This is reprinted mostly for the first three chapters on financial manias, respectively
The Mississippi Scheme,
The South-Sea Bubble, and
The Tulipomania. The first two are particularly reminiscent of the junk bond and dot-com crazes.
Is there no warmth in the despair of a plundered people?-- no life and animation in the picture which might be drawn of the woes of hundreds of impoverished and ruined families? of the wealthy of yesterday become the beggars of to-day? [...] Is it a dull or uninstructive picture to see a whole people shaking suddenly off the trammels of reason, and running wild after a golden vision, refusing obstinately to believe that it is not real, till, like a deluded hind running after an ignis fatuus, they are plunged into a quagmire ? [...] Nobody seemed to imagine that the nation itself was as culpable as the South Sea Company. Nobody blamed the credulity and avarice of the people,--the degrading lust of gain, which had swallowed up every nobler quality in the national character, or the infatuation which had made the multitude run their heads with such frantic eagerness into the net held out for them by scheming projectors. These things were never mentioned. The people were a simple, honest, hard-working people, ruined by a gang of robbers, who were to be hanged, drawn, and quartered without mercy.
The rest of the manias are oddly assorted between minor fads, e.g. beard-wearing or catchphrases; vicious crazes, e.g. the witch-hunts; and frenzies that caught the imagination because they were related to real or accepted interests, e.g. alchemy or the Crusades. This is a weakness of the recent reprinting; MacKay's longer original (see URI below) had a more sensible arrangement, as by
NATIONAL DELUSIONS, etc.
His era comes through in several shibboleths. He seems to by default distrust Catholic clergy, although the farther in the past they are the more he recognizes them as the civilization of their era, and he probably disapproves of Protestant credulity just as much. The chapter on the Crusades starts with the ones that were popular delusions, but sticks with the issue well into the period of courtly intrigue and international power-relations; I think a gentleman in his Tennysonian day might not have been able to get off the chivalric hobbyhorse, once well-seated. He often refers to popular romances, as by, to remind his readers where they've heard of someone before.
The alchymists included not just early scientists, but early ?theosophists? or New Agers. Of the Rosicrucians:
Man was not surrounded with enemies like these [incubi and succubi], but with myriads of beautiful and beneficent beings, all anxious to do him service. The air was peopled with sylphs, the water with undines or naiads, the bowels of the earth with gnomes, and the fire with salamanders. All these beings were the friends of man, and desired nothing so much as that men should purge themselves of all uncleanness, and thus be enabled to see and converse with them. They possessed great power, and were unrestrained by the barriers of space or the obstructions of matter. But man was in one particular their superior. He had an immortal soul, and they had not. They might, however, become sharers in man's immortality, if they could inspire one of that race with the passion of love towards them.
Poetry and Romance are deeply indebted to the Rosicrucians for many a graceful creation.
From a long list of methods of fortune-telling:
Kleromancy, by lots.
Arithmancy, by numbers.
Logarithmancy, by logarithms.
Koseinomancy, by sieves.
Axinomancy, by saws.
Oinomancy, by the lees of wine.
Sycomancy, by figs.
Tyromancy, by cheese.
Alphitomancy, by meal, flour, or bran.
I particularly like "by cheese". It's spelled "Tyromancy" in the print edition and "Typomancy" in the Gutenberg etext. I have had recourse to the OED - "tyromancy" is right.¹ (Andian.)
That makes "Typomancy" a self-describing word.
The magnetisers had plenty of wierd ideas, among them the weapon-salve reminiscent of some of's books; and mummy. Mummy has turned up too often in my reading; 's wife wrote an early book on it, which I haven't gotten a copy of yet, and there's 's Mummy Possest, and somewhere a reference to mummies used as fuel for trains - where in goodness did I read that? - and mummy was a painter's pigment for a while. The magnetisers even used homegrown mummy:
The fifth mummy of peculiar power was made from criminals that had been hanged; "for from such there is a gentle siccation, that expungeth the watery humour, without destroying the oil and spirituall, which is cherished by the heavenly luminaries, and strengthened continually by the affluence and impulses of the celestial spirits; whence it may be properly called by the name of constellated or celestial mummie." The sixth kind of mummy was made of corpuscles, or spiritual effluences, radiated from the living body; though we cannot get very clear ideas on this head, or respecting the manner in which they were caught.
