Faith-healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena/Astrology, Divination, and Coincidences



IT is incorrect to suppose that astrology has no votaries at the present time. Zadkiel's Almanac, which has been published for nearly forty consecutive years, sells more than one hundred and twenty thousand copies per annum, and it is not a publication which ignorant persons could understand,—nor does it appear to appeal to that class. The "Saturday Review" for July 4, 1863, says: "Without doubt there are a million of people who have some sort of confidence in Zadkiel; certainly there is ample encouragement to them in the countenance afforded Zadkiel by the great and wise and learned of the land." This writer also states that "society believes in astrology." It is quite possible that this is exaggerated, for "society" affects the study of all strange or new things. If its interest in a passing novelty or new aspect of something old should be allowed any value as indicating what it "believed," it might be held to accept almost anything.

I should not, however, think it a prudent economy of effort to treat astrology merely to delay its final disappearance. It is because the exhibition of its principles and methods will afford us almost indispensable aid in accounting for and explaining certain conditions of current thought, that it is worthy of investigation.

Goethe's autobiography commences with these words:

On the 29th of August, 1749, at midday, as the clock struck 12, I came into the world at Frankfort-on-the-Main. My horoscope was propitious: the Sun stood in the sign of the Virgin, and had culminated for the day; Jupiter and Venus looked on him with a friendly eye and Mercury not adversely, while Saturn and Mars kept themselves indifferent; the Moon alone, just full, exerted the power of her reflection all the more as she had then reached her planetary hour. She opposed herself, therefore, to my birth, which could not be accomplished until this hour was passed. These good aspects, which the astrologers managed subsequently to reckon very auspicious for me, may have been the causes of my preservation; for, through the unskillfulness of the midwife, I came into the world as dead, and only after various efforts was I enabled to see the light.

This mighty intellect, representing, according to Madame de Staël, in himself alone the whole of German literature, whose knowledge, insight, sensibility, and imagination were so extraordinary as to elevate him for all time to the highest rank, appears to have been somewhat under the influence of that belief in astrology which, from earliest ages, had dominated the human mind, and from which, at the date of his birth, even the most enlightened, with comparatively few exceptions, had not been emancipated. For there was scarcely an extraordinary character in antiquity who did not believe in astrology. Hippocrates and Galen,—the first names in medicine,—Pythagoras, Democritus, and Thales gave it credit. Hippocrates said in substance that a physician who was ignorant of astrology deserved to be called a fool rather than a physician; and Galen, that no man should "trust himself to that physician, or rather pretender, who is not skilled in astrology." In China, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome it was universally accepted, while Chaldea was the center of its power.

There are many references to it in the Bible, such as "The stars in their courses fought against Sisera," and " Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" The Magi, who came from the East following the star of Christ, were astrologers. From some passages it seems probable that Daniel, who accepted the office of Chief of the Magi, studied the heavens and astrological books. Only when the astrologers contradicted the direct revelation of God's word were they specially condemned. On such occasions the prophets denounced them: though seeming to admit that there might be an influence from the stars, they declared that they could not prevail against the will of God—as when Jeremiah says, "Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them"; or the similar injunction by Isaiah, "Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee."

The ancient poets—Æschylus, Virgil, Horace, Homer, and many others—rose to the loftiest strains when praising astrology. In more modern times the chief physicians on the continent of Europe were astrologers, some of them most famous. One was Cardan of Milan, who was not only a physician but an algebraist. The "Text-book of Astrology" gives a list of eminent men in England who believed in astrology,—Roger Bacon; Duns Scotus; Baron Napier, the inventor of logarithms; Tycho Brahe; Francis Bacon; [?] Kepler; Flamstead, first Astronomer Royal; Sir Elias Ashmole, founder of the Ashmolean Museum. Chaucer was also a believer, and wrote a treatise on the astrolabe. John Dryden, skilled in the theory, computed the nativities of his children, and foretold certain severe accidents to his son Charles.

Astrology has exerted a powerful influence upon language and literature. Many words most frequently used are derived from astrology or kindred subjects—augur, augury, auspices, the common word talisman; and especially influence. In literature appeals to the heavens are common, as well as references to stars as sources of prosperity.

Trench says we seem to affirm that we believe that

the planet under which a man may happen to be born will affect his temperament, will make him for life of a disposition grave or gay, lively or severe. … For we speak of a person as "jovial," or "saturnine," or "mercurial"—jovial as being born under the planet Jupiter or Jove, which was the joyfullest star and of the happiest augury of all; a gloomy, severe person is said to be "saturnine" as born under the planet Saturn, who was considered to make those that owned his influence, and were born when he was in the ascendant, grave and stern as himself; another we call "mercurial," that is, light-hearted, as those born under the planet Mercury were accounted to be. The same faith in the influence of the stars survives, so far at least as words go, in "disaster," "disastrous," "ill-starred," "ascendant," "ascendancy," and, indeed, in the word "influence" itself.[1]

Or, again, do we keep in mind, or are we even aware, that whenever the word "influence" occurs in our English poetry, down to a comparatively modern date, there is always more or less remote allusion to the skyey, planetary influences supposed to be exercised by the heavenly luminaries upon men? How many a passage starts into new life and beauty and fullness of allusion, when this is present with us! Even Milton's

Store of ladies, whose bright eyes
Rain influence,

as spectators of the tournament, gain something when we regard them—and using this language, he intended we should—as the luminaries of this lower sphere, shedding by their propitious presence strength and valor into the hearts of their knights."[2]

If we turn to Shakspere, we find the belief molding some of his most beautiful expressions:

Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky.

When Romeo and Juliet are married the prayer is:

So smile the heavens upon this holy act,
That after hours with sorrow chide us not.

In one of the most frequently quoted passages of Shakspere the astrological reference is generally omitted:

In my stars I am above thee: ... some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

From Byron astrologers quote a fine passage, using it as though he were a believer:

Ye stars! which are the poetry of heaven,
If in your bright leaves we would read the fate
Of men and empires—'t is to be forgiven
That, in our aspirations to be great,
Our destinies o'erleap their mortal state,
And claim a kindred with you; for ye are
A beauty and a mystery, and create
In us such love and reverence from afar,
That fortune, fame, power, life, have named themselves a star.

Dante, writing of Mars, says:

With him shalt thou see
That immortal who was at his birth impressed
So strongly with this star, that of his deeds
The nations shall take note.

And speaks in another place thus:

Where the planets roll
To pour their wished influence on the world.

Longfellow, in a passage which has touched many a parent's heart, says:

O child! O new-born denizen
Of life's great city! on thy head
The glory of the morn is shed,
Like a celestial benison!

. . . . . .

By what astrology of fear or hope
Dare I to cast thy horoscope!


According to Zadkiel's "Grammar of Astrology" the science consists of four branches or distinct parts, which are essentially different from each other. These are: Nativities, Mundane Astrology, Atmospheric Astrology, and Horary Astrology.

Nativities comprise "the art of foreseeing, from the figurings of the heavens at the moment of birth, the future fate and character of individuals."

Mundane Astrology is "the art of foreseeing, by the positions of the heavenly bodies at certain periods, the circumstances of nations, such as wars, pestilences, inundations, earthquakes, etc."

