Of the second cause of Popular Errors; the erroneous disposition of the People.

HAVING thus declared the fallible nature of Man even from his first production, we have beheld the general cause of Error. But as for popular Errors, they are more neerly founded upon an erroneous inclination of the people; as being the most deceptable part of Mankind and ready with open armes to receive the encroachments of Error. Which condition of theirs although deducible from many Grounds, yet shall we evidence it but from a few, and such as most neerly and undeniably declare their natures.

How unequal discerners of truth they are, and openly exposed unto Error, will first appear from their unqualified intellectuals, unable to umpire the difficulty of its dissensions. For Error, to speak largely, is a false judgment of things, or an essent unto falsity. Now whether the object whereunto they deliver up their assent be true or false, they are incompetent judges.

For the assured truth of things is derived from the principles of knowledg, and causes which determine their verities. Whereof their uncultivated understandings, scarce holding any theory, they are but bad discerners of verity; and in the numerous track of Error, but casually do hit the point and unity of truth.

Their understanding is so feeble in the discernment of falsities, and averting the Errors of reason, that it submitteth unto the fallacies of sense, and is unable to rectifie the Error of its sensations. Thus the greater part of Mankind having but one eye of Sense and Reason, conceive the Earth far bigger than the Sun, the fixed Stars lesser than the Moon, their figures plain, and their spaces from Earth equidistant. For thus their Sense informeth them, and herein their reason cannot Rectifie them; and therefore hopelessly continuing in mistakes, they live and die in their absurdities; passing their days in perverted apprehensions, and conceptions of the World, derogatory unto God, and the wisdom of the Creation.

Again, being so illiterate in the point of intellect, and their sense so incorrected, they are farther indisposed ever to attain unto truth; as commonly proceeding in those wayes, which have most reference unto sense, and wherein there lyeth most notable and popular delusion.

For being unable to wield the intellectuall arms of reason, they are fain to betake themselves unto wasters, and the blunter weapons of truth: affecting the gross and sensible ways of Doctrin, and such as will not consist with strict and subtile Reason. Thus unto them a piece of Rhetorick is a sufficient argument of Logick; an Apologue1 of Esop, beyond a Syllogism in Barbara;[2] parables than propositions, and proverbs more powerful than demonstrations. And therefore are they led rather by Example, than Precept; receiving perswasions from visible inducements, before intellectual[3] instructions. And therefore also they judg of human actions by the event; for being uncapable of operable[4] circumstances, or rightly to judg the prudentiality of affairs, they only gaze upon the visible success, and thereafter condemn or cry up the whole progression. And so from this ground in the Lecture of holy Scripture, their apprehensions are commonly confined unto the literal sense of the Text; from whence have ensued the gross and duller sort of Heresies. For not attaining the deuteroscopy, and second intention of the words, they are fain to omit their Superconsequencies, Coherencies, Figures, or Tropologies; and are not sometime perswaded by fire beyond their literalities. And therefore also things invisible, but unto intellectual discernments, to humour the grosness of their comprehensions, have been degraded from their proper forms, and God himself dishonoured into manual expressions. And so likewise being unprovided, or unsufficient for higher speculations, they will alwayes betake themselves unto sensible representations, and can hardly be restrained the dulness of Idolatry. A sin or folly not only derogatory unto God but men; overthrowing their Reason, as well as his Divinity. In brief, a reciprocation, or rather, an inversion of the Creation, making God one way, as he made us another; that is, after our Image, as he made us after His own.

Moreover, their understanding thus weak in it self, and perverted by sensible delusions, is yet farther impaired by the dominion of their appetite; that is, the irrational and brutal part of the soul, which lording it over the soveraign faculty, interrupts the actions of that noble part, and choaks those tender sparks, which Adam hath left them of reason. And therefore they do not only swarm with Errors, but vices depending thereon. Thus they commonly affect no man any further than he deserts his reason, or complies with their aberrancies. Hence they imbrace not vertue for it self, but its reward; and the argument from pleasure or Utility is far more powerful, than that from vertuous Honesty: which Mahomet and his contrivers well understood, when he set out the felicity of his Heaven, by the contentments of flesh, and the delights of sense, slightly passing over the accomplishment of the Soul, and the beatitude of that part which Earth and visibilities too weakly affect. But the wisdom of our Saviour, and the simplicity of his truth proceeded another way; defying the popular provisions of happiness from sensible expectations; placing his felicity in things removed from sense, and the intellectual enjoyment of God. And therefore the doctrine of the one was never affraid of Universities, or endeavoured the banishment of learning, like the other. And though Galen doth sometimes nibble at Moses, and, beside the Apostate Christian,5 some Heathens have questioned his Philosophical part, or treaty[6] of the Creation: Yet is there surely no reasonable Pagan, that will not admire the rational and well grounded precepts of Christ; whose life, as it was conformable unto his Doctrine, so was that unto the highest rules of Reason; and must therefore flourish in the advancement of learning, and the perfection of parts best able to comprehend it.

