Why the early 19th century in England? Because secular views become everywhere visible in the poetry right then as English Protestantism splinters and dissents and keeps one wary eye on Catholic France and nods the occasional smug emphatic I told you so, and because I was still smarting from the years of evangelical prayer meetings and Sunday school.
And I needed some answers. And they weren't most obviously in the literature of Spain or Mexico or Latino America.
To console me H once said: "It is a very strange thing for a Mexican Latina to be raised by Pentecostals." He didn't mean unusual. He meant estrangement. He meant I am the stranger among my cousins looking strangely to England to understand gods.
And cultural erosion.
There were so many ways I didn't fit in. I envied my cousin's quick sharp tongue, her brown skin, her father's pride in the language and history. She knew she was a Democrat by the time she was nine. She knew she was pro-union. She knew I was weird and I knew she was full of pity and loathing. Exasperated, she taught me how to make the sign of the cross: "You're really Catholic--you'll always be Catholic." I was bookish and slow, freckled, ruddy, and my father had changed his name before I was born from Carlos Bustamante Franco to Charles B. I'm still not sure I know what a Democrat is.
By the time Ingersoll lifted this common (and by this time hackneyed) rhetoric into his essay, "superstition" was generally used to refer to (what was perceived as) the religious enthusiasm of medieval Christian worship and any remaining vestiges of it in modern ideology. But in 18th century France and England "superstition" was almost strictly another word for Catholicism.
"To believe in spite of evidence or without evidence.
To account for one mystery by another.
To believe that the world is governed by chance or caprice.
To disregard the true relation between cause and effect.
To put thought, intention and design back of nature.
To believe that mind created and controls matter.
To believe in force apart from substance, or in substance
apart from force.
To believe in miracles, spells and charms, in dreams and
To believe in the supernatural.
The foundation of superstition is ignorance, the
superstructure is faith and the dome is a vain hope. Superstition
is the child of ignorance and the mother of misery." --Robert Ingersoll, Superstition, 1898
Question is, why did the Protestant (or atheist, or deist, or pantheist, or etc.) mind understand Catholicism as superstitious? It's in the aesthetic. In the anxiety surrounding associative logic.