Atmospheric Astrology, Zadkiel defines as "the art of foreseeing, by the positions of the planets at the periods of the sun and moon being in mutual aspect, and some other circumstances, the quality of the weather at any required time or place."

Horary Astrology is "the art of foreseeing, by the positions of the heavens at any period when an individual may be anxious about the matter, the result of any business or circumstance whatever."

Concerning Atmospheric Astrology, which is merely a system of meteorology based on the theory that changes of the weather are produced by the influence of the planets, I shall say nothing. Mundane Astrology is in some respects more complex than either Nativities or Horary Astrology.

The nature of the influence of the heavens upon human destiny has been differently represented by different astrologers, some claiming that the heavens merely exhibit signs of events, so that when these are properly interpreted the future can be foretold, and others holding that they are causes of the events. Most, however, seem to believe that they are both.

Astrological calculations are made by means of the sun, moon, and planets, the signs of the Zodiac, and the various aspects and relations of the planets. To work the problems, a "figure of the heavens" is drawn. This is merely a map to represent the heavens at any particular moment, such as when a child is born, a question asked, etc. It is made by drawing three circles and then drawing lines to represent the horizon, and others at right angles with them to represent the meridian. Thus will be shown the

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natural divisions formed by the rising and setting of the sun, and by his passing the meridian at noon and midnight. Each of these quarters or quadrants is to be divided again into three equal parts, forming the twelve houses. The accompanying figure, from Lilly's "Introduction to Astrology," exhibits the method.

In calculating a nativity, the horoscope must be cast for the instant the child is born, and the figure show exactly the state of the heavens at that instant as viewed from the place of birth: the signs of the Zodiac and the planets, with their latitudes, declinations, etc., have to be determined, and the figure when completed must exhibit all these. This is difficult, and cannot be done without the knowledge of astronomical tables.

Suppose, then, the figure completed; what is the method of judging? Here we enter the most interesting part of the subject. From the time of Ptolemy down to the present, a system of significations has existed. These significations, which have been more or less changed and modified by the various astrologers who have arisen since his time, are assigned to the signs of the Zodiac, and also to the planets and to their relations to each other and to the Zodiac. Aries, one of the four cardinal signs, influences Britain, Germany, Denmark, Lesser Poland, Burgundy, Palestine, Syria, and Judea. Astrologers go so far as to specify towns: Naples, Capua, Florence, Verona, Padua, Brunswick, Marseilles, Cracow, and Utrecht. Gemini relates to the northeast coast of Africa, Lower Egypt, Flanders, Lombardy, Sardinia, Brabant, and Belgium. It is of particular interest to us because it rules the west of England and the United States. London, Marseilles, and other cities also come under its sway, and, the "Science of the Stars" modestly says, "perhaps Melbourne."

Astrologers hold that the signs of the Zodiac affect not only nations, but individuals—that Aries, for example, produces a spare and strong body, of stature rather above the average, face long, eyebrows bushy, neck long, etc.; while Taurus gives a middle stature, thick, well-set body, broad forehead, full face and prominent eyes, neck and lips thick, nose and mouth wide. Aries governs the head and face of man; and the diseases it produces (when evil planets are located in it) are smallpox, measles, ringworm, apoplexy, palsy, etc. Gemini governs the arms and shoulders. Its diseases are brain-fever, croup, fractures of the head, arms, etc.

Certain planets are called malefics. These are Mars, Saturn, and Uranus. Venus and Jupiter are specified as benefics. A planet is spoken of as being afflicted whenever the malefics are in certain relations to it, and as being free from affliction when the benefics are in these relations. Of the sun they say that if it is afflicted at birth, the tendency is to destruction of life. In order to have great prosperity, both the sun and the moon must be free from affliction; and if both are afflicted, the person will have a life-long struggle. If the sun is in good aspect with Mars, the child born will be very fortunate in war, surgery, chemistry, etc.; if it is in the zenith and free from affliction, he will have a great public career. If it is rising at the birth, it makes him bold, courageous. and proud. But if it is afflicted by Saturn, he is liable to consumption or paralysis; if by Mars, he will be cruel and bloodthirsty, unless Jupiter happens to assist the sun. If the moon is properly related it has a good, but if otherwise an exceedingly bad, effect. Its diseases are rheumatism, consumption, palsy, lunacy, scrofula, smallpox, and dropsy.

There are certain "eminent" fixed stars, to which great significance is attached. Some of these are Aldebaran, Hercules, and Regulus. Alfred J. Pearce predicts that when "the martial star Aldebaran (α Tauri), of the first magnitude, shall arrive at 17 degrees, 54 minutes, Gemini, 700 years hence, there will probably happen a fearful conflagration in, if not the total destruction of, London." This is safer than anything which Professor K. Stone Wiggins has as yet attempted, since the author of the "Science of the Stars" will not be upon the scene at that time to rejoice at the fulfilment of his prophecy or to mourn over the destruction of London.

When the figure is completed, and the positions and aspects of the planets are duly marked, preparation is made to form a judgment.

The exact way of judicature in astrology is, first, by being perfect in the nature of the planets and signs; secondly, by knowing the strength, fortitude, or debility of the significators and well-poise of them (that is, the various rules, directions,
Illustration Page 74.png
aspects, etc., and several mixtures in your judgment); thirdly, by applying the influence of the figure of heaven erected and the planets' aspects to one another at the time of the question or nativity.[3]

To make the proper calculation is a work requiring experience.

The above is the famous figure which William Lilly drew to decide whether Presbytery should stand in England. Zadkiel adduces this figure with the judgment pronounced upon it as a decisive proof of the science, and of its ability to decide the most important questions, but public and private.


To demonstrate the truth of astrology, its votaries appeal to the history of England for the past six hundred years. Aries is the principal sign influencing England. Saturn is a malefic planet, and they assign various coincidences of misfortune to England during the times Saturn was in Aries, of which I give a few. In 1290, the desperate war with the Scots was waged by Edward I. and the English army defeated at Roslin, near Edinburgh; in 1378, the rebellion by Wat Tyler; in 1555, Queen Mary's time, 277 persons burned at the stake; in 1643, civil war between Charles I. and Parliament. The whole list is remarkable.

On the other hand, in 896 Jupiter was in Aries, and King Alfred beat the Danes; in 1215 King John signed the Magna Charta; in 1856 peace was signed between the allies, and the Crimean war ended; in 1868 the tide of prosperity set in.

An important incident is related to the United States. Gemini rules the United States and also the west of England. The rebellion of the American colonies coincided with the transit of Uranus through the sign Gemini; and on the very next occasion, as the "Science of the Stars" points out, when the same planet passed through the same sign, 1859 to 1866, the American civil war waged four years. During the same time the west of England suffered fearfully from the cotton famine, nearly a million people being in a state of semi-starvation.

Of the eclipses in their relation to Mundane Astrology the following illustrations may serve: On April 10, 1865, there occurred a partial eclipse of the moon at Washington; Jupiter was in the ascendant in Sagittarius, and about that time General Lee surrendered to General Grant. They make the point also upon the death of President Garfield, that in the midheavens of his horoscope the comet B appeared, and that this same comet was seen in the second decanate of Gemini on the 22d of May, and on the 2d of July, 1881, Garfield was shot.

