If you care to take the trouble, you can work up a really awe-inspiring amount of evidence to show that it is unlucky to sit thirteen at table; and when the daring of Matthew Arnold in defying the superstition is told in all its solemnity--he died within a year after the event--even solid people shudder and begin to think "there is something in it." Quite sensible women shrink in horror from a thirteen table, and imagine the addition of a fourteenth person will break the evil spell, rendering it inoperative. Of course the origin of the superstition is the Last Supper, where thirteen were present; and the tragedies subsequent to that meal are supposed to be repeated every time its number is enacted. What a frightful slaughter would have marked the course of civilisation had this been true! But Quetelet, in his Theory of Probabilities has, one would have thought, smashed the idea beyond hope of revival. He says:--"There is a prejudice existing generally on the pretended danger of being the thirteenth at table. If the probability be required that out of thirteen persons of different ages, one of them, at least, shall die within a year, it will be found that the chances are about one to one that one death at least will occur. This calculation by means of a false interpretation has given rise to the prejudice, no less ridiculous, that the danger will be avoided by inviting a greater number of guests which can only have the effect of augmenting the probability of the event so much apprehended." This is sound logic; so very different from the blind reasoning of fanciful people who think that in some occult manner a tragedy of the past will be repeated, if the same number of people congregate together for the evening meal. The superstition of thirteen at table is one of the most pitiful exhibitions of mental weakness that has ever marked human thought. "Thirteen Clubs," composed of men and women determined to defy the superstition, may justify themselves as social diversions, but as serious attempts at what is called disproof, they are as futile as might be expected. Below I give an extract from a London newspaper:--
"NEW YORK, Jan. 16.
"Superstition was flouted and invited to do its worst by all manner of taunts levelled against the fearsome number thirteen at a banquet given in New York last night by the members of the Thirteen Club.
"The club contains many more than thirteen members, but the diners sat at tables thirteen to each. Before each plate a red candle burned in a death's head holder, and the member whose candle went out first was supposed to receive it as a sign. As soon as the company was seated a new mirror was broken.
"The ices were served in the form of a skull reposing in a coffin. The toastmaster used a forearm bone to rap for order. At intervals the diners counted up to thirteen as a chant, the number thirteen being hailed with cheers.
"At the close of the banquet the waiters filed into the room to the music of a funeral march, each waiter bearing aloft a chocolate cake with thirteen candles burning on it and a white skull and crossbones in the centre.
"Insulted fate had revenge on the diners at one of the tables. At the head of each table an open umbrella was placed to flaunt the rain superstition. A waiter bearing a well-filled soup tureen caught the tail of his coat in one of the umbrellas, and there was a shower of hot soup over some of the jesters."
Yes, superstition was flouted, and so was intelligence.