and sleight-of-hand performers of every grade, prefer examining committees composed of leading citizens—the ablest jurists, physicians, merchants, clergymen, scientists, and men of letters that can be found—and instinctively dread the criticism of children and of day-laborers, who, being unable to read, or write, or to think, or to reason according to the books, are obliged to trust their instincts.
The world's greatest follies and darkest untruths, especially while in the process of dissolution, have always found some justly honored authority in theology, in literature, in philosophy, in law, and in science itself—a Matthew Hale, a Lord Bacon, a Wesley, a Cotton Mather, an Elliotson, a Hare, a Gregory, a Wallace, an Emerson, an Agassiz, a Zollner, committees of learned academies, professors in great colleges—to stand by their bedside, armed with syllogisms, trusting their senses, and conscientiously striving to nurse them back to vigorous life. This grotesque phenomenon of history—so universal as to command general observation—would seem to have this threefold explanation: 1. The fact here suggested, that clever natures trained in logic are obliged to reason logically, and, as the logic of the world is wrong, they arrive at the wrong conclusions, which, against the protestation of their instincts, they are forced to accept. The greater the man the greater his errors; the weakness of the world confounds its strength; ignorance is saved by its instincts, which science and logic dare not always trust. If the chart be wrong, the navigator who accurately steers by it is sure to go out of his course; while he who goes by blind reckoning may possibly float into harbor. 2. The social and professional position of men of genius and ability is constantly compelling them to undertake investigations in departments in which they are not authorities, and requires them to proclaim positive decisions which, like the results of all non-expert investigations, are almost inevitably erroneous. 3. The faculty of wonder that so often leads to credulity is not inconsistent with the highest scientific genius; it is, indeed, a powerful and determining element in the scientific character, and thus what has been called "the foundation of all philosophy" also becomes the foundation of all folly. Such, as it would appear, is the solution of the problem which for so many years has been the despair of the historian and the opprobrium of psychology.
Hence it is that there are no superstitions that are so superstitious as the superstitions of scientific men. Hence it is that all delusions in their decline cast their last shadows over the loftiest heights of science, of literature, and philosophy.