Page:Books Condemned to be Burnt - James Anson Farrer.djvu/66

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Books Condemned to be Burnt.

abiding one in the hearts of all the well-wishers of humanity. For his reading led him to the assault of one of the best established, most sacred, yet most stupid, of the superstitions of mankind; and to have exposed both the folly of the belief, and the cruelty of the legal punishments, of witchcraft, more justly entitles his memory to honour than the capture of many stormed cities or the butchery of thousands of his fellow-beings on a battlefield.

How trite is the argument that this or that belief must be true because so many generations have believed it, so many countries, so many famous men,—as if error, like stolen property, gained a title from prescription of time! Scot pierced this pretension with a single sentence: "Truth must not be measured by time, for every old opinion is not sound." "My great adversaries," he says, "are young ignorance and old custom. For what folly soever tract of time hath fostered, it is so superstitiously pursued of some as though no error could be acquainted with custom." May we not say, indeed, that beliefs are rendered suspect by the very extent of their currency and acceptance?

But Scot had a greater adversary than even young ignorance or old custom; and that was King James, who, whilst King of