Should a City man of the present day meet another City man, and in the course of conversation ask the question: "What is your lucky day?" there would be no surprise on the face of the answerer. Perhaps he would shrug his shoulders, as if to say, "I have no theory on the matter," but the notion in itself would not be entertained as absurd. Most of us in our experience have noticed, or we think we have noticed that certain days never bring any luck, rather otherwise; and, following feeling instead of thought, we put off the inauguration of important enterprises until a more convenient season. This attitude does not suggest mental feebleness--it is an attitude taken up by some of the smartest men in commerce and finance. They do not care a straw whether people laugh at them or not; their experience has indicated that certain seasons, certain days, certain months, are never propitious; and without considering other people's opinions for one moment, they pursue their own course. One man I know passed through several severe losses and difficulties, all of which occurred in the November of the fatal years: nobody could convince him that every day in every November was not dead against his interests, although he was in other respects of quite normal judgment. I am of opinion there is no truth in the luck or unluck of days, but the truth of the superstition is not the point. How did it originate: that is the question? And why does it persist? Before me I have a sort of guide to luck (issued by a West End firm), dated 1904, where from the birth-date is drawn up a list of days bound to be lucky and others bound to be unlucky; not only so but it points out which hours are lucky, and which are not lucky. Scores of people bought these guides, thereby showing the prevalence of the superstition within recent years.
Some writers have traced the evil influence to the day and others to the person and the day together; that is, some days are bad for everybody, other days are bad for some people but possibly good for others.
In Precepts, etc., left by William Lord Burghley to his Sonne, we read: "Though I think no day amisse to undertake any good enterprise or businesse in hande, yet have I observed some, and no meane clerks, very cautionarie to forbeare these three Mundayes in the yeare, which I leave to thine owne consideration, either to use or to refuse; viz., 1. The first Munday in April, which Day Caine was born, and his brother Abel slaine. 2. The second Munday in August, which day Sodome and Gomorrah were destroyed. 3. The last Munday in December, which day Judas was born that betrayed our Saviour Christ."
Quaint, if not humorous reasons are assigned for the existence of evil luck in the book referred to, but in the following from Grafton's Manual (1565) there is nothing but sheer dogmatism:--
"The unlucky Days according to the opinion of the Astronomers are noted, which I have extracted as follows:--'January 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 15, 17, 29, very unlucky. February 26, 27, 28, unlucky; 8, 10, 17, very unlucky. March 16, 17, 20, very unlucky. April 7, 8, 10, 20. unlucky; 16, 21, very unlucky. May 3, 6, unlucky; 7, 15, 20, very unlucky. June 10, 22, unlucky; 4, 8, very unlucky. July 15, 21, very unlucky. August 1, 29, 30, unlucky; 19, 20, very unlucky. September 3, 4, 21, 23, unlucky; 6, 7, very unlucky. October 4, 16, 24, unlucky; 6 very unlucky. November 5, 6, 29, 30, unlucky; 15, 20, very unlucky. December, 15, 22, unlucky; 6, 7, 9, very unlucky'."
I imagine I hear the reader say "What of Friday?" Yes, no doubt, Friday has been regarded as unlucky for ages, but surely the fact of the Crucifixion is enough to account for it? That sailors who have no religion still hold to the habit of refusing to sail, is an item of no importance, for all men are superstitious who have to deal with the great forces of Nature at first hand; forces on whose will they are almost entirely dependent. In cases where those forces have been brought more under control by steam power vessels, the superstition has decreased in proportion; a "sailor" on a New York liner is not so troubled about starting from port on a Friday as a sailor of the crew of a barque would be. The barque depends on wind and weather entirely; the liner goes on, and although delayed by both, is not at their mercy.
John Gibbon prints the following epistle to himself. He was the eccentric author of Some Memorable Remarques upon the 14th of October. It is a curious instance of Friday superstition:--"A letter from Sir Winston Churchill, Knight, Father to the Right Hon. John, Lord Churchill. I thank you for your kind present, the observation of the fatality of days. I have made great experience of the truth of it, and have set down Friday as my own lucky day; the day on which I was born, christened, married, and I believe will be the day of my death. The day on which had sundry deliverances (too long to relate) from perils by sea and land, perils by false brethren, perils of law suits, etc. I was knighted (by chance, unexpected by myself) on the same day and have had several good accidents happened to me on that day; and am so superstitious in the belief of its good omen that I chuse to begin any considerable action (that concerns me) on that day." Friday was a lucky day with Charles Dickens.
