Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/May 1874/Editor's Table
THE celebrated Tichborne case, now closed in England, has one aspect which is as full of instruction for us as for the people among whom it occurred. The leading facts have been often printed, but, as the proceedings dragged through several years, it may be well to make a brief summary of the main facts involved in it. Roger Charles Tichborne was born in 1829, and was heir to a baronetcy and an immense English estate, yielding a revenue of $100,000 a year. His parents were an ill-assorted couple, of English origin and French connection, habitation, and language. The father is represented as weak, and the mother indolent, selfish, and willful. The family was Roman Catholic, and the boy passed through the hands of priests and tutors in Paris, and afterward attended school at Stonyhurst. He then entered the army, where he remained three years, when, tired of home, he resolved to travel, and, after visiting various ports in South America, disappeared, and is supposed to have been lost by the sinking of a ship at sea in the spring of 1854. His personality was peculiar and marked. Slender in physique, and with the manners of a gentleman, he had a half-French and half-English education, and "his examinations, his regiments, his barracks, his instructions, his drills, his peculiarities on parade, in the mess-room, or in quarters, his favorite novels, his amusements, his French songs, his topics of conversation, his associates, the cut of his clothes, the style of his boots, his whips, his fowling-pieces, his tobacco-pipes, his days of leave, his twitching, and his peculiar rendering of the words of command," were well known, and perfectly remembered by his associates. He was, besides, a copious letter-writer, and when in the New World kept a full journal, often copying it several times, and sending it home in the form of letters to his mother and aunt. "There was no change noticeable in him before leaving home, or any tendency to alteration of person, gait, or expression, nor any symptom that he was becoming less of a gentleman, or inclined to descend to a lower and freer social stratum."
The disappearance and supposed death of Roger placed his proud and willful and half-insane mother in an unpleasant position in regard to the estate, which would go to the child of a detested daughter-in-law. The disappointment became a possession, a frenzy, and she was determined not to endure it. She accordingly advertised in Australia for information regarding the missing heir of the Tichborne estate. It was a promising region in which to find one: as the London Times remarks. "A very large class there are more or less adventurous, taking the license and claiming the immunities of that character. Often changing employment and companionship, and filling up the gaps as they know best, they meet at stations, at diggings, at the bars of hotels, hearing and telling wild, disjointed, strangely-transmuted legends of that old home in the Northern Hemisphere, to them a wonder-land, a romance, and a tradition. It is always the strangest that travels the farthest, and what they do hear of the Old Country is just that which we regard as the least fair sample of it. They are also great novel-readers, and, while they read in shilling volumes numerous stories of patrimonies going a-begging, heirs lost and found, and clever men making their way to the palace from the dunghill, they are also told that 'truth is stranger than fiction,' and, what is more, that audacity is sometimes found better than either." And so the desperate mother "had it published out there that there were good grounds for believing her son, the heir of a splendid patrimony, to have survived a wreck off the coast of South America, where he had been traveling, and to have possibly found his way to Australia, where, for reasons of his own, he might have changed his name, assumed a disguise, and adopted some common occupation."
The advertiser found her customer. There was an adventurer in Australia, Arthur Orton by name, although passing under another cognomen, a butcher and stock-driver, who had sailed about the Atlantic and Pacific, had visited the places where Roger Tichborne had been, had had various occupations, was a kind of Catholic, and an adept at duplicity. He announced himself as Sir Roger Tichborne, the sole survivor of the lost Bella, who was picked up and taken to Australia by another vessel, which with all its crew had quite vanished out of existence. The case would seem to have been unpromising. The claimant was a fat, clumsy, ignorant, low-bred vagabond, who did not understand a word of French, and could not write a note without twenty vulgar blunders, and for twelve months after he gave himself out as Sir Roger he was ludicrously in the dark as to everything pertaining to the Tichborne family beyond a few stray facts which he had picked up from the newspapers—he did not know where the family property was situated, nor even his mother's name. It is said that at first he was hardly serious about his pretensions, but he was soon surrounded by plenty of those that were serious—attorneys, money-lenders, speculators, hangers-on of all kinds, stupid dupes and conscious accomplices, who backed him up, and urged him on in the enterprise of reclaiming the estate. Moreover, money was needed, and had to be advanced; and those who contributed it, although they may have doubted at first, doubted no longer.