Source? At least a recommendation of a novel?:
No young women were allowed to follow the army, to the great sorrow of many vicious and of many virtuous dames, who had not courage to elude the decree by dressing in male attire. But many high-minded and affectionate maidens and matrons, bearing the sword or the spear, followed their husbands and lovers to the war in spite of King Richard, and in defiance of danger.
A rare explanation of a mania:
After this time, prosecutions for witchcraft are continually mentioned, especially by the French historians. It was a crime imputed with so much ease, and repelled with so much difficulty, that the powerful, whenever they wanted to ruin the weak, and could fix no other imputation upon them, had only to accuse them of witchcraft to ensure their destruction. Instances, in which this crime was made the pretext for the most violent persecution, both of individuals and of communities, whose real offences were purely political or religious, must be familiar to every reader. [...] The Frieslanders, inhabiting the district from the Weser to the Zuydersee, had long been celebrated for their attachment to freedom, and their successful struggles in its defence. As early as the eleventh century, they had formed a general confederacy against the encroachments of the Normans and the Saxons, which was divided into seven seelands, holding annually a diet under a large oaktree at Aurich, near the Upstalboom. Here they managed their own affairs, without the control of the clergy and ambitious nobles who surrounded them, to the great scandal of the latter. They already had true notions of a representative government. The deputies of the people levied the necessary taxes, deliberated on the affairs of the community, and performed, in their simple and patriarchal manner; nearly all the functions of the representative assemblies of the present day. [...]The invincible courage of these poor people proving too strong for their oppressors to cope with by the ordinary means of warfare, the Archbishop of Bremen applied to Pope Gregory IX. for his spiritual aid against them. That prelate entered cordially into the cause, and launching forth his anathema against the Stedinger as heretics and witches, encouraged all true believers to assist in their extermination. A large body of thieves and fanatics broke into their country in the year 1233, killing and burning wherever they went, and not sparing either women or children, the sick or the aged, in their rage. The Stedinger, however, rallied in great force, routed their invaders, and killed in battle their leader, Count Burckhardt of Oldenburg, with many inferior chieftains.
Again the pope was applied to, and a crusade against the Stedinger was preached in all that part of Germany.
Purporting to explain a symptom of witchcraft:
Modern physicians have often had cases of a similar description under their care, where girls have swallowed needles, which have been voided on the arms, legs, and other parts of the body.
Good heavens; really?
During the height of the witch-hunts, there were still "white-witches", or astrologers, left in peace or consulted on finding black witches. That seems odd on the face of it, though consistent with the general theory that the witch frenzy was displacing social stress onto the people least able to defend themselves. Astrologers were usually well-off and scholarly and connected. The other distinction, of course, is between telling people what's likely to happen to them and trying to cause it - MacKay follows the Witch Mania with the Slow Poisoners, who needed no supernatural assistance.
He disapproves of popular representations of stylish thieves and bandits, arguing that plays can lead boys into delinquency. Nor were only boys overcome, it seems:
The fame of it [The Beggars' Opera] was not confined to the author only. The person who acted Polly, till then obscure, became all at once the favourite of the town; [Lavinia Fenton, afterwards Duchess of Bolton.]
Odd moral, given by MacKay:
Poets, too, without doing mischief, may sing of such heroes when they please, wakening our sympathies for the sad fate of Gilderoy, or Macpherson the Dauntless; or celebrating in undying verse the wrongs and the revenge of the great thief of Scotland, Rob Roy. If, by the music of their sweet rhymes, they can convince the world that such heroes are but mistaken philosophers, born a few ages too late, and having both a theoretical and practical love for
"The good old rule, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
That they should keep who can,"
the world may, perhaps, become wiser, and consent to some better distribution of its good things, by means of which thieves may become reconciled to the age, and the age to them. The probability, however, seems to be, that the charmers will charm in vain, charm they ever so wisely.
And, to finish off this commonplace of quotes with a fair summary:
The bonds of reason, though iron-strong, are easily burst through; but those of folly, though lithe and frail as the rushes by a stream, defy the stoutest heart to snap them asunder.
This print edition is in a different order than the original, and is abridged to boot.
¹ Project Gutenberg may have changed it by now.So wrote clew in History. | TrackBack