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great fleet, being the greatest in strength, though not in number, of all that ever swam upon the sea. As for Cleon's dream,' I think it was a jest—it was, that he was devoured of a long dragon; and it was expounded of a maker of sausages, that troubled him exceedingly. There are numbers of the like kind, especially if you include dreams, and predictious of astrology; but I have set down these few only of certain credit, for example. My judgment is, that they ought all to be despised, and ought to serve but for winter-talk by the fire-side. Though when I say despised, I mean it as for belief-for otherwise, the spreading or publishing of them is in no sort to be despised—for they have done much mischief, and I see many severe laws made to suppress them. That that hath given them grace, and some credit, consisteth in three things. First, that men mark when they hit, and never mark when they miss; as they do, generally, also of dreams. The second is, that probable conjectures, or obscure traditions, many times turn themselves into prophecies: while the nature of man which coveteth divination, thinks it no peril to foretell that which indeed they do but collect, as that of Seneca's verse; for so much was then subject to demonstration, that the globe of the earth had great parts beyond the Atlantic, which might be probably conceived not to be all sea, and adding thereto the tradition in Plato's Timous and his Atlanticus,' it might encourage one to turn it to a prediction. The third and last, which is the great one, is, that almost all of them, being infinite in number, have been impostures, and by idle and crafty brains, merely contrived and feigned, after the event past.
Aristoph. Equit, 195. * Of, By. 'Lest a man more honourable than thou be bidden of him.'—Luke xiv. 8. ANNOTATIONS.
The spreading or publishing of them is in no sort to be despised,
for they have done much mischief.' A political prediction, publicly uttered, will often have had, or be supposed to have had, a great share in bringing about its own fulfilment. Accordingly, when a law is actually passed, and there is no reasonable hope of its repeal, we should be very cautious in publicly uttering predictions of dangers and discontents, lest we should thus become the means of engendering or aggravating them. He who gives out, for instance, that the people will certainly be dissatisfied with such and such a law is in this doing his utmost to make them dissatisfied. And this being the case in all unfavourable, as well as favourable, predictions, some men lose their deserved credit for political sagacity, through their fear of contributing to produce the evils they apprehend; while others again, contribute to evil results by their incapacity to keep their anticipations locked up in their own bosoms, and by their dread of not obtaining deserved credit. It would be desirable to provide for such men a relief like that which the servant of King Midas found, due care, however, being taken that there should be no whispering reeds to divulge it.
In another “New Atlantis,' entitled An Erpedition to the Interior of New Holland,' a Prediction-office is supposed to exist in several of the States, namely, an establishment consisting of two or three inspectors, and a few clerks, appointed to receive from any one, on payment of a trifling fee, any sealed-up prediction, to be opened at a time specified by the party himself. His name is to be signed to the prediction within ; and on the outer cover is inscribed the date of its delivery, and the time when the seal is to be broken. There is no pretence made to supernatural prophetic powers; only to supposed political sagacity.
Unless in some case in which very remarkable sagacity has been evinced, the predictions are not made public. But pre
· Published by Bentley.
viously to the appointment of any of the authors to any public office, the inspectors are bound to look over their register, and produce, as a set-off against a candidate's claims, any unsuccessful prediction he may have made. Many a man there is to whom important public trusts are committed, who, wherever such an institution had been established, would be found to have formally recorded, under the influence of self-conceit, his own incapacity.
Men mark when they hit, and never mark when they miss.'
This remark, as well as the proverb, 'What is hit is history; what is missed is mystery,' would admit of much generalization. The most general statement would be nearly that of the law maxim, De non apparentibus et non existentibus, eadem est ratio ;' for in all matters, men are apt to treat as altogether non-existent, whatever does not come under their knowledge or notice.
No doubt, if all the pocket-books now existing could be inspected, some thousands of memoranda' would be found of dreams, visions, omens, presentiments, &c., kept to observe whether they are fulfilled; and when one is, out of some hundreds of thousands, this is recorded; the rest being never heard of. So Bion, when shown the votive offerings of those who had been saved from shipwreck, asked, Where are the records of those who were drowned in spite of their vows?
Mr. Senior has remarked in his Lectures on Political Economy, that the sacrifice of vast wealth, on the part of a whole people, for the gain—and that, comparatively, a trifling gain—of a handful of monopolists, is often submitted to patiently,' from the gain being concentrated and the loss diffused. But this would not have occurred so often as it has, were it not that this diffusion of the loss causes its existence—that is, its existence as a loss so increased—to be unperceived. If a million of persons are each virtually taxed half-a-crown a year in the increased price of some article, through the prohibition of free-trade, perhaps not above a shilling of this goes to those who profit by the monopoly. But this million of shillings, amounting to £50,000
* See Annotations on Essay xxiii.
per annum, is divided, perhaps, among fifty persons, who clearly perceive whence their revenue is derived; and who, when an income of £1000 is at stake, will combine together, and use every effort and artifice to keep up the monopoly. The losers,
, on the other hand, not only have, each, much less at stake, but are usually ignorant that they do lose by this monopoly; else they would not readily submit to pay half-a-crown or even one shilling as a direct pension to fifty men who had no claim on them.
Again, an English gentleman who lives on his estate, is considered as a public benefactor, not only by exerting himself—if he does so—in promoting sound religion, and pure morality, and useful knowledge, in his neighbourhood, but also because his income is spent in furnishing employment to his neighbours, as domestics, and bakers, and carpenters, &c. If he removes and resides in France, his income is, in fact, spent on English cutlers and clothiers; since it is their products that are exported to France, and virtually exchanged—though in a slightly circuitous way, for the services of French domestics, bakers, and carpenters. But the Sheffield cutlers are not aware even of his existence; while the neighbours of the resident proprietor trace distinctly to him the profits they derive from him.
Again, one who unprofitably consumes in feasts, and fireworks, and fancy-gardens, &c., the labour of many men, is regarded as a public benefactor, in furnishing employment to so many; though it is plain, that all unproductive consumption diminishes by just so much of the wealth of the country. He, on the contrary, who hoards up his money as a miser, is abused, though in fact he is (though without any such design) contributing to the public wealth, by lending at interest all he saves; which finds its way, directly or indirectly, to canals, commerce, manufactures, and other productive courses of expenditure. But this benefit to the public no one can trace; any more than we can trace each of the drops of rain that find their way into the
On the other hand, the advantage to the individuals to whom the other is a customer, they distinctly trace to him.
Again, the increased knowledge of accidents and offences, conveyed through newspapers, in a civilized country, leads some to fancy that these evils occur more frequently, because they hear of them more, than in times of primitive simplicity. But
there are no more particles of dust in the sun-beam than in the rest of the room; though we see them better.'
All these, and a multitude of other cases, come under the general formula above stated : the tendency to overrate the amount of whatever is seen and known, as compared with what is unknown, or less known, unseen, and indefinite.
Under this head will come the general tendency to underrate the preventive effects of any measure or system, whether for good or for evil. E. g. in the prevention of crime, it is plain that every instance of a crime committed, and of a penalty actually inflicted, is an instance of failure in the object for which penalties were denounced. We see the crimes that do take place, and the punishments; we do not see the crimes that would be committed if punishment were abolished.