Again, Their individual imperfections being great, they are moreover enlarged by their aggregation; and being erroneous in their single numbers, once hudled together, they will be Error it self. For being a confusion of knaves and fools, and a farraginous concurrence of all conditions, tempers, sexes, and ages; it is but natural if their determinations be monstrous, and many waies inconsistent with Truth. And therefore wise men have alwaies applauded their own judgment, in the contradiction of that of the People; and their soberest adversaries, have ever afforded them the stile of fools and mad men; and, to speak impartially, their actions have made good these Epithets. Had Orestes been Judg,7 he would not have acquitted that Lystrian rabble of madness, who, upon a visible miracle, falling into so high a conceit of Paul and Barnabas, that they termed the one Jupiter, the other Mercurius;[8] that they brought Oxen and Garlands, and were hardly restrained from sacrificing unto them; did notwithstanding suddenly after fall upon Paul, and having stoned him drew him for dead out of the City. It might have hazzarded the sides of Democritus, had he been present at that tumult of Demetrius;[9] when the people flocking together in great numbers, some crying one thing, and some another, and the assembly was confused, and the most part knew not wherefore they were come together; notwithstanding, all with one voice for the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. It had overcome the patience of Job, as it did the meekness of Moses, and would surely have mastered any, but the longanimity, and lasting sufferance of God; had they beheld the Mutiny in the wilderness, when, after ten great Miracles in Egypt, and some in the same place, they melted down their stoln ear-rings into a Calf, and monstrously cryed out; These are thy Gods, O Israel, that brought thee out of the land of Egypt.[10] It much accuseth the impatience of Peter, who could not endure the staves of the multitude, and is the greatest example of lenity in our Saviour, when he desired of God forgiveness unto those, who having one day brought him into the City in triumph, did presently after, act all dishonour upon him, and nothing could be heard but, Crucifige, in their Courts. Certainly he that considereth these things in Gods peculiar people, will easily discern how little of truth there is in the waies of the Multitude; and though sometimes they are flattered with that Aphorism, will hardly believe, The voice of the people to be the voice of God.[11]

Lastly, being thus divided from truth in themselves, they are yet farther removed by advenient deception. For true it is (and I hope I shall not offend their vulgarities,) if I say, they are daily mocked into Error by subtler devisors, and have been expressly deluded by all professions and ages. Thus the Priests of Elder time, have put upon them many incredible conceits, not only deluding their apprehensions with Ariolation,[12] South-saying, and such oblick Idolatries, but winning their credulities unto the literal and down-right adorement of Cats, Lizzards, and Beetles. And thus also in some Christian Churches, wherein is presumed an irreprovable truth, if all be true that is suspected, or half what is related; there have not wanted many strange deceptions, and some thereof are still confessed by the name of Pious Frauds. Thus Theudas an Impostor[13] was able to lead away Four thousand into the Wilderness, and the delusions of Mahomet almost the fourth part of Mankind. Thus all Heresies, how gross soever, have found a welcome with the people. For thus, many of the Jews were wrought into belief that Herod was the Messias; and David George[14] of Leyden and Arden,[15] were not without a party amongst the people, who maintained the same opinion of themselves almost in our days.

Physitians (many at least that make profession thereof) beside divers less discoverable wayes of fraud, have made them believe, there is the book of fate, or the power of Aarons brest plate,[16] in Urins. And therefore hereunto they have recourse, as unto the Oracle of life, the great determinator of Virginity, Conception, Fertility, and the Inscrutable infirmities of the whole Body. For as though there were a seminality in Urine, or that, like the Seed, it carried with it the Idea of every part, they foolishly conceive, we visibly behold therein the Anatomy of every particle, and can thereby indigitate their Diseases: And running into any demands, expect from us a sudden resolution in things, whereon the Devil of Delphos would demurr; and we know hath taken respite of some dayes to answer easier questions.

