribe than themselves. What would be the result? They would fight valiantly at first, like wasps. But what if they began to fail? Was not the wasp- king angry with them? Had not he deserted them? He must be appeased; he must have his revenge. They would take a captive, and offer him to the wasps. So did a North American tribe, in their need, some forty years ago; when, because their maize-crops failed, they roasted alive a captive girl, cut her to pieces, and sowed her with their corn. I would not tell the story, for the horror of it, did it not bear with such fearful force on my argument. What were those Red Men thinking of? What chain of misreasoning had they in their heads when they hit on that as a device for making the crops grow? Who can tell? Who can make the crooked straight, or number that which is wanting? As said Solomon of old, so must we—"The foolishness of fools is folly." One thing only we can say of them, that they were horribly afraid of famine, and took that means of ridding themselves of their fear.

But what if the wasp-tribe had no captives? They would offer slaves. What if the agony and death of slaves did not appease the wasps? They would offer their fairest, their dearest, their sons and their daughters, to the wasps; as the Carthaginians, in like strait, offered in one day 200 noble boys to Moloch, the volcano-god, whose worship they had brought out of Syria; whose original meaning they had probably forgotten; of whom they only knew that he was a dark and devouring being, who must be appeased with the burning bodies of their sons and daughters. And so the veil of fancy would be lifted again, and the whole superstition stand forth revealed as the mere offspring of bodily fear.

But more; the survivors of the conquest might, perhaps, escape, and carry their wasp-fetish into a new land. But if they became poor and weakly, their brains and imagination, degenerating with their bodies, would degrade their wasp-worship till they knew not what it meant. Away from the sacred tree, in a country the wasps of which were not so large or formidable, they would require a remembrancer of the wasp-king; and they would make one—a wasp of wood, or what not. After a while, according to that strange law of fancy, the root of all idolatry, which you may see at work in every child who plays with a doll, the symbol would become identified with the thing symbolised; they would invest the wooden wasp with all the terrible attributes which had belonged to the live wasps of the tree; and after a few centuries, when all remembrance of the tree, the wasp-prophet and chieftain, and his descent from the divine wasp—aye, even of their defeat and flight—had vanished from their songs and legends, they would be found bowing down in fear and trembling to a little ancient wooden wasp, which came from they knew not whence, and meant they knew not what, save that it was a very "old fetish," a "great medicine," or some such other formula for expressing their own ignorance and dread. Just so do the half-savage natives of Thibet, and the Irishwomen of Kerry, by a strange coincidence—unless the ancient Irish were Buddhists, like the Himalayans—tie just the same scraps of rag on arise, and show men that they are not the puppets of Nature, but her lords; and that they are to fear God, and fear naught else.

And so ends my true myth of the wasp-tree. No, it need not end there; it may develop into a yet darker and more hideous form of superstition, which Europe has often seen; which is common now among the Negros; {256} which, we may hope, will soon be exterminated.

This might happen. For it, or something like it, has happened too many times already.

That to the ancient women who still kept up the irrational remnant of the wasp-worship, beneath the sacred tree, other women might resort; not merely from curiosity, or an excited imagination, but from jealousy and revenge. Oppressed, as woman has always been under the reign of brute force; beaten, outraged, deserted, at best married against her will, she has too often gone for comfort and help—and those of the very darkest kind—to the works of darkness; and there never were wanting—there are not wanting, even now, in remote parts of these isles—wicked old women who would, by help of the old superstitions, do for her what she wished. Soon would follow mysterious deaths of rivals, of husbands, of babes; then rumours of dark rites connected with the sacred tree, with poison, with the wasp and his sting, with human sacrifices; lies mingled with truth, more and more confused and frantic, the more they were misinvestigated by men mad with fear: till there would arise one of those witch-manias, which are too common still among the African Negros, which were too common of old among the men of our race.

I say, among the men. To comprehend a witch-mania, you must look at it as—what the witch-literature confesses it unblushingly to be—man's dread of Nature excited to its highest form, as dread of woman.