Of course it will be said, a mother would know her own son, and the question of identification could be at once and very effectually settled. But she did not wait to see him before deciding the point. "As she had made up her mind, not only that her son lived, but also that he had lived for a long period among the scum of the human race, under false names and disguises, pursuing low occupations, and willfully forgetting all he was or had ever learned, her anticipations were only corroborated, and her faith strengthened by all she now heard of the man's figure, habits, language, writing, and associations." Every thing was encouraging, and seven years ago the claimant landed in England, and was at once recognized by the overjoyed mother as her long-lost son. The favoring circumstances and the tactics to which they gave rise are thus described by the Times writer:
Of the stupendous trial which followed, the whole world is aware. Six years ago the claimant applied to the Court of Chancery as a first step to legal proceedings, and three years since he commenced a trial of ejectment in the court of Common Pleas, which lasted six months. Nine months ago he was himself put upon his trial for perjuries committed in the former case, and after 188 days' adjudication he was convicted by the jury in half an hour, as a perjured impostor. The solicitor-general occupied thirty-one days in opening the case, the counsel for defense consumed forty-seven days in summing up, and the chief-justice took eighteen days to deliver his charge, which would have filled 180 columns of the London Times. Half a million dollars were contributed by the English people, in the shape of bonds, to enable the claimant to prosecute the case, and, according to the Spectator, it cost to all parties—the crown, the Tichborne family, and the defendant's supporters—more than a million and a quarter of dollars!
Such are the leading features of the most extraordinary and the most celebrated lawsuit in all history, which has just come to an end. The question now arises how it became possible to get up so tremendous a struggle over so simple an issue. It might perplex us, far away as we are, to find a satisfactory answer, but the whole British press comes to our relief with a unanimity and an emphasis that are quite remarkable. They agree that the cause of so monstrous and overgrown a procedure is not to be ascribed to the defects of English law-practice, but to the gross ignorance, the silly love of the marvelous, the stupid credulity, and the wide-mouthed gullibility of the English people, who backed up the case and furnished the means for fighting it. The Spectator says: "The credulity which has been disclosed throughout the case is positively frightful.... Evidence of the most unanswerable character left the believers absolutely unmoved." And of the judge's charge it says: "Nothing but that slow-dripping, luminous narrative, with all its lengthy letters, and all its moral reflections, and all its apt quotations to justify its actions, would ever have fairly driven its illusions out of the British public." The Saturday Review says:
The London Times, referring to the dupes who were made witnesses, remarks:
The British press, it is evident, has not failed to draw the proper lesson from this seven years' experiment upon the state of mind of that country. It is especially noteworthy that the folly which made it possible was not confined to the illiterate classes; the delusion carried away half the English people of all grades, and the result is no doubt correctly attributed to that general deficiency in educational methods which neglects the proper study of evidence.
And from this point of view the Tichborne case is not without interest to us; for we have an education similar to the English in that it does not enforce the critical study of proof, and therefore leaves the people without protection against the tactics of ingenious imposture. That impositions of all kinds should arise under such circumstances is natural. We may not be able to exhibit any such stunning example of audacious imposture as our English friends have just exploited, but we have plenty of the same kind of thing on a smaller scale. Whether deception and fraud are more extensive here than elsewhere, or more extensive now than formerly, we do not inquire; but their extent is certainly alarming. It would almost seem that overreaching, and circumventing, and the attainment of ends by false pretenses, are becoming organized in our blood, for "smartness" and "sharpness" have acquired new meanings and are openly commended, and nothing is more common than the remark that a little humbug is indispensable in all successful management. Certain it is that we are duped and cheated continually, and in a thousand ways. At home and on the street, in the cars, at public assemblies, and in all the relations of life, we are beset and imposed upon by designing knaves of every shade. We eat the falsified foods of the grocer, and wear the swindling textures of the dry-goods man. We are "done" by unscrupulous shoemakers, and "sold" by dishonest hatters, while builders construct for us fraudulent houses, and upholsterers fill them with sham furniture. The gasmen and the street-cleaners sell us one thing and furnish another, and, turn where we will, we are plied with plausible deceptions, and made the victims of ingenious rascality. Granting that much of this is inevitable, it is certain that more of it might be avoided, and is due to that credulous state of mind by which, like fools, we believe half that is told us.
