Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, Volume 1

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NuVision Publications, 2007 - Body, Mind & Spirit - 204 pages
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In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple, and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity. At an early age in the annals of Europe its population lost their wits about the Sepulchre of Jesus, and crowded in frenzied multitudes to the Holy Land: another age went mad for fear of the Devil, and offered up hundreds of thousands of victims to the delusion of witchcraft. At another time, the many became crazed on the subject of the Philosopher's Stone, and committed follies till then unheard of in the pursuit. It was once thought a venial offence in very many countries of Europe to destroy an enemy by slow poison. Persons who would have revolted at the idea of stabbing a man to the heart, drugged his pottage without scruple. Ladies of gentle birth and manners caught the contagion of murder, until poisoning, under their auspices, became quite fashionable. Some delusions, though notorious to all the world, have subsisted for ages, flourishing as widely among civilized and polished nations as among the early barbarians with whom they originated, -- that of duelling, for instance, and the belief in omens and divination of the future, which seem to defy the progress of knowledge to eradicate entirely from the popular mind. Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

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About the author (2007)

Charles Mackay (1841-1889) was born in Perth, Scotland. His mother died shortly after his birth, and his father, who had been in turn a Lieutenant on a Royal Navy sloop (captured and imprisoned for four years in France) and then an Ensign in the 47th foot taking part in the ill-fated Walcheren Expedition where he contracted malaria, sent young Charles to live with a nurse in Woolwich in 1822. After a couple of years' education in Brussels from 1828-1830, he became a journalist and songwriter in London. He worked on The Morning Chronicle from 1835-1844, when he was appointed Editor of The Glasgow Argus. His song The Good Time Coming sold 400,000 copies in 1846, the year that he was awarded his Doctorate of Literature by Glasgow University. He was a friend of influential figures such as Charles Dickens and Henry Russell, and moved to London to work on The Illustrated London News in 1848, and he became Editor of it in 1852. He was a correspondent for The Times during the American Civil War, but thereafter concentrated on writing books. Apart from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, he is best remembered for his songs and his Dictionary of Lowland Scotch.

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