Another class of coincidences is striking. It is claimed by astrology that mental disease is likely to occur when Mars and Saturn—to which modern research has added Uranus—are at birth in conjunction, quadrature, or opposition with Mercury and the moon, but Mercury more particularly. The "Science of the Stars," from which we take some of these coincidences (quoted by it from another work), says: "It is by no means asserted that insanity always or even often occurs with such opposition; what is asserted is, that it rarely occurs without it." This proposition should be scrutinized, for it contains a serious if not fatal weakness.

There are nine great princes notoriously insane or deficient in intellect, upon whose birth Mercury or the moon, or both, will be found to have been afflicted by Mars, Saturn, or Uranus. These are: Paul of Russia, George III. of England, Gustavus IV. of Sweden, Ferdinand II. of Austria, Maria of Portugal, Charlotte, Empress of Mexico, Charles II. of Spain, Murad V. of Turkey, and Constantine of Russia. Six persons of genius, born under the same configuration—Gérard de Nerval; Alfred Rethel, the painter of "Der Tod als Freund"; Agnes Bury, the actress; Julien; Paul Morphy, the chess-player; and Pugin—became insane. Four distinguished men who lost their faculties in old age are also given—Swift, Southey, Moore, and Faraday. The histories of the Bourbon family, as derived from documents now in the British Museum, agree with the state of the heavens at the time of their births, according to the theories of astrology; their misfortunes, insanity, violent deaths, etc., are too well known to need recapitulation. Many coincidences between the aspect of the heavens at her birth and the events of her career are found in the life of Queen Victoria.

Facsimile of the hieroglyphic of the Great Plague.png

Lilly predicted, it is claimed, in 1651 the Great Plague which occurred in London in 1665. The accompanying is a facsimile of the hieroglyphic of the Great Plague.

This hieroglyphic, as explained by Zadkiel,

signifies a great mortality, in which the vast number of deaths should so far exceed the supply of coffins that the dead should be buried in their shrouds, or merely stitched up in sheets, as therein rudely represented.

Lilly also predicted, in the same year, by means of an astrological hieroglyphic, the Great Fire in London, which took place September 3, 1666.

Hieroglyphic forecasting the Great Fire.png

Zadkiel says that the hieroglyphic forecasting the Great Fire may be understood

by the horoscope being introduced therein, and the twins are intended to represent the sign Gemini, which in astrology is known to rule London, and the twins are, therefore, intended to denote that city. Their falling headlong into the fire signifies the extensive injury to be done to London by that element fifteen years afterward.

The astrologers made a great deal out of these hieroglyphics, Zadkiel affirming that

if there had been only these, whereas there were several others equally pointing out future events published with them, they would ever remain undeniable monuments of the author's skill and of the substantial truth of the science of astrology.

Americans cannot but be struck by a recent extraordinary coincidence. In Zadkiel's Almanac for 1886 occurs the following prediction:

Shocks of earthquake in the 77th degree of west longitude may be looked for. Great thunder-storms and waves of intense heat will pass over the States. There will be great excitement in America.

What are the facts? The terrific shocks of earthquake which visited Charleston, S. C., Washington, Richmond, Augusta, Raleigh, etc., on the night of August 31, many lives being lost, took place in longitude 76 to 78 degrees west. Waves of intense heat passed over the States in July and August, the thermometer in the middle of the latter month in St. Louis rising to 104 in the shade. Coincidences more or less striking can be multiplied indefinitely, and it was by observing them that the system of astrology was constructed.


Having traced the influence of astrology upon literature, stated the principles of the science, and given an impartial outline of the supposed evidences of its truth which its professors advance, it is now necessary to subject those evidences to examination. Fortunately the cases adduced are of historical interest, and a discussion which otherwise might be tedious is closely connected with the progress of both ancient and modern civilization.

The ancients knew nothing of the two great planets Uranus and Neptune. Yet the "Text-book of Astrology" asserts that "the influence of Uranus is found to be very powerful in nativities, when he is angular or in aspect to the luminaries." Shortly after this planet was discovered, an astrologer called on an astronomer to secure his calculations of the periodical motions of Uranus, stating that it was very probable "that the want of a knowledge and use of its motions was the cause that, in judicial astrology, the predictions so often failed." The planet Neptune was discovered in 1846. The "Text-book of Astrology" affirms that "sufficient time has not elapsed to enable astrologers to determine the exact nature of Neptune's influence in nativities"; yet, the writer says, "until more experience has been gained as to his influence in nativities, it may be accepted that his general character is fortunate, and that persons born under his sway are healthy, good-natured, and romantic." "When Mr. Proctor remarked, a number of years ago, "astrologers tell us now that Uranus is a very potent planet, yet the old astrologers seem to have gotten on very well without him," all that the standard authorities of the "Science" could reply was that "Democritus maintained that more planets would be discovered in succeeding ages." This is no answer to the proposition that the ancients seemed to succeed in total ignorance of the "very powerful" influence of Uranus, and the possible mighty influence of Neptune.

There are three fatal defects in the proofs they offer: (a) The number of instances investigated is too small to establish a law of cause and effect. (b) In the more remarkable predictions, reasoning upon existing conditions and tendencies, a shrewd guess or a mere coincidence can account for the fulfilment. (c) In the most striking cases there was ample time for the culmination of the operation of causes.

When William Lilly was examined by the British Parliament on his prophecies concerning the plague and the fire, he was thus addressed by Sir Robert Brooke:

Mr. Lilly, this Committee thought fit to summon you to appear before them this day, to know if you can say anything as to the cause of the late fire, or whether there might be any design therein. You are called the rather hither, because, in a book of your's long since printed, you hinted some such thing by one of your hieroglyphicks.

Unto which Mr. Lilly replied:

May it please your Honors: After the beheading of the late King, considering that in the three subsequent years the Parliament acted nothing which concerned the settlement of the nation's peace; and seeing the generality of the people dissatisfied, the citizens of London discontented, the soldiery prone to mutiny; I was desirous, according to the best knowledge God had given me, to make enquiry by the art I studied, what might, from that time, happen unto Parliament and the nation in general. At last, having satisfied myself as well as I could, and perfected myself as well as I could, and perfected my judgment therein, I thought it most convenient to signify my intentions and conceptions thereof in forms, shapes, types, hieroglyphicks, etc., without any commentary, that so my judgment might be concealed from the vulgar, and made manifest only unto the wise; I herein imitating the examples of many wise philosophers who had done the like. Having found, Sir, that the city of London would be sadly afflicted with a great plague, and not long after with an exorbitant fire, I framed these two hieroglyphicks, as represented in the book, which, in effect, have proved very true.

"Did you foresee the year?" said one. "I did not," said I, "nor was desirous; of that I made no scrutiny." I proceeded: Now, Sir, whether there was any design of burning the City, or any employed to that purpose, I must deal ingenuously with you; that, since the fire, I have taken such pains in the search thereof, but cannot or could not give myself any the least satisfaction therein I conclude that it was the finger of God only; but what instruments he used thereunto, I am ignorant.

