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by [?]

But blind fear not only causes evil to the coward himself: it makes him a source of evil to others; for it is the cruellest of all human states. It transforms the man into the likeness of the cat, who, when she is caught in a trap, or shut up in a room, has too low an intellect to understand that you wish to release her: and, in the madness of terror, bites and tears at the hand which tries to do her good. Yes; very cruel is blind fear. When a man dreads he knows not what, he will do he cares not what. When he dreads desperately, he will act desperately. When he dreads beyond all reason, he will behave beyond all reason. He has no law of guidance left, save the lowest selfishness. No law of guidance: and yet his intellect, left unguided, may be rapid and acute enough to lead him into terrible follies. Infinitely more imaginative than the lowest animals, he is for that very reason capable of being infinitely more foolish, more cowardly, more superstitious. He can–what the lower animals, happily for them, cannot–organise his folly; erect his superstitions into a science; and create a whole mythology out of his blind fear of the unknown. And when he has done that–Woe to the weak! For when he has reduced his superstition to a science, then he will reduce his cruelty to a science likewise, and write books like the “Malleus Maleficarum,” and the rest of the witch literature of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries; of which Mr. Lecky has of late told the world so much, and told it most faithfully and most fairly.

But, fear of the unknown? Is not that fear of the unseen world? And is not that fear of the spiritual world? Pardon me: a great deal of that fear–all of it, indeed, which is superstition–is simply not fear of the spiritual, but of the material; and of nothing else.

The spiritual world–I beg you to fix this in your minds–is not merely an invisible world which may become visible, but an invisible world which is by its essence invisible; a moral world, a world of right and wrong. And spiritual fear–which is one of the noblest of all affections, as bodily fear is one of the basest–is, if properly defined, nothing less or more than the fear of doing wrong; of becoming a worse man.

But what has that to do with mere fear of the unseen? The fancy which conceives the fear is physical, not spiritual. Think for yourselves. What difference is there between a savage’s fear of a demon, and a hunter’s fear of a fall? The hunter sees a fence. He does not know what is on the other side, but he has seen fences like it with a great ditch on the other side, and suspects one here likewise. He has seen horses fall at such, and men hurt thereby. He pictures to himself his horse falling at that fence, himself rolling in the ditch, with possibly a broken limb; and he recoils from the picture he himself has made; and perhaps with very good reason. His picture may have its counterpart in fact; and he may break his leg. But his picture, like the previous pictures from which it was compounded, is simply a physical impression on the brain, just as much as those in dreams.

Now, does the fact of the ditch, the fall, and the broken leg, being unseen and unknown, make them a spiritual ditch, a spiritual fall, a spiritual broken leg? And does the fact of the demon and his doings, being as yet unseen and unknown, make them spiritual, or the harm that he may do, a spiritual harm? What does the savage fear? Lest the demon should appear; that is, become obvious to his physical senses, and produce an unpleasant physical effect on them. He fears lest the fiend should entice him into the bog, break the hand-bridge over the brook, turn into a horse and ride away with him, or jump out from behind a tree and wring his neck–tolerably hard physical facts, all of them; the children of physical fancy, regarded with physical dread. Even if the superstition proved true; even if the demon did appear; even if he wrung the traveller’s neck in sound earnest, there would be no more spiritual agency or phenomenon in the whole tragedy than there is in the parlour-table, when spiritual somethings make spiritual raps upon spiritual wood; and human beings, who are really spirits–and would to heaven they would remember that fact, and what it means–believe that anything has happened beyond a clumsy juggler’s trick.