As to the extent of the Friday superstition, the following notice from the Scotsman (September 6 1900) will give some indication of its grip on the older people in rural districts:--
"A row of paupers' houses, very neatly designed: had just been erected at Abaracle, Mr Rudd, of Ardnamurchan, having advanced a considerable sum for building purposes to the Parish Council on easy terms. Accommodation is provided for ten persons. A few days ago Mr H. M'Pherson, Inspector of Poor, visited Aberbade in order to superintend the removal of the ten selected female paupers to the new cottages. They all occupied houses which were in a wretched state of disrepair, yet each of them resolutely and peremptorily refused to 'flit.' In vain did the inspector dilate on the increased comfort and conveniences to be enjoyed in the new dwellings. The aged dames were invincibly proof against all argument--nor did threats of compulsion and Sheriffs warrants have any terror for them. At length it was elicited that the disinclination to remove was based simply on superstition. The day of the week happened to be Friday; and it appears that to change quarters on that particular day constitutes a gross and wanton violation of all the canons governing Highland 'flitting.' On discovering that the perversity manifested by the old women was mainly attributable to conscientious scruples, the inspector at once agreed to humour them, and the removals were postponed until the following day, when they were accomplished without opposition or delay." And as an instance of rural superstition on the part of a young girl, I quote the following from Notes and Queries (1900):--
"My wife recently advertised for a new maid in a local paper. A girl, a native of Devonshire, applied for the situation and, appearing to be in every way suitable, she was engaged and asked to come on a given date. That date happened to be on a Friday, and the girl positively refused to enter on a new situation on a Friday. She said she would rather give up the place. We had to submit, and she came to my house on a Saturday.--A. J. DAVY, Torquay."
There are the days of which the careful heed,
Each human enterprise will, favouring, speed:
Others there are which intermediate fall,
Marked with no auspice and unomen'd all.
And these will some and those will others praise,
But few are versed in mysteries of days.
Now as a stepmother the day we find
Severe, and now as is a mother kind.
In the Every-Day Book for 1826, under the date of Easter Sunday, it is remarked that "the coincidences by which legendary predictions (those of Nixon and Mother Shipton are referred to) are sometimes fulfilled, are often curious. The present year may be said to witness the accomplishment of one. It has been said--
'When my Lord falls in my Lady's lap,
England, beware of some mishap!'--
meaning thereby, that when the festival of Easter falls near to Lady-day (the 25th of March), this country is threatened with some calamity. In the year 1818, Easter-day happened on the 22d of March, and in the November of that year Queen Charlotte died. In 1826, Easter-day happening on the 26th of March, distress in the commercial world may be regarded as a fulfilment of this prediction." This prophecy by dates, though more general in character, is somewhat akin to that known as "citation"--of which a curious instance is recorded in Spanish history. Peter and John de Carvajal were, in 1312, condemned to death for murder, on circumstantial evidence; and their sentence was, that they should be thrown from the summit of a rock. Ferdinand IV., then King of Spain, resisted obstinately every attempt made to induce him to grant the pardon of the condemned; who, while on the march to the place of execution, solemnly called on God to witness to their innocence, and appealed to His high tribunal, in presence of which they summoned the King to make his appearance in thirty days. His Majesty laughed to scorn the summons; but nevertheless in a few days he fell sick, and retired to a country residence to divert his mind and recover his health--and shake off the remembrance of the summons, which seems to have taken an irremoveable hold upon him. On the thirtieth day, however, he was much better; and, after showing much mirth and cheerfulness in his conversation with the courtiers, and renewing his ridicule of the delusion that the citation of the Carvajals could have any effect, he retired to rest--and was found dead in bed next morning. Many similar instances of citation to the other world are on record; notable among them, George Wishart's prophecy at the stake, that Cardinal Beaton, who had come to gloat on his dying agony, would soon follow him by a violent death--though the prophecy was probably suggested by the reformer's knowledge of the secret plot against the Cardinal's life. Bacon's judgment of such predictions and coincidences is no doubt, on the whole, a sound one:--"My judgment is, that they ought all to be despised, and ought to serve but for winter talk by the fireside. Though, when I say despised, I mean for belief. That that hath given them grace, and some credit, consisteth in these things: 1st, That men mark when they hit, and never when they miss; as they do also of dreams. 2d, That probable conjectures and 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. The 3rd 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 passed. It is, however, also worthy of notice that a genuine and solemn citation may tend to work its own fulfilment in the minds of superstitious men, who by permitting the thing to prey upon their own spirit, enfeeble the powers of life, and perhaps at the critical date arouse thus some latent or dormant disease into deadly action." This philosophy of days lucky and unlucky seems to me to be a necessary and natural outcome of experience in those instances where it is strongly developed. He who has a smooth career, minus great exaltations and great depressions, will never notice a malefic influence on Thursdays which is always absent on Saturdays, nor discover the promise that seems to lie in the virtue of a Wednesday morning. But the man with ups and downs is almost certain to have his theories, and to act upon them, unless he be essentially strong-minded enough to believe that thought is master of every situation. From early ages men have been creatures of fear, and the unlucky day is unfortunately one of the lingering testimonies to that fact.