Those were troublous times; plagues were common in Europe, fires of frequent occurrence, and modern methods of extinguishing them had not been invented.

Lilly did not pretend to have foreseen the year, or to reflect any light upon the instruments; yet he was constantly ascertaining "who stole fish" and what had become of lost dogs, and affirms that he never failed in questions of that sort. His hieroglyphics could have been applied to a variety of events. It would have been easy to interpret that which he afterward declared foretold the Great Plague as signifying murders and the hasty concealment of bodies, or the burial of soldiers after a battle. The hieroglyphic typifying the fire could have been applied to any other of a hundred things, as falling into a fire might be made to illustrate most catastrophes.

The coincidences in English history, it is to be noted, consist of certain events drawn from a period of six hundred years, which events occurred during the progression of Saturn through Aries. Saturn remains long in that sign, and his returns are separated by a considerable time. In the confused history of England during those six centuries there were hundreds of battles, and great events were numerous; yet but thirteen of these having an evil character are produced. English history furnishes scores of disasters which occurred when Saturn was not in Aries. In like manner, Jupiter is in Aries every twelve years or thereabouts; yet but seven prosperous events are produced from 1196—nearly seven hundred years! Those mentioned are great occurrences, but during the seven centuries more than a hundred occurred when Jupiter was not in Aries.

It will be observed that the American Revolution did concur with the transit of Uranus through the sign Gemini, and also that the next time that planet passed through Gemini, from 1859 to 1866, the great American civil war raged four years. But the period from 1784 to 1859 was just long enough for the causes growing out of slavery and different views of State sovereignty to culminate in a rebellion. Had the planet's orbit been smaller there would not have been time enough. This is all that appears. The astrologer declares that during the same time the west of England suffered fearfully from the cotton famine. This is not wonderful, as the cotton came from the South and its ports were blockaded. Had there been no cotton-mills in the west of England, or had the war begun sooner or later, they would not have suffered at that particular time.


The death of President Garfield, considered in connection with the appearance of comet B in his horoscope and also in the year of his death, is merely a proof that between the appearances of that comet sufficient time elapsed for the infant to grow to manhood and become President and for such modifications of political parties as then existed.

To give the statements concerning mental diseases value, thousands of cases should be adduced, and it should be proved that the majority of those who were insane were born under such aspects of the heavens, and that comparatively few born under other signs lost their reason. A score or five hundred coincidences of this kind are not sufficient to lay the foundation for a law.

The prediction of Zadkiel that earthquakes would occur in the 77th degree of west longitude, followed immediately by the earthquakes in this country, appears at first sight very remarkable. Yet to read all the predictions in Zadkiel's Almanac for 1886 and compare them with subsequent events is sufficient to dissipate belief that there was a foreseeing of those events. The Almanac for 1886 predicted for England that an effort would be made to abolish hereditary peerages; that the revenue would not be satisfactory; that theaters would suffer; that the schoolboard would be in bad odor, and that certain of its members would find their chances of reëlection very perilous; that some public buildings would be destroyed in Paris by fire; that German affairs would become entangled; that socialistic proceedings would cause trouble (a thing that has been true for several years, and no more true during 1886 and 1887 than it had been). An astounding prediction was made that there would be "some trouble in the Western States and a good deal of sickness, and that the President would find his office a burdensome one." The financial condition of Mexico was to be bad. In Australia there would be trouble connected with railroads, and serious accidents were only too probable. There would be a great outbreak of epidemic diseases, and naval forces would be increased. In Ottawa the Canadian government would find it difficult to maintain peace at home and abroad; and in Paris the Communists would resort to violence and the streets would be stained with blood. There is scarcely a fulfilment transcending the results of ordinary sagacity in conjecturing future events.

Much was made of the prediction of Zadkiel in his Almanac for 1853 of the fate of Louis Napoleon. That prediction was in the following words:

But let him not dream of lasting honors, power, or prosperity. He shall found no dynasty, he shall wear no durable crown, but in the midst of deeds of blood and slaughter, with affrighted Europe trembling beneath the weight of his daring martial hosts, he descends beneath the heavy hand of fate, and falls to rise no more.

Some of this language is extravagant, but as a whole it may be considered a correct description of the career and doom of Louis Napoleon. Yet Zadkiel was not alone in this prediction; for students of French history, and every one acquainted with the events of the preceding thirty years, anticipated the speedy downfall of the Empire. The observations of writers, statesmen, and philosophers concurred in the opinion that the career of Louis Napoleon would be terminated by revolution or foreign war. The world was not surprised at his overthrow, for all perceived that he lacked the genius of his great uncle, and that he had lost the power to fire the heart of his country; while the condition of France financially and morally for years was not such as to promise success in any serious conflict with any one of the great Powers. At the time of his fall, "affrighted Europe" did not tremble beneath the weight of his daring martial hosts.

From time immemorial the different characters and histories of twins have been alleged against astrology. [[Author:Cicero|Cicero}} quotes the stoic Diogenes, who, when contending against the Chaldean astrologers, says:

For instance, two twins may resemble each other in appearance, and yet their lives and fortunes be entirely dissimilar.

The characters and careers of Jacob and Esau are brought against them by Mr. Proctor and others. They answer ingeniously that a difference of five minutes in the time of the birth of twins may imply such a difference in the position of the planets as to indicate great dissimilarity in their careers.

They state this as follows: "It is well known to accoucheurs that the intervals between the births of twins vary greatly; in some cases three or four minutes, in other cases hours and even days. Every four minutes' interval brings another degree of right ascension on the meridian, consequently a difference of half an hour in the times of birth would make a great difference in the part of the sign of the Zodiac ascending (as one degree in arc represented one hour of life in directions) and would alter the periods of occurrence of the subsequent events. The whole sign of Aries only takes (in the latitude of London) about fifty-two minutes in ascending; hence it is evident that a difference of half an hour might give Aries at the birth of one child and Taurus at the birth of the second."

If they adhered to this proposition it would be more consistent; but they advance in proof of the truth of astrology, in all their books, many instances of twins having similar careers when it was impossible for them to procure infallible data as to the precise moment of birth, and when they knew there must have been some difference.

This subject has of late been made interesting by the manner in which the astrologers of England have made use of Francis Galton's monograph on the "History of Twins." Mr. Galton sent out circulars to persons who were either twins or near relatives of twins. He received "about eighty returns of close similarity, many of which entered into instructive details." From these replies he draws various conclusions, such as that "extreme similarity and extreme dissimilarity between twins of the same sex are nearly as common as moderate resemblance." He says that when twins are a boy and a girl they are never closely alike. In the thirty-five cases of great similarity, there were seven in which both twins suffered from some special ailment or some exceptional peculiarity. They were liable to sickness at the same time in nine out of thirty-five cases. Eleven pairs out of this number were remarkably similar in the association of ideas, making the same remarks on the same occasion. In sixteen cases their dispositions were very similar. He affirms that only a few retain their close resemblance through life, either physically or in disposition. Again, he says that it is a fact that "extreme dissimilarity, such as existed between Jacob and Esau, is a no less marked peculiarity in twins of the same sex than extreme similarity."

