Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/203

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case its adherents are secretly undermining some temporal tyranny whose conquest it would as yet be hopeless to attempt by open assault. These appear to be the very best ends which Secret Societies have ever acknowledged or professed as justifying and demanding their institution. Of such as have sprung from meaner or lighter motives, and have intentionally worked for selfish or fantastic or obstructive purposes, it is not here necessary to speak.

Judging them à priori, by deduction from their own first principles without induction of historical facts and fancies, my opinion is that even the best of such Secret Societies, formed and carried on for these best objects, always must have been and always must be failures; that at the best the results cannot pay the expense of the elaborate machinery, that the business must be carried on at a heavy and continually-increasing ratio of loss. But I have had no experience in any such Society, and I am well aware that deductions from first principles are often in reality as foolishly wrong as they appear logically right; the reader will therefore please to bear in mind that my statements state mere inferences, and are liable to be dispersed to the four w4nds by statements of facts from some member of a noble brotherhood. It would be tiresome to begin nearly every sentence with "I should judge," or some similar phrase; let it, then, be understood once for all that the following are mere fancy portraits, and may be very vile caricatures of the originals.

A Secret Society must come into being with a glow of enthusiasm and a vigorous activity; but the enthusiasm becomes a narrow fanaticism or dies out altogether, the activity degenerates into busybodyism or sets into an unprogressive routine like that of a squirrel in its cage. The spirit of fraternity either discovers that it cannot harmonise the little world of the Society, and gradually