Superstitions

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Superstitions
by Joseph Addison
An essay published in The Spectator.

Going yesterday to dine with an old acquaintance, I had the misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon asking him the occasion of it, he told me that his wife had dreamt a strange dream the night before, which they were afraid portended some misfortune to themselves or to their children. At her coming into the room, I observed a settled melancholy in her countenance, which I should have been troubled for had I not heard from whence it proceeded. We were no sooner sat down, but after having looked upon me a little while, "My dear," says she, turning to her husband, "you may now see the stranger that was in the candle last night."

Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little boy at the lower end of the table told her that he was going into join-hand on Thursday. "Thursday!" says she. "No, child, if it please God, you shall not begin upon Childermas-day; tell your writing-master that Friday will be soon enough."

I was reflecting with myself on the oddness of her fancy, and wondering that anybody would establish it as a rule to lose a day in every week. In the midst of these my musings, she desired me to reach her a little salt upon the point of my knife, which I did in such a trepidation and hurry of obedience, that I let it drop by the way, at which she immediately startled, and said it fell towards her. Upon this I looked very blank; and, observing the concern of the whole table, began to consider myself with some confusion as a person that had brought disaster upon the family. The lady, however, recovering herself after a little space, said to her husband, with a sigh, "My dear, misfortunes never come single." My friend, I found, acted but an under part at his table, and, being a man of more good-nature than understanding, thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the passions and humours of his yoke-fellow. "Do not you remember, child," says she, "that the pigeon-house fell the very afternoon that our careless wench spilt salt upon the table?" "Yes," says he, "my dear, and the next post brought us an account of the battle of Almanza."

The reader may guess at the figure I made after having done all this mischief. I despatched my dinner as soon as I could with my usual taciturnity; when, to my utter confusion, the lady seeing me quitting my knife and fork, and laying them across one another upon my plate, desired me that I would humour her so far as to take them out of that figure and place them side by side. What the absurdity was that I had committed I did not know, but I suppose that there was some traditionary superstition in it; and therefore, in obedience to the lady of the house, I disposed of my knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I shall always lay them in for future, though I do not know any reason for it.

It is not difficult for a man to see that a person has conceived an aversion to him. For my own part, I quickly found by the lady's looks that she regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an unfortunate aspect. For which reason I took my leave immediately after dinner, and withdrew to my lodgings.