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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/486

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and reduced the conquered nations to their own condition, inaugurating in the completest manner the reign of brute-force and mental darkness. If they afterward espoused Christianity, they molded it to their own savage superstition, till at last naught was left of the divine dispensation but its name, to cover the most degrading idolatry and demonism. At the time we begin our specific examination we find that, in the then so-called Christian nations—

1. There existed no science worthy of the name, no schools whatever. Reading, writing, and ciphering, were separate and distinct trades. The masses, the nobility, the poor and the rich, were wholly unacquainted with the mysteries of the alphabet and the pen. A few men, known as clerks, who generally belonged to the priesthood, monopolized them as a special class of artists. They taught their business only to their seminarists, apprentices; and beyond themselves and their few pupils no one knew how to read and write, nor was it expected of the generality, any more than it would be nowadays, that everybody should be a shoemaker or a lawyer. Kings did not even know how to sign their names, so that when they wanted to subscribe to a written contract, law, or treaty, which some clerk had drawn up for them, they would smear their right hand with ink, and slap it down upon the parchment saying, "Witness my hand." At a later date, some genius devised the substitute of the seal, which was impressed instead of the hand, but oftener besides the hand. Every gentleman had a seal with a peculiar device thereon. Hence the sacramental words now in use, "Witness my hand and seal," affixed to modern deeds, serve at least the purpose of reminding us of the ignorance of the middle ages.

In fact, in those days a nobleman considered it below his dignity to have any knowledge of letters. This was left to persons of inferior rank. The use of arms, horsemanship, and war, were the sole avocation of the lords of the land. As all authority, and indeed safety, depended upon force and success in battle, skill at arms was necessarily the genteelest of the arts. The nobility knew no other; and the workmen they admired the most were those who forged their uncouth armor, ungainly shields, and clumsy swords.

Society was divided into orders: at the top were the prelates and priesthood, the kings and nobles; at the bottom the serfs who were the bulk of the people; and intermediate were a few free workmen and burgesses who enjoyed a sort of quasi exemption from personal servitude, but were subject to the despotic rule of the king and lords.

All persons were also unmitigated believers in magic, sorcery, witchcraft, enchantments, amulets, astrology, evil-eye, conjuration, fascination, divination, fetichism, charms, evocation of ghosts, specters and devils, talismans, incantations, fortune-telling, palmistry, cabalistic arts, spells, divining-rods, bargains with the occult powers, and the