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is the parent of such laughter as this: but this is, in itself, vicious; whereas, the other sort has nothing in its principles or effects that deserves condemnation. We find this amiable in others, and is it unhappiness to feel a disposition towards it in ourselves?
When I see an Englishman laugh, I fancy I rather see him hunting after joy than having caught it; and this is more particularly remarkable in their women, whose tempers are inclined to melancholy. A laugh leaves no more traces on their countenance, than a flash of lightning on the face of the heavens. The most laughing air is instantly succeeded by the most gloomy. One would be apt to think that their souls open with difficulty to joy, or, at least, that joy is not pleased with its habitation there.
In regard to fine raillery, it must be allowed, that it is not natural to the English, and, therefore, those who endeavour at it make but an ill figure. Some of their authors have candidly confessed, that pleasantry is quite foreign to their character; but, according to the reason they give, they lose nothing by this confession. Bishop Sprat* gives the following one: "The English," says he, "have too much bravery to be derided, and too much virtue and honour to mock others."
* Bishop of Rochester; the friend and biographer of Cowley. —B.
No. VIII. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1759.
ON DECEIT AND FALSEHOOD.
THE following account is so judiciously conceived, that 1 am convinced the reader will be more pleased with it than with any thing of mine, so I shall make no apology for this new publication :—
TO THE AUTHOR OF THE BEE.*
SIR, Deceit and falsehood have ever been an overmatch for truth, and followed and admired by the majority of mankind. If we inquire after the reason of this, we shall find it in our own imaginations, which are amused and entertained with the perpetual novelty and variety that fiction affords, but find no manner of delight in the uniform simplicity of homely truth, which still sues them under the same appearance.
He, therefore, that would gain our hearts, must make his court to our fancy, which, being sovereign controller of the passions, lets them loose, and inflames them more or less, in proportion to the force and efficacy of the first cause which is ever the more powerful the more new it is. Thus, in mathematical demonstrations themselves, though they seem to aim at pure truth and instruction, and to be
* Almost the whole of this paper is copied verbatim from an essay "On Witchcraft," in a volume called The Humourist, published in 1741. What is not borrowed is evidently Goldsmith's own; but probably a slight feeling of compunction, at the idea of appropriating what did not fairly belong to him, induced him to give the whole in the form of a communication from a correspondent.-B.
addressed to our reason alone, yet I think it is pretty plain, that our understanding is only made a drudge to gratify our invention and curiosity, and we are pleased, not so much because our discoveries are certain, as because they
I do not deny but the world is still pleased with things that pleased it many ages ago, but it should at the same time be considered, that man is naturally so much a logician, as to distinguish between matters that are plain and easy, and others that are hard and inconceivable. What we understand we overlook and despise, and what we know nothing of, we hug and delight in. Thus there are such things as perpetual novelties; for we are pleased no longer than we are amazed, and nothing so much contents us as that which confounds us.
This weakness in human nature gave occasion to a party of men to make such gainful markets as they have done of our credulity. All objects and facts whatever now ceased to be what they had been for ever before, and received what make and meaning it was found convenient to put upon them what people ate, and drank, and saw, was not what they ate, and drank, and saw, but something farther, which they were fond of because they were ignorant of it. In short, nothing was itself, but something beyond itself; and by these artifices and amusements the heads of the world were so turned and intoxicated, that at last there was scarcely a sound set of brains left in it.
In this state of giddiness and infatuation it was no very hard task to persuade the already deluded, that there was an actual society and communion between human creatures and spiritual demons. And when they had thus put people into the power and clutches of the devil, none but they alone could have either skill or strength to bring the prisoners back again.
But so far did they carry this dreadful drollery, and so fond were they of it, that to maintain it and themselves in profitable repute, they literally sacrificed for it, and made impious victims of numberless old women and other miserable persons, who, either through ignorance could not say what they were bid to say, or through madness said what they should not have said. Fear and stupidity made them incapable of defending themselves, and frenzy and infatuation made them confess guilty impossibilities, which produced cruel sentences, and then inhuman executions.
Some of these wretched mortals, finding themselves either hateful or terrible to all, and befriended by none, and perhaps wanting the common necessaries of life, came at last to abhor themselves as much as they were abhorred by others, and grew willing to be burned or hanged out of a world, which was no other to them than a scene of persecution and anguish.
Others of strong imaginations and little understandings, were, by positive and repeated charges against them of committing mischievous and supernatural facts and villainies, deluded to judge of themselves by the judgment of their enemies, whose weakness or malice prompted them to be accusers. And many have been condemned as witches and dealers with the devil, for no other reason but their knowing more than those who accused, tried, and passed sentence upon them.
In these cases, credulity is a much greater error than infidelity, and it is safer to believe nothing than too much. A man that believes little or nothing of witchcraft, will destroy nobody for being under the imputation of it; and so far he certainly acts with humanity to others, and safety to himself; but he that credits all, or too much, upon that article, is obliged, if he acts consistently with his persuasion, to kill all those whom he takes to be the killers of mankind; and such are witches. It would be a jest and a contradiction to say, that he is for sparing them who are harmless of that tribe, since the received notion of their supposed contract with the devil implies, that they are engaged, by covenant and inclination, to do all the mischief they possibly
I have heard many stories of witches, and read many accusations against them; but I do not remember any that would have induced me to have consigned over to the halter or the flame any of those deplorable wretches, who, as they share our likeness and nature, ought to share our compassion, as persons cruelly accused of impossibilities.
But we love to delude ourselves, and often fancy or forge an effect, and then set ourselves as gravely as ridiculously to find out the cause. Thus, for example, when a dream or the hyp has given us false terrors or imaginary pains, we immediately conclude that the infernal tyrant owes us a spite, and inflicts his wrath and stripes upon us by the hands of some of his sworn servants among us. For this.