Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/422

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410
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

THE DECLINE OF THE GHOST.

A LONDON correspondent of the "Boston Herald" makes the significant and, from our point of view, encouraging statement that, in all the Christmas annuals—and their name is legion—published this season, there is hardly to be found a single ghost-story. Formerly ghost-stories were of all the most attractive; and somehow they were thought to be particularly suited to Christmas-time. Nowadays the ghost is left out in the cold. In this festive season no one invites him in to so much as "warm his toes," to quote the expression of a prominent Democratic politician. Why is this? What has made the change?

The change is due to several causes. If asked to name the most general of these, we should say the growing intelligence of the age. If people don't care to talk or read about ghosts as they once did, it is because they no longer believe or even half believe in them. The world of the living is encroaching more and more upon the world of the dead. In very primitive times men not only believed in ghosts with all their heart and soul, but they attributed to them the same range of activities for good and evil as they attributed to living men. The powers of living men in those days were so limited that it was not paying the ghosts a very inordinate compliment to suppose that they could do as much. But steadily, as the powers of living man increased, as he acquired a more extended control over Nature, the prestige of the ghost, who became more and more conspicuously unable to imitate him, diminished. To-day we leave the ghost out of our reckonings entirely; we neither ask his aid nor strive to avert his malice. When a man is once duly certified as dead, we do not look for any continuance of his personal activity, however great the influence of his character may still be in the world.

The ghost, we fear, has also suffered In popular esteem through being investigated. Modern philosophers have not been afraid of the investigation; they have pushed the ghost hard from age to age, from race to race, from country to country; and their verdict is that, while the ghost-idea has been very potent in the world in past times, and still flourishes in the dark places of the earth, the ghost himself has no estate or effects that it would be worth anybody's while to try to levy upon. The return to the warrant is the disappointing one, nulla bona. The ghost, in all his alleged travels through the centuries, has left no monument. There is not one solid piece of work anywhere extant that can be credited to a ghostly origin. If he ever "materialized," he was careful to "dematerialize" again before any one could got a sample of his beautiful work. But, although the ghost himself does not stand out as a vera causa of anything, the belief in ghosts has affected in the most important manner the whole course of civilization. This fact the philosophers have brought very prominently forward, and in doing so they have presented for examination such an infinite and grotesque variety of ghost-beliefs, and of usages and ceremonies connected therewith, that the very name of ghost, instead of awakening, as formerly, a host of superstitious terrors, is, to-day, far more suggestive of some methodical and not over-exciting treatise on primitive man. In short, the ghost nowadays is more apt to make us yawn than to make us shudder. What wonder, then, that he no longer rules as of yore in Christmas