Since his views were published I have observed various twins, and have seen some instances of astonishing similarity, but in other children of the same parents, not twins, more instances which could readily be accounted for by heredity and the influence of similar surroundings and nurture. A number of instances could be given of distinguished men, now living or but recently deceased, where the physical and mental resemblances between them and their twin brothers are no greater than ordinarily exist between brothers. Is it not important in a general examination to collect with equal care instances of as great similarities between children who have the same parents but who are not twins? If not, no light can be shed on an extraneous cause. Harmonies of disposition, similarity of personal appearance, and devotion to each other through life have been seen between brothers and sisters, not twins, more frequently between sisters, and occasionally between brothers.

Driven to concede these things, astrologers in modern times have been compelled to say:

We do not deny the existence of many difficulties and anomalies, and fully admit that astral science is incompetent to explain the divergences in the human constitution and character without a free use of the doctrine of heredity. Our contention is that the two theories complete each other, the latter accounting for the element of stability, the former for the element of variability. [4]

An illustration of the wild manner in which a person competent to edit Zadkiel's Almanac may reason can be found in the "Text-book of Astrology," p. 164:

Astrologers find that unless Mars afflicts either the ascendant or luminaries at birth (or in the fatal train of directions) there is no liability to take the smallpox.

How this can be ascertained without an acquaintance with the nativities of an immense number of persons and their histories in relation to smallpox is not set forth. The investigation is so difficult that they could not possibly show that every person who ever took smallpox was born when Mars was in a certain relation to the birth. They are not kind enough to inform us whether the vaccination of persons born under these circumstances would or would not "take." They may hereafter carry it a little farther, and dispose of the liability to hydrophobia, cholera, yellow fever, etc., in a similar way!

Here is another case from the same source. An individual was born when the sun and moon were evilly configurated with Saturn and had no assistance from Jupiter. In harmony with theories of astrology, he did not prosper in Great Britain, but afterward went to Australia, where he became one of the wealthiest and most highly respected citizens of Melbourne. How is this explained? It is sufficiently easy:

At his birth the planets Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter were located in the fourth house (the northern angle). By crossing the equator, and pitching his tent in a southern latitude (38°), he inverted his horoscope and thereby brought the benefics nearly to zenith.

When one declines to believe in astrology, he is disposed of without difficulty. For example, Luther condemned astrology. The "Text-book" says, perhaps this was owing to the very evil horoscope assigned to him by the great Cardan, and observes that Melanchthon believed in it, and that "phrenologists [!] will understand that Melanchthon's judgment on a scientific subject is entitled to far greater weight than Luther's."


Astrologers maintain that if the coincidences had not been sufficient in number and character to prove an intimate connection between the stars and the fate of men, it would have been impossible to maintain faith in their system through so many ages. This claim is shown to be worthless by an examination of divination in general. In all countries and times this superstition has been practised, and to this day maintains itself in Asia and in various parts of the continent of Europe.

Divination was practised in almost innumerable ways, such as by observing the flight of birds, called Augury; the living human body, as Palmistry; dead bodies, as Aruspicy, the inspection of animals slain in sacrifice; Anthropomancy, the examination of a dead human being; by fire, Pyromancy, of which there were six varieties; by natural phenomena, thunder and lightning, air and winds and water; by mirrors and glasses; by letters and figures; and by direct appeals to chance. Besides these, salt, laurel, dough, meal, verses, dreams, and consulting the dead were used.

All these and many other methods were practised and held in highest reverence by many poets, philosophers, and warriors of Greece and Rome and other ancient nations. Coincidences as remarkable as any that astrologers boast followed the predictions of the diviners, and by these faith was maintained. In case of failure they quibbled and equivocated, after the manner of astrologers.

Cicero's treatise "On Divination," though written so long ago, exhausts the subject. That renowned work is frequently so misquoted as to place the authority of Cicero in favor of divination. There is an introduction, in which Cicero declares that—

It is an old opinion derived as far back as from the heroic times, and confirmed by the unanimous agreement of the Roman people, and indeed of all nations, that there is a species of divination in existence among men which the Greeks call παντική; that is to say, a presentiment and foreknowledge of future events. A truly splendid and serviceable gift if it only exists in reality.

In testing this opinion, he represents a discussion between his brother Quintus and himself. Quintus affirms that all nations have believed in divination. He asserts that when the statue of Plato, which stood on the top of the temple of Jupiter, was struck by lightning, and the head of the statue could not be found, the soothsayers said that it had been thrown down into the Tiber, and it was found in that very place; and that King Deiotarus never did anything without taking the auspices. An instance which he emphasizes is told of Tiberius Gracchus, an augur of the highest reputation, who, when two snakes were caught in his house, convoked the soothsayers. The answer which they gave him was that "if he let the male escape, his wife would die in a short time; but if he let the female escape, he would himself die: accordingly he let the female escape, and died in a few days."

One of the most striking passages concerns the oracle at Delphi:

Would that oracle at Delphi have been so celebrated and illustrious, and so loaded with such splendid gifts from nations and kings, if all ages had not had experience of the truth of its predictions?

Some theologians, who should know better, to this day quote this passage for their own purpose, and attribute it to Cicero.

When Cicero replies he opens with metaphysical considerations, maintaining that if things come by chance they cannot be divined, and if by fate they cannot be changed. He then considers the inspection of the entrails of victims, and says:

Could you persuade any man in his senses that those events which are said to be signified by the entrails are known by the augurs in consequence of a long series of observations? How long, I wonder? For what period of time have such observations been continued? What conferences must the augurs hold among themselves to determine which part of the victim's entrails represents the enemy, and which the people; what sort of cleft in the liver denoted danger, and what sort presaged advantage!

On the subject of the ox without the heart he asks:

How is it that you think it impossible that an animal can live without a heart, and yet do not think it impossible that its heart could vanish so suddenly, no one knows whither? For myself I know not how much vigor is necessary to carry on vital function, and suspect that if afflicted with any disease, the heart of a victim may be found so withered, and wasted, and small as to be quite unlike a heart.

He then tells him that in trying to prove the truth of the auguries he is overturning the whole system of physics, and concludes his argument in these words:

After having thus destroyed divination by the inspection of entrails, all the rest of the science of the soothsayers is at an end.

Of the head which was discovered he says:

Oh! But a head was found in the Tiber. As if I affirmed that those soothsayers had no skill! What I deny is their divination.

He quotes the old saying of Cato, familiar enough to everybody, that

he wondered that when one soothsayer met another he could help laughing. For of all the events predicted by them, how very few happened! And when one of them does take place, where is the proof that it does not take place by mere accident?

Cicero had little respect for the oracle of Delphi. He thus attacks it:

I now come to you,
Apollo, monarch of the sacred center
Of the great world, full of thy inspiration.
The Pythian priestesses proclaim thy prophecies.

