Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/154

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there are even among the educated classes now, who have taken in the drift of that memorable passage in the beginning of the 'Novum Organum:' — 'The human understanding, when any proposition has been once laid down (either from general admission and belief, or from the pleasure it affords), forces everything else to add fresh support and confirmation; and although most cogent and abundant instances may exist to the contrary, yet either does not observe or despises them, or gets rid of and rejects them by some distinction, with violent and injurious prejudice, rather than sacrifice the authority of its first conclusions. It was well answered by him who was shown in a temple the votive tablets suspended by such as had escaped the peril of shipwreck, and was pressed as to whether he would then recognize the power of the gods, by an inquiry, "But where are the portraits of those who have perished in spite of their vows?"'[1]

On the whole, the survival of symbolic magic through the middle ages and into our own times is an unsatisfactory, but not a mysterious fact. A once-established opinion, however delusive, can hold its own from age to age, for belief can propagate itself without reference to its reasonable origin, as plants are propagated from slips without fresh raising from the seed.

The history of survival in cases like those of the folk-lore and occult arts which we have been considering, has for the most part been a history of dwindling and decay. As men's minds change in progressing culture, old customs and opinions fade gradually in a new and uncongenial atmosphere, or pass into states more congruous with the new life around them. But this is so far from being a law without exception, that a narrow view of history may often make it seem to be no law at all. For the stream of civilization winds and turns upon itself, and what seems the bright onward current of one age may in the next spin round in a whirling

  1. Bacon, 'Novum Organum.' The original story is that of Diagoras; see Cicero, 'De Natura Deorum,' iii. 37; Diog. Laërt. lib. vi., Diogenes, 6.