Saltimbancoes, Quacksalvers, and Charlatans, deceive them in lower degrees. Were Esop alive, the Piazza and Pont-Neuf17 could not speak their fallacies; mean while there are too many, whose cries cannot conceal their mischief. For their Impostures are full of cruelty, and worse than any other; deluding not only unto pecuniary defraudations, but the irreparable deceit of death.

Astrologers, which pretend to be of Cabala with the Starrs (such I mean as abuse that worthy Enquiry) have not been wanting in their deceptions; who having won their belief unto principles whereof they make great doubt themselves, have made them believe that arbitrary events below, have necessary causes, above; whereupon their credulities assent unto any Prognosticks, and daily swallow the Predictions of men, which, considering the independency of their causes, and contingency in their Events, are only in the prescience of God.

Fortune-tellers, Juglers, Geomancers, and the like incantory Impostors, though commonly men of Inferiour rank, and from whom without Illumination they can expect no more than from themselves, do daily and professedly delude them. Unto whom (what is deplorable in Men and Christians) too many applying themselves; betwixt jest and earnest, betray the cause of Truth, and sensibly make up the legionary body of Error.

Statists and Politicians, unto whom Ragione di Stato, is the first Considerable, as though it were their business to deceive the people, as a Maxim, do hold, that truth is to be concealed from them; unto whom although they reveal the visible design, yet do they commonly conceal the capital intention. And therefore have they ever been the instruments of great designes, yet seldom understood the true intention of any, accomplishing the drifts of wiser heads, as inanimate and ignorant Agents, the general design of the World; who though in some Latitude of sense, and in a natural cognition perform their proper actions, yet do they unknowingly concurr unto higher ends, and blindly advance the great intention of Nature. Now how far they may be kept in ignorance a greater example there is in the people of Rome; who never knew the true and proper name of their own City. For, beside that common appellation received by the Citizens, it had a proper and secret name concealed from them: Cujus alterum nomen[18] discere secretis Ceremoniarum nefas habetur, saith Plinie; lest the name thereof being discovered unto their enemies, their Penates and Patronal Gods might be called forth by charms and incantations.[19] For according unto the tradition of Magitians, the tutelary Spirits will not remove at common appellations, but at the proper names of things whereunto they are Protectors.

Thus having been deceived by themselves, and continually deluded by others, they must needs be stuffed with Errors, and even over-run with these inferiour falsities; whereunto whosoever shall resign their reasons, either from the Root of deceit in themselves, or inability to resist such trivial deceptions[20] from others, although their condition and fortunes may place them many Spheres above the multitude, yet are they still within the line of Vulgarity, and Democratical enemies of truth.


* [My or others’ notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 Fable.

2 [A logical proposition involving three universal affirmatives (hence bArbArA), as Every man is a mammal, all mammals are furry, therefore all men are furry.]

3 [1672 has “electual”]

4 [“ ‘Not capable of judging what is to be done under any given circumstances.’ Dr. Johnson’s solitary authority for the word operable, which he says is not in use.” (Wilkin); that is, “incapable of judging what it is proper to do according to the circumstances before them, they judge only by the results of actions, and therefore only afterwards.” A proposal familiar in political and diplomatic worlds. In the OED, the word is not cited again in this use until 1911; the OED cites only one other use of the word in any meaning before 1900.]

5 Iulian.

6 [Wren: In the sense of treatise; but the word is obsolete.]

7 Non sani esse hominis, non sanus juret Orestes. [Persius, III 118]

8 [Acts 14:8 ff; they called Paul Mercurius and Barnabas Jupiter]

9 [Silversmith of Ephesus; Acts 19]

10 [Exodus 32:4; for the “stoln”, see, for example, Exodus 3:22: “But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians”. Wilkin, however, demurs: “neither stolen nor borrowed, but freely given to the solicitation of the Israelites, to whom ‘The Lord had given favour in the sight of the Egyptians.’… The idea of dishonesty so universally attached to this transaction, in consequence of our unfortunate version of the passages, is a vulgar error, which cannot be too generally corrected.”]