For Chrysippus has filled an entire volume with your oracles, many of which, as I said before, I consider utterly false, and many others only true by accident, as often happens in any common conversation. Others, again, are so obscure and involved that their very interpreters have need of other interpreters; and the decisions of one lot have to be referred to other lots. Another portion of them are so ambiguous that they require to be analyzed by the logic of dialecticians. Thus, when Fortune uttered the followed oracle respecting Crœsus, the richest king of Asia,

When Crœsus has the Halys crossed,
A mighty kingdom will be lost,

that monarch expected he should ruin the power of his enemies; but the empire that he ruined was his own. Whichever result had ensued, the oracle would have been true.

The use I make of divination is to show that in its diversified forms it was sustained by means similar to those employed by astrologers, and exerted the same kind of influence over the minds of men. Its supports were the occasional occurrence of striking coincidences which the superstition of the people accepted, while they were prevented from carefully examining the whole subject, both by fear of the consequences of unbelief to themselves personally, and by their habit of mind, which was in all respects the reverse of scientific. Also, many of the most powerful intellects were paralyzed by the opinion that if divination were given up belief in the gods must be renounced, and from that they shrank.

Many astrologers and diviners were undoubtedly wise men, acquainted with the laws of physics so far as they had been discovered, and with the progress of war and current events. They were as able to form rational conjectures of the future as any of their contemporaries. Some were masters of magic, skilful in sleight-of-hand, and were also capable of practising ventriloquism. When they exercised this knowledge and these powers they credited it to astrology or to the method of divination which they employed. As Lilly acknowledges, they saw by "discretion as well as art." The knowledge which they possessed in common with others of equal attainments, and the peculiar skill gained by long practice in observing the probable course of events, together with coincidences with casual but no causal connection, account for the apparent fulfilment of astrological and similar predictions.

To those who deny this there exists the same reason for believing in the various forms of divination as in astrology.


Suspicion may arise that this theory places a burden upon the possibilities of fortuitous coincidence which it is not able to support. It is therefore necessary to show that coincidences are far more frequent and astonishing than is generally supposed.

Coincidences in names are of such frequent occurrence as to be familiar; but some of them are surprising. Daniel Webster married Catherine Le Roy. Not very long ago in Boston a suit was noticed, the parties to which were Daniel Webster and Catherine Le Roy. The First Unitarian Church of the city of Baltimore was attended for more than forty years by a gentleman recently deceased. From that pulpit he heard discourses by Doctors Furness, Bellows, Sparks, Burnap, and Greenwood. Two were settled pastors; the others, eminent men who appeared on various occasions. In Guilford, Conn., till within a few years, the Second Congregational Church had had but three pastors in its entire history—Root, Wood, and Chipman. This society resulted from a disturbance in the First Church, and when Mr. Root was about to be installed, one of the members of the First Church, with equal bitterness and wit, suggested a text, "And I saw the wicked taking root." Not many years since the city of New York had attention drawn to the names of four great criminals whose names contradicted their characters—Charles Peace, who had personated a clergyman, was hung for murder in England; Angel was the name of a defaulting cashier; John Hope, of one of the robbers of the Manhattan Bank; and the Rev. John Love was deposed for crime. On the day that the Hon. John P. Hale died, the schooner John P. Hale ran ashore on a reef called Norman's Woe.

Superstitions concerning dates sometimes exhibit remarkable coincidences. Thirty-three sovereigns have ascended the English throne since the time of William the Conqueror, every month except May witnessing the coronation of one or more; that month, not one. In the lives of men extraordinary coincidences often occur on particular days of the week. Friday, commonly counted unlucky, in the early history of the United States seems to be a day of good fortune. The "Norfolk Beacon," many years ago, gave the following list of fortunate events in early American history which occurred on Friday:

On Friday, August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed on his great voyage. On Friday, October 12, 1492, he first discovered land. On Friday, January 4, 1493, he sailed on his return to Spain, which, if he had not reached in safety, the happy result would never have been known which led to the settlement of this vast continent. On Friday, March 15, 1493, he arrived at Palos in safety. On Friday, November 22, 1493, he arrived at Hispaniola, on his second voyage to America. On Friday, June 13, 1494, he, though unknown to himself, discovered the continent of America. On Friday, March 5, 1496, Henry VIII. of England gave to John Cabot his commission, which led to the discovery of North America. This is the first American state paper in England. On Friday, September 7, 1565, Melandez founded St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States. On Friday, November 10, 1620, the Mayflower made the harbor of Provincetown; and on the same day was signed that august compact, the forerunner of our present glorious Constitution. On Friday, December 22, 1620, the Pilgrims made their final landing at Plymouth Rock. On Friday, February 22, 1732, George Washington, the father of American freedom, was born. On Friday, June 16, Bunker Hill was seized and fortified. On Friday, October 7, 1777, the surrender of Saratoga was made, which had such power and influence in inducing France to declare for our cause. On Friday, September 22, 1780, the treason of Arnold was laid bare, which saved us from destruction. On Friday, October 19, 1781, the surrender of Yorktown, the crowning glory of the American arms, occurred. On Friday, June 7, 1776, the motion in Congress was made by John Adams, seconded by Richard Henry Lee, that the United Colonies were, and of right ought to be, free and independent. Thus, by numerous examples, we see that, however it may be with foreign nations, Americans never need dread to begin on Friday any undertaking, however momentous it may be.

Impressive coincidences have occurred in the words of parts performed by actors in their last appearance on the stage previous to death or attacks of fatal illness. The same is true of clergymen whose texts for their last sermons, and frequently the very words which they uttered before being stricken with paralysis or apoplexy, have been singularly appropriate. An appalling instance occurred in a certain church near New York. Nearly fifty years ago, its pastor stood in the pulpit reading the stanza,

Well, the delightful day will come
When my dear Lord shall take me home,
And I shall see his face.

At this point he was smitten with paralysis and soon ceased to breathe. Thirty-three years afterward, another pastor standing in the same pulpit, reading the same stanza, was also smitten and removed to die.

In marriages, both in the beginning and progress of the attachment, opportunities that are called casual, or coincidences in times, places, and circumstances of meeting, have to all appearance in many, if not in most cases, influenced the fate of the "high contracting parties" more powerfully than anything which they had intentionally arranged. Indeed, many persons troubled with misgivings concerning a proposed marriage, encourage themselves, by recalling such circumstances, in the belief that it was "meant to be," or that it was "providential."

How often resemblances of persons in no way related confuse the question of identity! Detectives frequently unravel difficult problems by their skill and sagacity, but owe their success in many cases to chance coincidences. Such happenings are of assistance to lawyers, and by them desperate causes are saved. Every lawyer of large practice has a list of anecdotes of this sort with which he delights young "limbs of the law."

In an unsigned article appearing in the "Cornhill Magazine" in 1872, which is now known to have been written by Richard A. Proctor, from the fact that he incorporated it nearly all verbatim, without quotation, in his last work, is given a case which "relates to a matter of considerable interest apart from the coincidence." I condense the account.

