Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/133

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

AN UNHAPPY "SURVIVAL"

CONSIDERING that we are drawing near to the end of the nineteenth century, and that the thought of our day is supposed, to be more or less dominated by the scientific spirit, it is extraordinary to find certain words and phrases in common use that imply a survival of modes of thought proper only to periods of barbarism. As an example we would cite the word "luck," and all the familiar phrases in which that word is employed. By common consent, apparently, "luck" is a thing not to be defined; but it is none the less spoken of—and that not only by the ignorant and uneducated—as something exercising a real and potent influence on the affairs of men. It is qualified as good or bad: the man who has good luck enjoys the protection, as it were, of a guardian angel; the man who has bad luck is haunted and pursued by a malignant spirit. It is not men only who can be "lucky" or "unlucky"; ships, houses, railway lines, special days, special numbers, special gems, etc., may likewise fall into either category. It is even fashionable to talk about "mascots"—a mascot being an object, animate or inanimate, that contributes to the good fortune of its possessor. Thus we read a few days ago in one of our daily papers of a dog that was, as the traveling public believed, the "mascot" of a steamboat. The rage for horseshoes, as "lucky" things to nail up on one's premises, is perhaps as great as ever it was. Fashionable society, particularly, seems disposed to fondle the superstitions that science is laboring to banish. The light has come into the world, but there are those who neither comprehend it nor wish to comprehend it. Even on the part of men of scientific mind we find occasionally an unguarded use of language suggesting a participation in beliefs which, if seriously presented, they would strenuously condemn. Thus that excellent writer, Mr. S. Laing, author of one of the most interesting and useful books of the present day, "Modern Science and Modern Thought," says, in the concluding chapter of that work, that, if a laboring-man has once saved ten pounds, he may, "if he has any luck, readily make the ten a hundred or even a thousand pounds." Now, we think this an unfortunate expression: the idea it suggests is one which the writer would be the first to repudiate; and yet it might easily be quoted as evidence that even a most enlightened scientific writer recognizes "luck" as an element of success.

There is little use, probably, in arguing with people whose belief in luck is sincere and deep-seated. Such must be left to the education of experience and the influences of the time; and, likely enough, even with these aids, they will not unlearn their errors. But there is another class who, when they use the terms "luck" and "lucky," do so in a careless, indolent manner, or at most with only a half-belief that the words have any real significance. To these it may be well to represent that to talk of "luck" is simply to shuffle out of the responsibility of assigning things to their proper causes; and that, while this careless way of talking may do no special harm to the intelligent man who knows better than to be imposed upon by his own phrases, it does harm to people of less intelligence by confirming them in their delusions. It might perhaps be affirmed, indeed, that no man, however intelligent, can alto-