And this last consideration suggests another aspect of right and left which must not be passed over without one word in this brief survey of the philosophy of the subject. The superiority of the right caused it early to be regarded as the fortunate, lucky, and trusty hand; the inferiority of the left caused it equally to be considered as ill-omened, unlucky, and, in one expressive word, sinister. Hence come innumerable phrases and superstitions. It is the right hand of friendship that we always grasp; it is with our own right hand that we vindicate our honour against sinister suspicions. On the other hand, it is ‘over the left’ that we believe a doubtful or incredible statement; a left-handed compliment or a left-handed marriage carry their own condemnation with them. On the right hand of the host is the seat of honour; it is to the left that the goats of ecclesiastical controversy are invariably relegated. The very notions of the right hand and ethical right have got mixed up inextricably in every language: droit and la droite display it in French as much as right and the right in English. But to be gauche is merely to be awkward and clumsy; while to be right is something far higher and more important.
So unlucky, indeed, does the left hand at last become that merely to mention it is an evil omen; and so the Greeks refused to use the true old Greek word for left at all, and preferred euphemistically to describe it as euonymos, the well-named or happy-omened. Our own left seems equally to mean the hand that is left after the right has been mentioned, or, in short, the other one. Many things which are lucky if seen on the right are fateful omens if seen to leftward. On the other hand, if you spill the salt, you propitiate destiny by tossing a pinch of it over the left shoulder. A murderer’s left hand is said by good authorities to be an excellent thing to do magic with; but here I cannot speak from personal experience. Nor do I know why the wedding-ring is worn on the left hand; though it is significant, at any rate, that the mark of slavery should be put by the man with his own right upon the inferior member of the weaker vessel. Strong-minded ladies may get up an agitation if they like to alter this gross injustice of the centuries.
One curious minor application of rights and lefts is the rule of the road as it exists in England. How it arose I can’t say, any more than I can say why a lady sits her side-saddle to the left. Coachmen, to be sure, are quite unanimous that the leftward route enables them to see how close they are passing to another carriage; but, as all continental authority is equally convinced the other way, I make no doubt this is a mere illusion of long-continued custom. It is curious, however, that the English usage, having once obtained in these islands, has influenced railways, not only in Britain, but over all Europe. Trains, like carriages, go to the left when they pass;