Dr. Thomas Young was endeavoring to interpret the inscription of the famous Rosetta Stone. Sir George Francis Grey placed in Dr. Young's hands some of the most valuable fruits of his researches among Egyptian relics, including fine specimens of writing on papyrus, which he had purchased from an Arab at Thebes in 1820. Before this reached Young, a man named Casati had arrived in Paris bringing with him from Egypt a parcel of Egyptian manuscripts, among which Champollion observed one which bore in its preamble some resemblance to the text of the Rosetta Stone. Dr. Young procured a copy and attempted to translate it; then Sir George gave him the new papyri. He discovered that this document was a translation of the enchorial manuscript of Casati, and says: "The most extraordinary chance had brought unto me the possession of a document which was not very likely ever to have existed, still less to have been preserved uninjured, through a period of nearly two thousand years; but that this very extraordinary translation should have been brought safely to Europe, to England, and to me, at the very moment when it was most of all desirable to me to possess it, as the illustration of an original which I was then studying, but without any other reasonable hope of comprehending it—this combination would, in other times, have been considered as affording ample evidence of my having become an Egyptian sorcerer."

Mr. Proctor regards this as most extraordinary.

Such coincidences are not uncommon. About fifteen years ago seven old friends, who had casually met, were dining together at a hotel in the city of New York. The subject of spiritualism was introduced; the extraordinary "manifestations" given by Charles Foster were discussed, and one said, "I don't believe in spiritualism, but the blood-red writing which Foster shows upon his arm, in which the name of a deceased friend of the visitor appears, confounds me." Having investigated the subject, I ventured to say that was not difficult to explain; when another said, "Oh, yes, it has been exposed in the United States courts." This excited attention. He then stated that Colchester, a medium, was famous for producing the same phenomenon, and that the internal revenue officers had notified him to take out a license as a juggler. He put in a defense that he was not a juggler, but a spiritual medium; and that those things were done, not by his own personal procurement, but by supernatural beings. Prior to this time, Colchester had made an arrangement with a famous prestidigitator to travel with him in Europe and give exhibitions in which Colchester was to perform this feat. During their intimacy he explained to the professional wizard how it was done. Afterward Colchester became too intimate with alcoholic spirits, and the tour abroad was abandoned. The revenue officers had become aware of this, and the wizard was summoned as a witness for the Government. He not only explained how it was done, but did it in the presence of the court and jury.

Now comes the strangest part of the story. Three years afterward, while I was in a furniture store in a city which had not been visited by me for several years, a gentleman entered on business and the proprietor excused himself for a few minutes. On his return he said, "That was rather singular business on which I was called away. The gentleman you saw is the famous wizard——. He wishes to rent furniture for use in his performances here." I recognized the name of the man, whom I especially wished to see, to ascertain whether Colchester's methods and those of Foster were similar, and whether the results of my investigation were confirmed. At my request he was recalled and performed the feat—first with such rapidity of action as to invest it with all the mystery which perplexed most and appalled some of Foster's visitors; afterward more slowly, explaining the successive steps.

Such coincidences occur with more or less frequency to every student, investigator, or professional man.

The science of medicine affords many examples. Ancient remedies, deemed of utmost importance, are now utterly discarded; but they were long supported by coincidences. Men took them and recovered, the inference being that they were cured by them. Now wider generalization and more accurate induction establish either that they were inert, or that the patient recovered in spite of them. Great modifications have taken place in the most enlightened medical opinion in regard to the use of water in different diseases, and the relative value of bleeding and the occasions in which it is indicated. The growth of the idea that one or two remedies are sufficient for every disease is one, and the list of thousands of specifics for ten times that number of symptoms another, illustration of deception by coincidence. In 1813 Sir Benjamin Brodie published a work on diseases of the spine and joints, lauding the advantages of calomel, setons, blisters, and bleeding, with long confinement to a recumbent position. In 1834, in a new edition, he confirmed what he had enforced twenty-one years before. In 1850 he thus recants:

A more enlarged experience has satisfied me that, in the very great majority of instances, this painful and loathsome treatment is not only not useful, but absolutely injurious. For many years I have ceased to torment my patients thus afflicted in any manner.


In the realm of pure chance it is impossible to fix the limits of coincidence. Mr. Proctor's recent work, "Chance and Luck," quotes from Steinmetz this fact:

In 1813 a Mr. Ogden wagered one thousand guineas to one that seven could not be thrown with a pair of dice ten successive times. The wager was accepted (though it was egregiously unfair); and, strange to say, his opponent threw seven nine times running. At this point Mr. Ogden offered four hundred and seventy guineas to be off the bet. But his opponent declined, though the price offered was far beyond the real value of his chance. He cast yet once more and threw nine, so that Mr. Ogden won his guinea.

Commenting on this, Mr. Proctor says:

Now here we have an instance of a most remarkable series of throws, the like of which has never been recorded before or since. Before they had been made it might have been asserted that the throwing of nine successive sevens with a pair of dice was a circumstance which chance would never bring about; for experience was as much against such an event as it would seem to be against the turning up of a certain number ten successive times at roulette. Yet experience now shows that the thing is possible, and if we are to limit the action of chance we must assert that the throwing of seven ten times in succession is an event which will never happen.

The late Astronomer Royal of England, Prof. Airy, once devoted a considerable part of every day for a week to tossing pennies with special reference to coincidences. During the time he had a run of twenty-eight successive "tails." By the law of chance this could not occur more than once in many hundred millions of times.

I will present one more, which I think will justify the assertion that no coincidence more wonderful has been recorded. The article was found by me in an Italian paper while Louis Napoleon was in prison at Wilhelmshöhe.


Marbœuf was the first to recognize the genius of Napoleon at the École Militaire, Marengo was the greatest battle gained by Bonaparte, and Melas opened to him the way into Italy. Mortier was one of his first generals, Moreau betrayed him, and Murat was the first martyr in his cause. Marie Louise partook of his highest destinies, Moscow was the abyss in which he was engulfed. Metternich conquered him on the field of diplomacy. Six marshals (Massena, Mortier, Marmont, Macdonald, Murat, Moncey) and twenty-six of his generals of divisions had names beginning with the letter M. Murat, Duke of Bassano, was the counselor in whom he placed the greatest confidence; his first great battle was that of Montenotte, his last that of Mont-Saint-Jean. He gained the battles of Moscow, Montmirail, and Montereau. Then came the assault of Montmartre. Milan was the first enemy's capital and Moscow the last in which he entered. He lost Egypt through the blunders of Menou, and employed Miollis to make Pius VII. prisoner. Malet conspired against him; afterward Marmont. His ministers were Maret, Montalivet, and Mollien. His first chamberlain was Montesquieu, his last sojourn Malmaison. He gave himself up to Captain Maitland. He had for his companion at St. Helena Montholon, and for his valet Marchand.

If we examine the history of his nephew Napoleon III. we find that the same letter has no less influence, and we are assured that the captive of Wilhelmshöhe attaches still more importance to its mysterious influence than did his uncle. The Empress, his wife, is a Countess Montijo; his greatest friend was Morny; the taking of Malakoff and of the Mamelouvert the principal exploits of the Crimean war,—exploits due chiefly to the French. His plan in the Italian campaign was to give the first battle at Marengo, but this was not fought until after the engagement of Montebello at Magenta. McMahon received for the important services rendered by him in the battle the title of Duke of Magenta, as Pélissier received for a similar service that of Duke of Malakoff. Napoleon III. now made his entry into Milan and repulsed the Austrians at Melegnano.