She is to the barbarous man—she should be more and more to the civilised man—not only the most beautiful and precious, but the most wonderful and mysterious of all natural objects, if it be only as the author of his physical being. She is to the savage a miracle to be alternately adored and dreaded. He dreads her more delicate nervous organisation, which often takes shapes to him demoniacal and miraculous; her quicker instincts, her readier wit, which seem to him to have in them somewhat prophetic and superhuman, which entangle him as in an invisible net, and rule him against his will. He dreads her very tongue, more crushing than his heaviest club, more keen than his poisoned arrows. He dreads those habits of secresy and falsehood, the weapons of the weak, to which savage and degraded woman always has recourse. He dreads the very medicinal skill which she has learnt to exercise, as nurse, comforter, and slave. He dreads those secret ceremonies, those mysterious initiations which no man may witness, which he has permitted to her in all ages, in so many—if not all—barbarous and semi-barbarous races, whether Negro, American, Syrian, Greek, or Roman, as a homage to the mysterious importance of her who brings him into the world. If she turn against him—she, with all her unknown powers, she who is the sharer of his deepest secrets, who prepares his very food day by day—what harm can she not, may she not do? And that she has good reason to turn against him, he knows too well. What deliverance is there from this mysterious house-fiend, save brute force? Terror, torture, murder, must be the order of the day. Woman must be crushed, at all price, by the blind fear of the man.

I shall say no more. I shall draw a veil, for very pity and shame, over the most important and most significant facts of this, the most hideous of all human follies. I have, I think, given you hints enough to show that it, like all other superstitions, is the child—the last born and the ugliest child—of blind dread of the unknown.

SCIENCE: A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution.

I said, that Superstition was the child of Fear, and Fear the child of Ignorance; and you might expect me to say antithetically, that Science was the child of Courage, and Courage the child of Knowledge.

But these genealogies—like most metaphors—do not fit exactly, as you may see for yourselves.

If fear be the child of ignorance, ignorance is also the child of fear; the two react on, and produce each other. The more men dread Nature, the less they wish to know about her. Why pry into her awful secrets? It is dangerous; perhaps impious. She says to them, as in the Egyptian temple of old—"I am Isis, and my veil no mortal yet hath lifted." And why should they try or wish to lift it? If she will leave them in peace, they will leave her in peace. It is enough that she does not destroy them. So as ignorance bred fear, fear breeds fresh and willing ignorance.

And courage? We may say, and truly, that courage is the child of knowledge. But we may say as truly, that knowledge is the child of courage. Those Egyptian priests in the temple of Isis would have told you that knowledge was the child of mystery, of special illumination, of reverence, and what not; hiding under grand words their purpose of keeping the masses ignorant, that they might be their slaves. Reverence? I will yield to none in reverence for reverence. I will all but agree with the wise man who said that reverence is the root of all virtues. But which child reverences his father most? He who comes joyfully and trustfully to meet him, that he may learn his father's mind, and do his will: or he who at his father's coming runs away and hides, lest he should be beaten for he knows not what? There is a scientific reverence, a reverence of courage, which is surely one of the highest forms of reverence. That, namely, which so reveres every fact, that it dare not overlook or falsify it, seem it never so minute; which feels that because it is a fact, it cannot be minute, cannot be unimportant; that it must be a fact of God; a message from God; a voice of God, as Bacon has it, revealed in things; and which therefore, just because it stands in solemn awe of such paltry facts as the Scolopax feather in a snipe's pinion, or the jagged leaves which appear capriciously in certain honeysuckles, believes that there is likely to be some deep and wide secret underlying them, which is worth years of thought to solve. That is reverence; a reverence which is growing, thank God, more and more common; which will produce, as it grows more common still, fruit which generations yet unborn shall bless.

But as for that other reverence, which shuts its eyes and ears in pious awe—what is it but cowardice decked out in state robes, putting on the sacred Urim and Thummim, not that men may ask counsel of the Deity, but that they may not? What is it but cowardice, very pitiable when unmasked; and what is its child but ignorance as pitiable, which would be ludicrous were it not so injurious? If a man comes up to Nature as to a parrot or a monkey, with this prevailing thought in his head—Will it bite me?—will he not be pretty certain to make up his mind that it may bite him, and had therefore best be left alone? It is only the man of courage—few and far between—who will stand the chance of a first bite, in the hope of teaching the parrot to talk, or the monkey to fire off a gun. And it is only the man of courage—few and far between—who will stand the chance of a first bite from Nature, which may kill him for aught he knows—for her teeth, though clumsy, are very strong—in order that he may tame her and break her in to his use by the very same method by which that admirable inductive philosopher, Mr. Rarey, used to break in his horses; first, by not being afraid of them; and next, by trying to find out what they were thinking of. But after all, as with animals, so with Nature; cowardice is dangerous. The surest method of getting bitten by an animal is to be afraid of it; and the surest method of being injured by Nature is to be afraid of it. Only as far as we understand Nature are we safe from it; and those who in any age counsel mankind not to pry into the secrets of the universe, counsel them not to provide for their own life and well-being, or for their children after them. But how few there have been in any age who have not been afraid of Nature. How few have set themselves, like Rarey, to tame her by finding out what she is thinking of. The mass are glad to have the results of science, as they are to buy Mr. Rarey's horses after they are tamed: but for want of courage or of wit, they had rather leave the taming process to some one else. And therefore we may say that what knowledge of Nature we have—and we have very little—we owe to the courage of those men—and they have been very few—who have been inspired to face Nature boldly; and say—or, what is better, act as if they were saying—"I find something in me which I do not find in you; which gives me the hope that I can grow to understand you, though you may not understand me; that I may become your master, and not as now, you mine. And if not, I will know: or die in the search."

