22 JANUARY 1921, Page 8


WHAT shall I make the title of this essay ? " In Praise of Credulity " or " The Pleasures of Credulity " ? Either would do. However, I need not come to a decision until I reach the word finis. But in order to make a start I had better make open confession. I am one of those misguided people who find happiness in believing. Credulity may be wrong, but it is undeniably pleasurable. If I like to be credulous, why should I not be so ? If you choose to be incredulous, I am not going to interfere with you ; all I would say is that you find your pleasure elsewhere than I do. Let me explain. The other day I was given an odd volume, one of twenty-one, presented in the year 1790 as a prize to a boy (lucky youth !) who was being educated in Ireland, at a school at Ennis, in County Clare, the headmaster of which was one Augustine Fitzgerald. From a book-lover's point of view my odd volume (my prize, I should say) is valueless ; but I would not part with it under any consideration. The title of this book is The World Displayed ; or, a Curious Collection of Voyages and Travels, &c., for the first volume of which an Introduction was written by Dr. Johnson on the invitation of Mr. Newbery, that volume making its appearance in 1759, and the remaining volumes being published in subsequent years.

From my treasure I learn, amongst other things, that in that portion of Africa which is watered by the River Gambia are many poisonous snakes, the most venomous of which is a small one which has on its head a crest like that of a cock, and which, furthermore, will sit up and crow like a cock. It may be asked, " Do you really mean to say you believe that ? " My answer is that, never having been to the Gambia, I am not prepared to make any affirmation or denial. But I do take pleasure in the information which is given me concerning this singularly interesting reptile. For one thing, it pleases me to reflect that I live in a country where such reptiles do not exist But then, again, I meditate, and it pleases me to think how in these days when it is so hard for many of us to make a living, a large fortune might be made by purchasing a big consignment of these reptiles, acclimatizing them, drawing their poison fangs, and then offering them for sale as ladies' pets. Already I foresee a slump in Pekingese, and already hear the Lady Venena Anguish saying to her dearest friend, " Trixy (short for Cockatrixy, you know) is a perfect little love. His only draw- back is that he will wake me at cock-crow." Already I see myself becoming enormously wealthy, a sort of super-profiteer ; already I see Government imposing a new and successful form of taxation—the Cockatrice Tax. I am certainly going to help to reduce the National Debt. I begin to think I must possess the second sight. Let me be careful—I am treading on very dangerous ground. All this, I must confess, pleases me. Then why attempt to rob me of my pleasure ? I am doing no harm to anyone. I do not ask anyone to believe in my dear little cockatrice.

But I have a grievance. There are people who will not let me believe in many things which I find it difficult to disbelieve. The • fact is, the men of scientific mind and training never sufficiently realize what an extremely small portion of the population of the British Isles they represent. Nine-tenths of us are content to say, and it causes us no unhappiness to say, " We live in a very rum world, and as far as we can see there are simply hosts of things for which no satisfactory explanation is forthcoming." Take, for instance, the divining-rod. Heaven help us ! You do not believe in that piece of gross superstition, do you ? All I can say is that to-day, as I was going about my pariah (yes, I am a country parson), I met the estate agent, who had been busy over the draining of some land. The " drainer " had been with him, and he would not part with his " drainer " for untold gold. The " drainer " had been using his divining-rod, and using it successfully. It is frequently used by him in his occupation on this big Yorkshire estate. Science, I believe, would frown upon such a proceeding. I can but say to science, and I do so most respectfully, " Come and see. Come, and you will find the drainer ' proceeding as he does from a knowledge based on experience. What is wrong in that ? He will not be able to tell you why his divining- rod tells him where water is ; all he knows is that it does tell him." I might add that not everyone has the power to use it. The agent cannot ; I cannot ; my father could ; the present owner of the estate of which I am speaking can, so the agent tells me, to a slight extent.

But a severe blow has recently been dealt me. I have just received, for I do not get it immediately after publication, the June number of my beloved Cornitill--Cornhill that I have been taking for years and years. I open its pages and I find that in the name of Mr. Edward Clodd it forbids me to believe in what is known as the second sight. Mr. Edward Clodd wants to spoil my pleasure. Ho wants, for one thing, to lessen my admiration for Dr. Samuel Johnson, of whom he falls foul because the great lexicographer did, apparently, believe in the second sight. To lower Dr. Johnson in my eyes is to rob me of a great deal of happiness. Mr. Clodd's explanation of Dr. Johnson's lapse into credulity can be stated shortly. He says that " No unwholesome workings of the mind need be suggested as explanation of the robust Johnson's willingness to believe in second sight. Sufficing reason for that belief are [sic) supplied by his temperament and surroundings. He was a devout Christian, he accepted the Bible as, in his own words, ' a positive revelation,' he looked for salvation through the atoning merits of Christ as a Divine Being ; he was instant in Prayer." It does surprise me to think that Mr. Edward Clodd should so entirely leave out of sight Johnson's constant ill-health, a certain morbid state of mind which frequently tormented him, and his often acknowledged morbid fear of death. The Doctor was undoubtedly " robust," but he was " touched for scrofula " as a child, he suffered from " morbid melancholy " and from " convulsions "—I quote from the Index of Mr. Augustine Birrell's edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson.