After 1866 the letter M seems to have become for him a presage of misfortune. We pass over Mexico and Maximilian, and take the present war, in which he had founded a vain hope on three M's—Marshal McMahon, Montauban, and the Mitrailleuse. Mayence was to have been the base of operations for the French army, but, repulsed on the Moselle, his fate was decided upon the Meuse at Sedan. Finally we have to mention the fall of Metz. All these disasters are due to another M, the enemy of Napoleon—and this is a capital M—Moltke.

These incidents must be sufficient to show that, excluding wise forecasts and self-procured fulfilments, we do not place too great a burden upon coincidences when we attempt by them to account for the specious evidences of astrology and divination.


The following principles concerning coincidences will be found reliable as working laws:

First. As a general proposition, the law of coincidences is that when two phenomena always coincide they are either connected as "cause and effect" or are the "effect of a common cause." But if they do not always coincide, neither of these is proved. They may then be the effects of separate causes working in their respective planes.

The first question is, Do the phenomena always coincide? The importance of a wide generalization is often lost sight of, and erroneous conclusions are asserted with all the confidence of demonstration. A physician who lives near the sea says that during the past five years he has noted the hour and minute of death of ninety-three patients, and that each has "gone out with the tide" save four, who died suddenly by accident. Yet about thirty-two years ago, a writer in the English "Quarterly Review" claimed to have ascertained the hour of death in 2880 instances of all ages. His observations show that the maximum hour of death is from 5 to 6 o'clock a. m., when it is 40 per cent. above the average; the next during the hour before midnight, when it is 25 per cent. in excess. Between 9 and 10 o'clock in the morning it is 17½ per cent. above, but from 10 a. m. to 3 p. m. it is 16½ per cent. below the average. From 3 to 7 in the afternoon the deaths rise to 5½ per cent. above the average, and then fall from that hour to 11 p. m., averaging 6½ per cent. below mean. It is probable that both these observations are worthless in view of the small number of instances covered. It is clear that they do not concur; yet, taken separately, each would seem conclusive.

Second. Astronomical predictions are based upon a series of unvarying coincidences, in most cases in harmony with laws whose operations can be tested at any time. If these phenomena were irregular and unclassifiable such predictions would be wholly uncertain; but because they usually coincide,—and when they do not, interfering causes can be traced,—eclipses can be foretold for thousands of years in advance, and discoveries such as those of Uranus and Neptune be made.

Third. Chemistry and cognate sciences also work with fixed phenomena, so that when the most diverse elements are combined and effects observed, formulæ can be deduced by which at all times the same effects can be produced.

Fourth. Many of the most wonderful inventions have been made by seeming accident; for example, photography. But reflection upon the accident reveals the cause; the cause and the effect are seen to be scientific coincidences, and the art with its principles and practice is the result.

Fifth. The performances of jugglers are in harmony with the established methods of nature. The charm of their exploits is in successful concealment of the causes, rapidity of motion, distraction of attention, and shrewdly contrived illusions of the senses.

Sixth. It is essential to remember that so-called "laws of chance" reflect no light on the order of sequence. It may be rendered probable by those laws that a certain event will not occur on the average more than once in a million of times; but this gives no assistance in determining the order in which any two occurrences will take place. Thus, if it be shown that an event will occur once in a million of times, in the first million it may be the last in the series, and in the second it may be the first; and that will bring them side by side. Many years ago there was a famous lawsuit in New England. A wealthy woman died, leaving large sums for benevolent purposes, and to her niece—already very rich—almost a million of dollars. The niece made strenuous efforts to break the will. A codicil was produced, the signature of which was found to be exactly like another signature of the testatrix. It was hinted, if not explicitly charged, by the counsel for the will that it was a forgery. Professor Peirce of Harvard University was brought in as a witness. He testified that not more than once in many millions of times would two signatures of the same person be written precisely alike. From this it was designed to raise the presumption that where there is an exact coincidence it must have been done by tracing. The court sustained the will on other grounds, and declined to decide that question. But the force of a presumption of this kind is much weakened, if not destroyed, by the fact that all to which Professor Peirce testified might be true, yet the two similar signatures might occur in the same month. Mr. Proctor states it thus:

The balance is restored just as chance directs. It may be in the next thousand trials, it may not be before many thousands of trials. We are utterly unable to guess when or how it will be brought about.

The business of life insurance can be carried on with certainty, provided the system be constructed upon averages deduced from a sufficiently large number of lives; but the employment of a smaller number would make it ruinous. It is clear that "expectation of life," so called, cannot give the slightest hint as to the probable duration of the life of any man insured under a perfectly reliable system.

Seventh. When a phenomenon is seen with which human beings are not directly connected as actual or possible agents, and which appears to be unlike the course of nature, it should be studied scientifically to ascertain its cause. By such investigations everything now attributed to natural forces has been wrested from the domain of superstition. The work began almost contemporaneously with the beginning of the historic period. Its results are now the inheritance of the school-boy. He understands the causes of many things which were formerly attributed, even in classic Greece and Rome, to supernatural interferences.

Eighth. When phenomena are presented by human beings for which no natural cause is assigned and none appears, the first philosophical inquiry is, Is this deception or jugglery? Here the question of moral character comes into view. Has this person a motive to deceive? Is his character such as to raises doubts whether he be honest? The peculiar influence of that phase of human nature which loves to startle, to be regarded as extraordinary, either in action, knowledge, or susceptibility, and the strange opinions and morbid conditions which give fascination to the exercise of the ability to deceive, must not be ignored. When pay is received for such performances, the probability of dishonesty is strong. The possible paralleling of the phenomena by confessed jugglers is also an important consideration.

Assuming, however, that no ground to suspect jugglery or deceit can be found, the next question is, Do the phenomena go beyond what is known of the possibility of chance coincidences? Not until it is shown that legerdemain cannot produce the effects; that most painstaking investigation can find no explanation and no antecedent in the order of nature; and, further, that the phenomena transcend the possible bounds of coincidences, is there the least presumption that the cause is supernatural. Yet comparatively few of the investigators of occult phenomena have taken pains to comprehend the facts and principles of natural science or the tricks of jugglers,—some of whom have been masters of science,—or to comprehend the vast possibilities of coincidence.

It should not be supposed that common sense and learning, without special experience, qualify persons to investigate these things. Yet physicians who would sneer with just contempt at a non-professional person who should attempt to give an opinion on a difficult question in medical science, and lawyers who would despise a layman presuming to appear as a judge of abstruse legal questions, and ministers who have given no attention to methods of deception or to the "night side of nature," will join with merchants, teachers, and farmers to pronounce upon subjects much further removed from their spheres than are the pursuits of those whom they call "laymen" from their own; and, because they cannot see how these things can be performed or explained, will give support by testimonials and affirmations of mystery to every new, or renewal of an ancient, superstition. Thus astrology and divination were maintained, and so vast structures of deception at the present day are upheld.

  1. Trench. "On the Study of Words."
  2. Trench. "English Past and Present."
  3. Lilly, "Introduction to Astrology," p. 29.
  4. Wilson, "Dictionary of Astrology."