Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/245

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MODERN SUPERSTITIONS.

will not attempt an important task on Friday. The horseshoe still hangs behind or over the door in the Highlands, and in some places much less removed from the centres of civilization. East-coast fishermen will yet occasionally burn, or otherwise destroy, a boat from which the lives of any of the crew have been lost, no matter how seaworthy or valuable the boat may be. A hare crossing the path of one of these hardy sons of the sea will cause him to forego an intended journey or voyage. To rustic and fisherman alike a concourse of magpies is an evil omen. As for dreams, the belief that they are the forecasts of events is perhaps the strongest of all the forms of their superstition. We might multiply examples, but have said enough to suggest that the follies of their great-grandfathers have still no slight fascination for the ignorant, in spite of the strides which intelligence has made.

But have superstitious beliefs quite left the more intelligent ranks of society? On the very subject of dreams itself is there not a sneaking credulity which goes far to prove the contrary? True, any one of us is quite able to account in a natural way for his or her dreams. Nevertheless, the lady who chides her children for repeating the interpretation which the housemaid has put upon their sleeping vagaries, and sagely instructs them on the subject of imperfect digestion and its effects upon the brain during sleep, is not ashamed to impart to her husband any morning the particulars of her own shocking dreams, or to piously express the hope that something untoward is not about to happen. Her better-half pooh-poohs the matter, doubtless, as becomes his superior dignity, but is visited none the less with a vague sense of uneasiness when he remembers that he himself had a vision of losing a tooth or seeing a house on fire. Having courageously quizzed his wife at the breakfast-table on the folly of her augury, and bidden her and the children good-by for the day, he inwardly deplores the unlucky omen of having to turn back for his forgotten umbrella or pocket-book!

How many curious but innocent little customs too are still current, and with the sanction of the wisest! An old slipper is still cast after a bride: it is considered necessary to christen a new ship with a bottle of wine: a fine day is still royal weather: and so on. These and many others most of us would indeed be sorry to see extinct. They are not only harmless, but, in their very departure from straitlaced common-sense, give an agreeable and perhaps even healthful relief to the prosiness of ordinary life. To sacrifice them to the strict letter of reason, would be to sacrifice much of the sentiment of life, to banish imagery from poetry, to take the perfume from the rose, to guide into a Dutch canal the current of human affections, which left free will gush and eddy, prattle and murmur by rock and meadow, carrying music and health throughout its living course.

Would that modern superstitions never took less innocent shapes!