A History of Magic and Experimental Science during the First Thirteen Centuries of our Eraby Lynn Thorndike

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  • A History of Magic and Experimental Science during the First Thirteen Centuries of our Eraby Lynn ThorndikeReview by: George L. BurrThe American Historical Review, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Oct., 1923), pp. 118-120Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1839285 .Accessed: 28/06/2014 09:23

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  • II8 Reviews of Books

    which was a necessary measure of defense for Italy, and the conquest of the Spanish peninsula, which was essential to the safety of the newly acquired Roman province in Spain, a territory which no Roman (and no modern nation) would have thought of surrendering. Had the Romans grasped the importance of this task and developed a systematic plan of military occupation a few decades would have sufficed for the complete conquest of both peninsulas. The occupation of Spiain in particular would have greatly hastened the development of civilization there, and have afforded ample room for the settlement of the excess population of Italy, particularly the dispossessed peasantry. But the Romans never devoted serious attention to this problem, owing to the war-weariness of the people as a whole and the preoccupation of the governing classes with their imperialistic schemes in the East. The consequence of this neglect was that spasmodic and unregulated attempts at expansion involved Rome in two centuries of costly frontier wars. And the preoccupation of Ro- man historians with the brilliant achievements in Greece and Asia caused such a neglect of western affairs that it seems impossible to reconstruct the true story of Rome's western conquests.

    The fifth, and concluding, chapter reviews the constitutional develop- ment of the period in question. Although the subject is a familiar one and no decidedly new interpretation is advanced, the treatment is fresh and convincing, displaying the same grasp of sources and the same sci- entific temper which so pleasantly characterize the whole work. The chapter closes with an account of the leading public men and the chief political factions of the time. Here the characterizations of the great rivals, Scipio Africanus and Cato the Elder, are of particular interest. As leader of the senatorial oligarchy Scipio was the champion of the new imperialistic policy adopted by Rome after the Second Punic War, and must be held responsible for the neglect of the internal political and eco- nomic problems which confronted the state. As for Cato, in his whole career as a statesman he advocated but one original policy, and that per- haps not his own, namely the extension of Roman colonization in northern Italy, and even beyond the peninsula.

    A. E. R. BOAK.


    A History of Magic and Experimtental Science during the First Thir- teen Centuries of our Era. By LYNN THORNDIKE, Ph.D., Pro- fessor of History in Western Reserve University. In two vol- umes. (New York: Macmillan Company. I923. PP. xl, 835; Vi, I036. $io.oo.) As the author reminds us, it is full twenty years since he began his

    study of this subject, and eighteen since the Columbia University Press issued his dissertation on The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History

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  • Thorn dike: History of Magic II9

    of Eturope. Already the dissertation was a bright and entertaining lucu- bration on its theme; but, measured by the vastness of that theme and its sore need of serious treatment, it seemed almost flippant. Happily Dr. Thorndike's study of the history of magic did not end. Fresh contribu- tions from his pen have multiplied, and now it takes these two thick volumes to bring to the close of the thirteenth century his ripened story.

    His work is a foundation-laying one. Not that so-called histories of magic have been wanting. Even in the rational eighteenth century the G6ttingen Society of Sciences offered a prize for one. Doubtless its aim was mainly the discrediting of magic; and, if so, the Marburg philosopher Tiedemann, who won it with his Latin disputation De Quaestione quae fuerit Artium Magicarum Origo, quoomodo illae ab Asiae Populis ad Graecos atque Romanos et ab his ad ceteras Gentes sint propagatae, qui- busque Rationibus adducti fuerint ii qui ad nostra usque Ternmpora easdem vel defenderent vel oppugnarent, did not disappoint it. Of quite another trend was the compilation put forth in i819 (and, swollen, twenty years later) by the mystical Bonn professor Ennemoser under the puzzling title of a history of magnetism-i.e., of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. Translated into English by the Quakers William and Mary Howitt under the more appropriate title of a History of Magic, it has doubtless been the one most widely read. If to these two genera one add the writers, largely charlatans, who pose as adepts or devotees of magic, and at the other pole the pious souls who count it all the work of the devil, there is little left. Their books, though legion, are alike of the " omnium gatherum " order, more concerned to entertain than to inform, to preach than to investigate.

    It was a great step when in i86o the eminent French scholar Alfred Maury published his La Magie et l'Astrologie dans t'Antiquite' et au Moyen Age, though its subtitle, ?tude sur les Superstitions Paiennes qui se sont perpetuees jusqu'a nos Jours, betrays a rationalizing ar-riere-pensee. Magic, however, was not to Maury a mere tissue of fraud and fancy. Though at bottomn not a study of nature, but an attempt by rites and formulae to extort her aid, the magician could not deal even thus with her, he thinks, without a growing glimmering of her ways; and the pur- pose of his little book was but to sketch "the history of this great move- ment of the human mind which slowly raised us from the shades of magic to the light of modern science ". His scholarship laid under tribute a wide range of learning, but a mere sketch his work remains. Dr. Thorndike's could not be better gaged than by comparison. He first has undertaken, as its basis, a survey of the literature. His work, indeed, might almost better be called an introduction to the literature of magic. True, it has not been long that such a survey has been possible. Hidden in secret books, and yet more in secret manuscripts, this literature is even now but slowly drifting into the keeping of great libraries, and no small part of the historian's task has been the finding where it lurks. In each of his volumes a bibliographical index lists these books on magic and an

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  • 120 Reviews of Books

    index of manuscripts names the whereabouts of their unprinted copies. These count by hundreds, for he has ransacked all Europe, and it is not the least of his services to later study. But there is an enormous and a growing literature besides. Magic touched everything. Anthropology, folk-lore, comparative religion, comparative literature, have vastly broad- ened our knowledge of it. Assyria, Egypt, all the lands of excavation, have flooded us with magical tablets, papyri, inscriptions. The minuter study of literatures and of religions, especially of that penumbra of reli- gion, the literature called apocryphal, has revealed a myriad doors be- tween religion and magic. To thread this wilderness, all reeking with delusion and with humbug, and lose neither the path nor one's head, needs not only insight and sturdy sense, but stern self-mastery. Dr. Thorndike has not lost himself in the study of origins. A mere glance at prehistory and at the Orient suffices him. Since what concerns him chiefly is the Middle Ages, he will not go back of Pliny for his real starting-point. Theme, like period, he trims to the quick. His is but magic proper. Its popular practice-i.e., sorcery-lies outside his scope. So too do laws against magic and the whole story of witch-persecution. Even the magic that concerns him he will not define, save as " including all occult arts and sciences, superstitions, and folk-lore "; but, as the " occult " clearly limits all four, he has hinted at the best of definitions. Not magic alone, how- ever, is his theme. He "aims to treat the history of magic and experi- mental science and their relations to Christian thought ". The relation to magic of experimental science he will not discuss. Enough that they " have been connected in their development " and that "the history of both can be better understood by studying t