Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XI.

A CHAPTER ON DECEPTION.

Boston, December 18, 2084.

My Dear Louise:

You must not think from what I write you that Mr. De Demain and I are constantly taking different sides on all subjects. We often agree very easily, and have many pleasant conversations in which not the shadow of a dispute occurs. It is only occasionally that a governmental whirlwind comes up and blows us far apart. The subject of the ballot was material for several heated discussions,—all perfectly good natured, of course,—the major points of which I have written you.

Finally, on a recent evening, I thought I would close the discussion with a question that my friend would find it impossible to answer. I asked him: “If governments were humbugs,—or worse than that, as you claim,—how was it that all but a very few of the people acknowledged that such governments were necessary? Were not the people of those times better judges of what they and the times required than you are today? They had hard, cold facts to deal with; you have but the skeleton of history. Anarchy may be much better for you today than governments, but you are a more advanced people, far enough advanced, in fact, to do without the bolts and bars that were required two and three centuries ago.”

This did not have just the effect that I anticipated. Instead of acting as cold water, it proved fuel for the fire of his argumentative faculties.

“The fact that the people acknowledged a thing as necessary does not prove that it was a good thing. It does not even prove that it was a good thing for that day and generation. It does, however, prove that people are very easily deceived, just what I have endeavored to impress upon your mind for some months.

“In 1058 Edward the Confessor succeeded to the throne of England. So history says. His people were, many of them, afflicted with a disease known, in the form in which it appears to-day, as scrofula. Edward was a very holy man, and he conceived the idea of curing this disease by the laying on of his hands, as he had read that Christ cured other diseases a thousand years before. His story tells us that the cures were wonderful. No one has ever been able, so far as I know, to explain just what this peculiar medicinal quality given to Edward was, or in what way it effected its miraculous work. It may have exuded from his finger-tips or have passed from them like an electric current,—the people never looked into this, I believe. It was sufficient for them to know that the touch of the king cured this disease, the worst of the times.

“This curative power of Edward did not die with him. Together with his title it was handed down through the succeeding generations until the time of George I, who, in 1714, somehow lost the knack. I believe history says the people refused longer to be deceived in this way.

“Now, during all these seven centuries, I think it safe to say that not one person out of a million ever for a moment doubted that the king had the power to cure the king’s-evil—for so it was called—by the laying on of his hands. For seven centuries the people of England—our ancestors—strove to discover no other remedy for this terrible disease, simply because they saw no need of remedy other than the one they had,—the touch of the king.

“Perhaps Edward the Confessor was honest and believed he had the power to cure. Perhaps all the long line of kings down to George I were honest in their belief. There can be no doubt but the people thought the king’s touch a cure. But all this simply proves how easily the people can be deceived; how anxious they are to be deceived. But it does not prove that it is better for them to be deceived. Because a man can be gulled does not prove that he is a smart man, or that he knows what is best for himself in his day and generation.

“There are certain general principles running down through the ages whose workings we can easily trace back half a dozen centuries perfectly well by the skeleton history you speak of. History does not entirely ignore the hard, cold facts, either. It hints, occasionally, at slavery, starvation, and death. Of course it has most to do with kings and princes and statesmen, but for those who have been up so high we know there must have been a foundation deep down in the mud, and we know that that foundation, which bore all of this load of splendor, must have been the people,—the poor, starving, struggling, weary, deluded people. They may not have been quite as intelligent as the people to-day, or even as the people of your time, but will you say that even a republic like that of the United States would not have been better for them? If they had lived under a republic, you, two centuries ago, would have lived under Anarchy.”

Mr. De Demain never stopped once during all this to give me a chance to answer him. Perhaps it is just as well. I am sure I do not know what I should have said. I shall, however, think the matter over carefully, and I may see some way in which I can show him the fallacy of his reasoning.

Josephine

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.