Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/856

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THAT "the days of superstition are past" is an announcement frequently and triumphantly made by those who advocate the disestablishment or destruction of any institution or belief that happens not to be in accordance with their own interests or theories. Little, indeed, must such speakers know of the minds, not only of the poorer classes, but of those whose education, as one would suppose, should have raised them above the influence of the grosser and more vulgar forms of superstition. We are not now speaking of the newly invented astral bodies or telepathy; these are the latest refinements of spiritualism, and may die out; we refer to the fine old-fashioned belief in ghosts, witches, wizards, and "uncanniness," which is still far more prevalent than even the believers themselves realize, they being usually more or less ashamed of and reticent as to the faith that is in them.

Mr. Hardy, who has an unusual knowledge of rustic life and habits of thought, in a recent novel, "The Mayor of Casterbridge," gave a wonderful sketch of a local soothsayer, his patrons, and his profits; and though the date of the story lies as far as some fifty or more years behind us, there can be. little doubt that the sorcerers of whom "Wide-oh" is the type still flourish in our midst. To this fact the daily papers bear witness, since we often read of some wretched old woman being haled before the bench, and sentenced to fine or a term of imprisonment for pretending to tell the fortunes of servant-girls with a pack of dirty cards or the dregs in a coffee-cup, though, by-the-way, there is considerable inconsistency in a legislation which punishes the old woman and yet permits turf-touters to advertise with impunity that they have the winner of the next three Derbies in their pockets, and are willing to part with the information on the transference of a certain number of half-crowns from those of a credulous public. Still, though the wise woman, usually a denizen of cities, is occasionally caught napping, owing perhaps to an infelicitous habit of mixing up magic with the reception of stolen goods, the wise man of the provinces is more wide-awake and carries on his trade without interference from the police, his specialty being the cure of warts, toothache, and certain cattle-diseases by incantation or other mystic rites.

We happened not long ago to meet a young, well-to-do, and well-educated farmer in a market town not on a market day, and in the course of conversation casually asked what particular business he had on hand. "A very bad toothache," he replied. The next and natural question was to inquire if he had "been and had it out." Blushing to his eyes he said: "I dare say you'll think me very foolish, sir, but I've been to a wise man to have the pain charmed away. Folks say as he's