3 SEPTEMBER 1898, Page 11


THE singular case of Mrs. Druce and her fixed belief that Mr. T. C. Druce and the late Duke of Portland were one and the same is perhaps the most romantic and most popular legal incident since the Tichborne trial, and the same kind of people who thought that a " pore man " was being kept. out of his property and title by evil machinations will very likely jump to the conclusion that wrong is being done to. Mrs. Druce, and that the Portland estates should, if right were done, instantly revert to the son of an injured woman. Into the question of the claims of Mrs. Druce we have no intention of entering. We do not doubt that she is under a delusion ; but the real point of interest in such a case is the ground of the delusion, which seems to us to lie in a powerful but perverted reasoning faculty. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the reasoning faculty is rare ; it is the commonest faculty in the world, and it is exercised in a most clear and direct way every day by millions upon millions of very ordinary human beings. Indeed, if it is not a paradox to say so, there would have been vastly fewer mistakes in human history if the faculty of reasoning had not been so universal. It is not the rationalising power itself, but its curious and constant vagaries which have stood in the way of truth and progress. This is the cause of the success in all ages of the " crank,' who is usually a person of far more than the average reason- ing power, but who is incapable of eliminating from his rational processes some fixed idea which represents the insane side of his intellect. The present writer had some years ago. the opportunity of witnessing a three nights' debate in one of our University towns between several really eminent mathematicians and the " crank " who called himself " Parallax," and whose principal doctrine was that the earth is a flat plane rising up out of surrounding waters and roofed in by a solid firmament. Of course, such a notion appears to educated men so absurd that they would not spend time in its discussion, and the three nights' argument was plentifully punctuated with derision and inextinguishable laughter. Yet the writer was told by a very able and well-known mathematician present that the sheer reasoning power of " Parallax " was, to him, marvellous, and far greater than his own. It was from no lack of mental power, but from the acceptance at the start of a fixed idea, and the wallow- ing afterwards in a riotous imagination, that the lecturer arrived at his astounding conclusions; and there is very little doubt that if the crowd in the street had been called in and the matter submitted to a plebiscite, "Parallax " would have carried the day, not at all because the popular audience would have been incapable of reasoning or of appreciating reason, but because some starting-point of argument would have caught firm hold of the popular mind, which would have proceeded, by unerring logic, to deduce certain conclusions therefrom. It was this fact that suggested Lord Westbury's cynical advice to his pupils at the bar :—" Never make a mistake in logic ; it is sere to be found out. The facts remain at your disposal."

This is the history of all great popular delusions, and of delusions which were not popular, but which have been actively propagated by cliques of zealots. Take the Bacon- Shakespeare controversy. It is an absurd and wildly im- possible theory that Bacon wrote the plays of Shakespeare, so that we are at first apt to suppose that its authors should be confined in a lunatic asylum. But were this carried out, we might also ask who among us would be safe, for there are few men to whom the fixed idea does not appeal at some side of his nature, and from which he cannot draw with powerful reasoning the most mad conclusion. The Baconian fanatic starts with the fixed idea that a mere player, son of bourgeois parents in a small country town, about whom we know scarcely anything, cannot have produced those wonderful plays ; but that a great contemporary, the wisest man of the time, not only could have produced them, but had reasons for not allowing his authorship to be known. Now, once get that double hypothesis firmly into your head, and you will, by a process as strictly logical as the reasoning of Aristotle, discover, as you read the plays, all manner of internal evidence which seems to confirm past all doubt the idea with which you started. You have no conception how strong the evidence becomes when linked on to the hypothesis which forms its start- ing-point. So far from the Baconians being irrational people, it is no exaggeration to say that one-tenth the intellectual ingenuity they have spent over this subject might, on sound lines of thinking, have resulted in considerable positive gains for the human race. Some years ago appeared a very amusing satire on the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, designed to show that Darwin was the author of "Pickwick." It sounds ludicrous enough, in all conscience, but the satire had its serious purpose in that it indicated the remarkable syllogisms by which an originally false hypothesis can be supported.

Great wits, says the poet, are nearly allied to madness, and Dr. Lombroso has written an elaborate work to prove that most men of genius have been insane. Whatever we may think of that doctrine, we can scarcely fail to see how very close is the " crank " to the man of science. They are by no means sundered by any great difference in intellectual power, for the former, as we have said, may be as mentally alert as the latter. But he is under the absolute tyranny of the hypothesis; he has started with a certain fancy. The Patent Offices of the world are crowded with the inventions of men of really remarkable ingenuity, but which are nevertheless worthless, while men of inferior brilliancy of mind are adding their solid contributions to the mass of human knowledge. Cagliostro had perhaps as keen and striking an intellect as almost any man of science in the latter half of the last century, though that era includes Laplace, but we smile at him as a mere charlatan and trickster. Spurzheim possessed really con- siderable anatomical knowledge, as well as a quick, ingenious mind; but he was not " bottomed," as Dr. Johnson would have said, in a sound view ; consequently, as Holmes put it, he merely helped to build up a pseudo-science." But how near he came to the genuine thing ! Hypotheses non fingo expresses the scientific frame of mind. Not that science discards hypotheses, as Tyndall has shown in his admirable essay on the " Scientific Use of the Imagination." We must not have it thought that imagination is the property, of the "crank," and lack of it the mark of the man of science. No person possessed of real imaginative power cauld have arrived at the conclusion that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays. That is a logical deduction from hypotheses, bat from hypotheses the grounds of which were not examined. But Goethe's insight into the structure of the spine and the leaf, and his concept of the development of both, is true imagina- tion enlisted in the service of true science. Goethe started with known facts, and was able to penetrate with success into the region of the unknown. But the pseudo-scientific person is under the rigid dominance of a fixed idea, and so all the highly elaborate pile of evidence he is able to marshal forth afterwards represents mere wasted energy. The house is built upon the sand. Science does not and cannot dispense with hypotheses, for, in the provisional stage before the complete fusion into accepted science has taken place, one is bound to resort to hypothesis to explain facts. But we take it that the true difference between the man of science and the mere victim of hypothesis is that the former considers all his facts, and knows that he must start with the observed facts, not with the hypothesis that shall explain them, whereas the latter does not. It is not a question of great difference in reasoning power, but it is a question of starting fair, and so getting the first premise in your syllogism right. As Macaulay told Mr. Gladstone when he criticised the latter's " Church and State," if you are going to raise a great logical structure your premises must be of adamant. If they are not, or are the least " out of true," the higher and more extensive is the fabric of syllogisms you rear, the more certain it is to collapse in ruin. If the premises are false, the better the logic the worse the final result. A bad logician might possibly blunder into a true result even when starting with erroneous pre- mises. A sound logician never could. His perfect syllo- gisms must inevitably multiply the error at every step and with terrible rapidity. We should imagine that Mrs. Druce was under the strong dominance of a fancied coincidence which can easily be crystallised into a conviction, and which, when once it has arrived at that stage, will be confirmed by every succeeding incident that presents itself to the mind. In that way, by quite honest and logical processes of reasoning, great hallucinations are built up. The mind is, in the case of most men, a more powerful instrument than we are apt to suppose; but, as Helmholz said of the human eye, it is an unreliable instrument because, in this tangled mass of things, it is so apt to be the victim of a hypothesis.