If, leaving the sphere of private dealings, we take a wider outlook, the case is far from being mended. Under our republican institutions politics is a universal interest and a semi-occupation of everybody, and who does not know that it is given over to interminable deception and the rankest fraud? An unscrupulous demagogism overshadows the land and shoots down its multitudinous roots into the same stupid public credulity. What else are our political parties but contrivances for massing, organizing, and manipulating, the gullibility of the people? Year after year they are fooled by crafty intriguers, and no braying in the legislative mortar is sufficient to drive their foolishness out. The patriotic perfection of the partisan is measured by his swallow; he must gulp every thing that is administered from his own side, and his steady and stupid faith is the stock-in-trade of political gamesters. A motley crowd of those who have outdone their rivals in the unscrupulous tactics of the canvass get together in some grand edifice, which from corner-stone to liberty-cap is a monument of fraudulent jobbing, and they then call themselves a "government," while the superstitious multitude hails the conclave as the "assembled wisdom." Wise in all the arts by which a credulous people are deluded they certainly are; for how else would their lying promises continue to pass from hand to hand as veritable money?
Now, against all this multifarious imposture, this liability to be misled by calculating knaves of every complexion, what is our defense? How much is accomplished by the 300 colleges, and 800 academies, and altogether some 2,000 high-schools, supplemented by 168,000 common schools, in the way of guarding the people against the delusions and deceptions to which they are perpetually exposed? The common schools bring the mass of them up to the point of reading the newspapers, and thus greatly increase their exposure, but they furnish no mental resources of counteraction. The newspaper has its useful office, but it is the most efficient instrument of a vicious partisanship, and an instrument easily wielded by designing men. The higher institutions turn out the raw material which is quickly worked up into knavish managers on the one hand, and credulous partisan gulls on the other; for, as Mr. Carlyle remarks, "quack and dupe are at bottom the same thing." We find the cause of this wide-spread evil, as the Times remarks, in a faulty, mental training which gives the cultivated man but little advantage over the illiterate one. It is questionable, indeed, if the common sense of untaught people is not to-day quite as good a defense against preposterous pretensions, and the arts of skillful deception, as the elaborate cultivation of the schools. It is true that logic, as the art and analysis of reasoning, is more or less taught, but it is taught to but little practical purpose. Learning the rules of logic may assist to make a dexterous intellectual fencer, but it will no more make a circumspect and cautious thinker than learning the rules of morality will make a virtuous man. The darkest period of human credulity, when no extravagance was too gross to be greedily swallowed, was the golden era of the study of logic in all the schools of Europe.