11 [On Peter and the staves (and the swords, of which he may have been equally fearful), see Mt. 26:47-58, Mark 14:43-54, Luke 22:52-54. On the calls to crucify Jesus, Mark 15:13; Luke 23:21; John 19:6; only Luke records Jesus's prayer for forgiveness, Luke 23:34. The famous aphorism, vox populi vox dei, of obscure origin. Various contributors to Notes & Queries have discussed it, tracing it back to (a refutation of it by) William of Malmesbury, ca. 920; see 1 (20) Mar 16 1850, 321; 1 (23) Apr 6 1850, 370; 1 (30) May 25 1850, 492; 3 (76) Apr 12 1851, 288; 3 (80) May 10 1851, 381; 8 (212) Nov 19 1853, 494 (the last tracing it back to the last verses of Hesiod’s Works and Days, ). Similar in construction, but not in meaning except by a long stretch of the imagination, is the Vulgate Isa. 66:6 “vox populi de civitate vox de templo vox Domini reddentis retributionem inimicis suis”.]

12 [Fortune-telling; ultimately from L. hariolus, a sooth-sayer. A very short-lived word in English, scarcely recorded after the decade in which Vulgar Errors was written.]

13 [Acts 5:36, where the number of men is given as 400. A remarkably opaque story even by Biblical standards. “In the reign of Claudius, about twelve years after the death of our Saviour, when Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, a certain impostor, named Theudas, persuaded a great multitude with their best effects to follow him to the river Jordan for their passage, and ‘saying these things he deceived many,’ saith Josephus. But Fadus sent a troop of horse against them, who falling unexpectedly upon them, killed many, and made many prisoners; and having taken Theudas himself alive, they cut off his head and took it to Jerusalem. A few years afterwards in the reign of Nero, and the procuratorship of Felix, these impostors arose so frequent, that ‘many of them were apprehended and killed every day.’ They seduced great numbers of people still expecting the Messiah; and well therefore might our Saviour caution his disciples against them.” Dissertations on the Prophecies, Bishop Thomas Newton (pp. 375-376)]

14 [David Joris, Anabaptist of Leyden “or, as some say, of Ghent, was a glazier or painter on glass, who began to preach, about the year 1525, that he was the true Messiah, the third David, and ... the nephew of God.... He died at Basle in 1556, having declared to his disciples, a short time previous to his death, that he should rise again on the third day after his decease. In order to expose the delusion, and confound the believers in his mad professions, the Senate of Basle had his body disinterred on the third day, and caused it to be burnt, together with his writings.” (Brayley in Wilkin)]

15 [?. The Robbins edition makes several suggestions: Henry Arthington, the most likely on phonetic and historical grounds; he followed and then recanted his belief in the “messiah” William Hackett; Robert Aske, who defended the monasteries at their dissolution by Henry VIII in 1536. Neither of these, however, believed himself to be the messiah, as Browne states. Robbins also sugests a printer’s error for “David George, John [Beuckelson] of Leyden, and Adam Neuster”, “the trio given by Swift, Mechanical Operation of the Spirit, 2”. Wilkin and some other editions insert a comma which is not in the text of 1646 or 1672 (David George of Leyden, and Arden). In the 1646 edition, the entire phrase is in Roman type; in 1672 it is in italics except for “of”, as here presented. It is therefore possible that there is but one person named here and that Arden is an error for one of David George’s many alternate names.]

16 [Wilkin: “Josephus and others maintain that the precious stones of Aaron’s breastplate were the Urim and Thummim, and that they discovered the will of God by their extraordinary lustre, thereby predicting the issue of events to those who consulted them.” Josephus, III:viii:9L “Yet will I mention what is still more wonderful than this: for God declared beforehand, by those twelve stones which the high priest bare on his breast, and which were inserted into his breastplate, when they should be victorious in battle; for so great a splendor shone forth from them before the army began to march, that all the people were sensible of God's being present for their assistance. Whence it came to pass that those Greeks, who had a veneration for our laws, because they could not possibly contradict this, called that breastplate the Oracle. Now this breastplate, and this sardonyx, left off shining two hundred years before I composed this book, God having been displeased at the transgressions of his laws.” There is a good deal more about the priestly breastplate in Book III of Josephus. See also Pseud. Ep. II.v on Aaron's breastplate; and the Jewish Encyclopedia article Urim and Thummim.]

17 Places in Venice and Paris, where Mountebanks play their pranks.

18 [Wren: This name was Valentias, for revealing which Soranus was put to death. Pliny iii.5(65) (englished by Holland, III, chap. V).]

19 [A discussion of this question (and of the particular reading from Pliny, which is not the current reading) may be found at this site. See also Plutarch, Rom. Quest. 61.]

20 [In the first five editions: ‘ingannations’, from Italian ‘inganno’, deceit, fraud]

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