Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/385

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

can once more behold the dread procession wending its way amid jeers and scoffs and pitiless execration to what is still "The Gallows-hill of Salem."

It is, in fact, impossible to exaggerate the sufferings produced throughout Christendom by this superstition. "It is probable that no class of victims endured sufferings so unalloyed and so intense. Not for them the wild fanaticism that nerves the soul against danger and almost steels the body against torments. Not for them the assurance of a glorious eternity that has made the martyr look with exultation upon the rising flame as on Elijah's chariot that is to bear his soul to heaven. Not for them the solace of lamenting friends or the consciousness that their memories would be cherished and honored by posterity. They died alone, hated and unpitied; their very kinsmen shrank from them as tainted and accursed. The superstitions they had imbibed in childhood, blending with the illusions of age and with the horrors of their position, persuaded them in many cases that they were indeed the bond-slaves of Satan, and were about to exchange their torments on earth for an agony that was as excruciating, but was eternal." And it is wonderful how long this delusion lasted after judicial punishment in most countries had ceased. In Spain a witch was burned in 1780; in 1807 a beggar was tortured and burned in France; in 1850, in France, a man and wife tortured and killed a woman suspected of witchcraft, and it was with some difficulty that they were punished at all, on account of the lingering belief in sorcery; in 1860 a woman was burned in Mexico, as was the case with several persons in 1874; in 1879 and 1880 witches were burned in Russia; while up to that date, and possibly later, regular judicial trials were held in Austria and Prussia. It is needless to say that almost up to the present, even in England and the United States, persons have been attacked by mobs and private individuals, because it was believed that they were in league with Satan.

But, roughly speaking, this superstition has entirely disappeared; and it has disappeared, not so much through religion as through enlightenment and rationalism. The crushing of this hydra-headed monster of superstition is one small part of the debt the world owes to science.


Some drawings recently found by Herr J. Naue at a prehistoric station near Schaffhausen, Germany, comprise, on one side of a piece of limestone, a horse, a foal, and a reindeer, and on the other side several horses. The style is not so fine as that of the Thayngen drawings of France, but the pictures, according to the finder, display a power of keen observation. Herr Naue also remarks that it was more difficult to work on stone than on a bone still fresh.