It is often said that we are indebted to modern science for the emancipation of the human mind, but it is frequently forgotten in what its slavery consisted, and how science proceeded to set it free. The mental thraldom of the dark ages consisted in the submission of the mind to beliefs imposed on it by authority, and interpreted by authority; the effect of which was to make blind credence the universal mental habit. The influence of theology was by no means confined to religious opinions. Men accepted their views of Nature on the authority of Aristotle as much as their creeds on the authority of the Fathers. Holding it sinful to disbelieve, they avoided the sin in all things. Modern Science began by attacking this state of mind, and has won her great conquests on the principle of the supremacy of personal observation as against the weight of traditional belief. But there must be doubt of authority before there can be rebellion against it. The first step toward truth, or the verification of opinions, is therefore a skeptical state of mind in regard to what has hitherto passed as truth. The great poet missed the philosophy of the case when he said:
Though doubts did ever sleep;"
for the slumber of doubt is not favorable to the confirmation of truth. There is but one thing that can protect people against the thousand-fold insidious and plausible impostures to which they are continually and everywhere exposed, and that is a resolute mood of skepticism, and an intelligent habit of sifting evidence that shall become a daily and constant practice. Our education is here seriously at fault. It neither provides for the requisite discipline, nor does it insist upon its necessity. The old universities were originally religious seminaries, and all teaching was at first in the hands of the clerical profession; while even yet our presidents of colleges are mainly doctors of divinity. The world owes much to the clergy as the conservators of learning in the past, and the teachers of mankind when there were no others to perform the office; but their service in this respect has not been an unmingled good: it has had its drawbacks which still survive. To this day there is an almost universal feeling that belief and disbelief answer to each other as virtue and vice. The very terms which indicate the state of mind preparatory to all rigorous investigation of truth are tainted with prejudice and held to involve an implication of criminality. With such a bias it is most difficult to train the mind to that healthy habit of doubt which shall give it protection against the thousand-fold impostures which assail it on every side.
Perhaps the evil here considered can never be wholly eradicated from society, but much can be done to diminish it, and it is the proper office of education to do it. And as science by its mental method has put an end to the grosser forms of credulous belief and blind superstition, so when that method is carried into general education we may expect still further advantages of the same kind. Scientific education, truly such—not the mere committal and recitation of text-books, but a practical and systematic exercise of the mind in observation, inference, judgment, and the weighing of evidence—will meet the present requirement as nothing else can. Much may be done by the diffusion of scientific knowledge to dispel the ignorance which is taken advantage of by practised charlatans; but people cannot learn every thing, and there are many things of which the most intelligent must remain ignorant. There ought, however, to be no difficulty in learning how to deal with the claims and pretensions that are put forward, even though the facts involved are not understood; and this is simply a question of the criteria of truth and of cautious habits in accepting proof.
In our office as chroniclers of the progress of scientific thought, we are called upon to record some further and marked concessions to the position that the doctrine of Evolution is not an antireligious doctrine. For the last fifteen or twenty years since this theory has been definitely enunciated, and sustained on scientific grounds, there has been vehement protest, on the part of many theologians, that it negatives all possibility of religion. The leaders have not hesitated to make up the issue between religious belief and a doctrine of science which simply depends upon accumulated evidence. The view supposed to be so fraught with danger has, however, been steadily making its way in the minds of those most competent to judge of its truth; and now it is beginning to be perceived that the alarm was groundless, and that, though Evolution be established, the great questions of theology remain just where they were before. A favorite position has been that the conception of Evolution is inconsistent with the idea of Divine design in Nature, but it is now acknowledged that the only effect is to substitute a larger for a narrower view of design. Dr. McCosh, in his lectures, a year or two since, put the question on this broad ground. He said, virtually, "Establish whatever facts you please in regard to the workings of Nature and the order of the universe, and behind the whole phenomenal scheme I find the Infinite mind-by which it was all designed." A new and very able work has just appeared, entitled "Darwinism and Design; or Creation by Evolution," by Mr. George St. Clair, F. G. S., in which the whole problem is elaborately discussed from the new point of view. The author takes the same ground as Dr. McCosh, and argues ably against those who hold that Evolution is destructive of teleology, or the doctrine of ends and purposes in Nature. He admits that it is inconsistent with the old restricted interpretations of teleology, but claims that it only substitutes a far more comprehensive principle of the same kind. We note that the Nonconformist, the organ of the English Dissenters, and one of the stanchest orthodox periodicals, gives in its adhesion to Mr. St. Clair's positions, and highly commends his work. An article in our present number gives the argument upon this subject of Prof. Jevons, the able English logician, to the same purport, and also the substance of an address by a distinguished divine of New York, illustrating similar views. The present aspect of the case thus becomes interesting. It looks as if theology itself were about to take a great advancing step, which it has stoutly resisted, but has been at length compelled to take by the advance of scientific research. After a few more such experiences it is to be hoped that our friends will begin to recognize that theology is also progressive, and that, so far from being an enemy, Science is a helping friend of true religion.