Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/359

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645
CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.

So it is plain that the mastodon came into what is now New Jersey ere the ice-sheet began. It receded south before it. It followed the thawing northward, and so again possessed the land. It occupied this part of the country when its shore-line was miles farther out to sea than it is to-day. Here it was confronted by the human savage, in whom it found more than its match; for, before this autochthonic Nimrod, Behemoth melted away.

 

CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.
By FELIX L. OSWALD, M. D.

SOME of the higher animals have a peculiar faculty for accustoming themselves to various kinds of poison; and man, especially, often owes his ruin to that unfortunate talent, for the instinct of taste can be so perverted that the vilest and originally most repulsive substances become the most seductive.

There is a curious analogy between this corruptible sense and the intellectual (rather than moral) constitution of the human mind. It may be doubted if any man ever loved injustice for its own sake, or voluntarily connived at its habitual exercise. History proves that successful tyrants could maintain themselves only by favoring a strong party at the expense of the weak. Pisistratus, Hiero, the elder Dionysius, Vespasian, Mohammed Baber, and Haroun, miscalled Al-Raschid, were the idols of the army and of the poor. Even Mehemet Ali had his redeeming qualities. Men can stand only a limited amount of iniquity. But their intellectual tolerance has no such limits. Persistent misrulers come to an evil end, but the founder of a sect, a school, or a new creed, may

"... reign without dispute
In all the realms of nonsense, absolute"—

and it even seems as if in the struggle for supremacy the most insane dogmas had the advantage over moderately absurd ones, just as opium is apt to supersede brandy and tobacco. In China, where the neutrality of the government gave all creeds a fair chance, the fate-worship of Confucius was eclipsed by the Buddhistic worship of sorrow. In Greece, the orthodox polytheists held their own against all heresies. The pure theism of Abd-el-Wahab was throttled by the champions of the Sunnitic traditions. In Rome, where the struggle for existence was fought out by fourteen or fifteen different creeds, theists, pantheists, Nature-worshipers, agnostics, and all kinds of speculative philosophers had to yield to the Asiatic miracle-mongers with their Nature-hating fanaticism and Buddhistic crotchets; and Buddha himself was