It is to those men, the few and far between, in a very few ages and very few countries, who have thus risen in rebellion against Nature, and looked it in the face with an unquailing glance, that we owe what we call Physical Science.

There have been four races—or rather a very few men of each four races—who have faced Nature after this gallant wise.

First, the old Jews. I speak of them, be it remembered, exclusively from an historical, and not a religious point of view.

These people, at a very remote epoch, emerged from a country highly civilised, but sunk in the superstitions of nature-worship. They invaded and mingled with tribes whose superstitions were even more debased, silly, and foul than those of the Egyptians from whom they escaped. Their own masses were for centuries given up to nature-worship. Now among those Jews arose men—a very few—sages—prophets—call them what you will, the men were inspired heroes and philosophers—who assumed towards nature an attitude utterly different from the rest of their countrymen and the rest of the then world; who denounced superstition and the dread of nature as the parent of all manner of vice and misery; who for themselves said boldly that they discerned in the universe an order, a unity, a permanence of law, which gave them courage instead of fear. They found delight and not dread in the thought that the universe obeyed a law which could not be broken; that all things continued to that day according to a certain ordinance. They took a view of Nature totally new in that age; healthy, human, cheerful, loving, trustful, and yet reverent—identical with that which happily is beginning to prevail in our own day. They defied those very volcanic and meteoric phenomena of their land, to which their countrymen were slaying their own children in the clefts of the rocks, and, like Theophrastus' superstitious man, pouring their drink-offerings on the smooth stones of the valley; and declared that, for their part, they would not fear, though the earth was moved, and though the hills were carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters raged and swelled, and the mountains shook at the tempest.

The fact is indisputable. And you must pardon me if I express my belief that these men, if they had felt it their business to found a school of inductive physical science, would, owing to that temper of mind, have achieved a very signal success. I ground that opinion on the remarkable, but equally indisputable fact, that no nation has ever succeeded in perpetuating a school of inductive physical science, save those whose minds have been saturated with this same view of Nature, which they have—as an historic fact—slowly but thoroughly learnt from the writings of these Jewish sages.

Such is the fact. The founders of inductive physical science were not the Jews: but first the Chaldaeans, next the Greeks, next their pupils the Romans—or rather a few sages among each race. But what success had they? The Chaldaean astronomers made a few discoveries concerning the motions of the heavenly bodies, which, rudimentary as they were, still prove them to have been men of rare intellect. For a great and a patient genius must he have been, who first distinguished the planets from the fixed stars, or worked out the earliest astronomical calculation. But they seem to have been crushed, as it were, by their own discoveries. They stopped short. They gave way again to the primeval fear of Nature. They sank into planet-worship. They invented, it would seem, that fantastic pseudo-science of astrology, which lay for ages after as an incubus on the human intellect and conscience. They became the magicians and quacks of the old world; and mankind owed them thenceforth nothing but evil. Among the Greeks and Romans, again, those sages who dared face Nature like reasonable men, were accused by the superstitious mob as irreverent, impious, atheists. The wisest of them all, Socrates, was actually put to death on that charge; and finally, they failed. School after school, in Greece and Rome, struggled to discover, and to get a hearing for, some theory of the universe which was founded on something like experience, reason, common sense. They were not allowed to prosecute their attempt. The mud-ocean of ignorance and fear in which they struggled so manfully was too strong for them; the mud-waves closed over their heads finally, as the age of the Antonines expired; and the last effort of Graeco-Roman thought to explain the universe was Neoplatonism—the muddiest of the muddy—an attempt to apologise for, and organise into a system, all the nature-dreading superstitions of the Roman world. Porphyry, Plotinus, Proclus, poor Hypatia herself, and all her school—they may have had themselves no bodily fear of Nature; for they were noble souls. Yet they spent their time in justifying those who had; in apologising for the superstitions of the very mob which they despised: just as—it sometimes seems to me—some folk in these days are like to end in doing; begging that the masses might be allowed to believe in anything, however false, lest they should believe in nothing at all: as if believing in lies could do anything but harm to any human being. And so died the science of the old world, in a true second childhood, just where it began.

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