In other people, according to Mr. Clodd, it is " unwholesome workings of the mind," or internal revolution beneath the belt, which bring about a belief in second-sight. In Johnson's case it was nothing of the sort. It was simply that he was " a devout Christian." One may surely be permitted to remind Mr. Clodd that belief in the second sight is not an article of the Christian creed. There must be numbers of " devout Christians " who do not believe in the second sight ; numbers again who, having thought about it, have not made up their minds, and are content to leave it an open question ; numbers, again, who have never given it a thought at all. In this con- nexion it is interesting to recall the fact that a good many years before the second sight was occupying the attention of that " devout Christian," Samuel Johnson, it had already exercised the mind of that keen and restless observer of men and things, Samuel Pepys. God forbid that I should deny him his right to the title of a Christian, but he himself would not have made any strenuous denial of the fact that there were lapses in his devotion. Apart from his eyesight I rather fancy that on the whole Samuel Pepys enjoyed exceedingly good health, was, in fact, full of joie de vivre. I am not sure that he believed in the second sight, but I do know that he

gave the subject his serious attention. For myself I am, I hope, a Christian. Do I believe in the second sight ? Like Dr. Johnson, I confess I find it hard to disbelieve. I am not

ashamed to say why. It was my lot to have a stepmother. She was a woman of strongly marked character. Amongst

other things she was keenly interested in polities in days when such an interest was confined to but a few of her sex. And though she took no active part in politics, I well remember how, during the elections of l885, to such a high pitch did her political enthusiasm rise that to us others in the house, who did not share in that enthusiasm, life was somewhat of a burden. My stepmother was an exceedingly clever woman, and found other interests in life besides politics. Why drag in my stepmother ? Well, she is always mixed up in my mind with what I am about to relate, and but for her I should not have been in a position to tell the story.

Amongst her friends and ours was the wife of a doctor. This lady was a Scot, or of Scottish descent, and I am under the impression that her husband was connected with the family of the poet Wordsworth. Although what happened took place more than thirty years ago, I have a very distinct recol- lection of this lady, and the impression of her that remains in my mind is that of a woman in whose nature a sweet and serious gravity preponderated ; she was not a person " of morbid temperament or low mentality." One day while calling on my stepmother the conversation turned on the second sight. " Do you believe in it ? " my stepmother asked. " How can I help doing so, seeing that I have it ?" was the uncompromising answer. She then gave the following curious instance of what is commonly called second sight.

Some few years previous to the time of which I am speaking her husband had had a young man with him as dispenser. He lived as one of the family, and they were all exceedingly fond of him. One day he was offered a lucrative appointment in Australia. He did not want to accept it as he was very happy where he was ; but it was a splendid opening for a young man, and the doctor said that, of course, there could be no question of his refusing. In the end he made up his mind to. go. On the morning of the day on which he was to sail, the doctor's wife came down to breakfast pale and distrait. On being asked what was the matter, she replied that she had had a dreadful dream about her husband's assistant, and she implored him not to go. Asked what her dream was, she said that she had seen him quite distinctly on board a liner in mid- ocean, that he was fishing, that a huge bird got hold of his line and pulled him overboard, and that she saw him drowned. Needless to say, she was laughed at. But what she saw did actually happen. During the voyage some of the passengers, this young man amongst them„ were fishing for albatross. One of these powerful birds got hold of his line ; ho missed his footing, fell overboard, and• before a boat could be lowered he was drowned. The lady went on to say that her sister possessed the same faculty. This sister on one occasion was returning from some distant part of the world. Something went wrong—I think a fire broke out. The passengers and crew had to take to the boats, and the ship had to be abandoned. The sea was calm, and they were fortunately able to reach a small and uninhabited island or atoll. But they were somewhat out of the usual track of shipping, and when a fortnight had gone by without a vessel being sighted, things began to look very serious.

Then one night this lady had a dream. She was one of those " persons," I have no doubt, " who are ignorant of angelology as a branch of mythology " ; but, according to her, in her dream she saw an angel, who told her not to be alarmed, as help would soon be forthcoming, and they would all be rescued. Very shortly afterwards a vessel hove in sight. Their signals were observed, and they were able to row out to the ship. But when the boat in which this lady was reached the steamer's side, looking up she saw, leaning over the bulwarks, a lady whose face was that of the angel she had seen in her dream.

Do I believe in these stories ? It seems to me that it would have been difficult for anyone to make up that story of the albatross. The second story, I fancy, could be matched by many others of a similar character. It might also merely be reckoned as an instance of a curious coincidence. But why is it necessary always to doubt the veracity of those who tell us something which happens to be outside the range of our own personal experience ? Is not such doubt indicative possibly of an ungenerous disposition ? Perpetual distrust of others can hardly make for happiness. At any rate, with Charles Kingsley, I hold that one of the attributes of the Creator is a sense of humour, and I have faith to believe that one of these days Mr. Edward Clodd may yet foregather with Dr. Johnson in Elysium, and there discuss with him the question of second sight ; but whether the Doctor will be worsted in the argument or not—ah ! That is a matter on which I dare not hazard an opinion, for, you see, after all I do not claim