Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Robert Southey and Millenarianism: Documents Concerning the Prophetic Movements of the Romantic Era, Edited by Tim Fulford

From Robert Southey, Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (London, 1807)

1.        I had prepared for you an account of a pseudo-prophet who excited much attention in London here at the beginning of the last war, when, almost by accident, I was made acquainted with some singular circumstances which are in some manner connected with him, and which therefore should previously be told. These circumstances are as authentic as they are extraordinary, and supply a curious fact for the history of the French Revolution.

2.        We were talking one evening of the Abbé Barruel’s proofs of a conspiracy against the governments, religion and morality of Christendom.  [1]  A friend of J.’s said, there was about as much truth in it as in one of Madame Scudery’s romances; [2]  the characters introduced were real persons, to whom false motives and manners were imputed; a little of what was ascribed to them had really occurred, but the whole plot, colouring and costume of the book were fictitious. It was a work, said he, written to serve the purposes of a party, with the same spirit and the same intent as those which in old times led to such absurd and monstrous calumnies against the Jews; and had its intent succeeded, there would have been a political St. Bartholomew’s day in England. True it was that a society had existed whose object was to change or to influence the governments of Europe; it was well organized and widely extended, but enthusiasm, not infidelity, was the means which they employed.

3.        In proof of this he stated the sum of what I shall relate more at length from the book to which he referred as his authority, and which I obtained from him the next morning. Its title is this,—A revealed Knowledge of some Things that will speedily be fulfilled in the World, communicated to a Number of Christians brought together at Avignon, by the Power of the Spirit of God from all Nations; now published by his Divine Command, for the Good of all Men, by John Wright his Servant, and one of the Brethren. London, printed in Year of Christ 1794. It is one of those innumerable pamphlets which, being published by inferior booksellers, and circulating among sectarians and fanatics, never rise into the hands of those who are called the public, and escape the notice of all the literary journals. They who peruse them do it with a zeal which may truly be called consuming; they are worn out like a schoolboy grammar; the form in which they are sent abroad, without covers to protect them, hastens their destruction, and in a few years they disappear for ever.

4.        John Wright, the author of this narrative, was a working carpenter of Leeds in Yorkshire; a man of strong devotional feelings, who seems, like the first Quakers, to have hungered and thirsted after religious truth in a land where there was none to impart it. Some travelling Swedenborgian preachers having heated his imagination, he was desirous of removing to London to find out the New Jerusalem Church. [3]  It was no easy thing for a labouring man with a large family to remove to such a distance: however, by working over hours he saved money enough to effect it. The New Jerusalem Church did not satisfy him; every thing was too definite and formal, too bodily and gross for a mind of his complexion. But it so happened that at this place of worship he entered into talk with a converted Jew, [4]  who, when he learnt his state of mind, and that he expected the restoration of the Jews would shortly be accomplished, said to him, I will tell you of a man who is just like yourself;—his name is William Bryan, and he lives in such a place.

5.        Bryan was a journeyman copperplate-printer. J.’s friend saw him once at the house of one of the Brotherists;  [5]  he says that before he saw him he had heard of his resemblance to the pictures of our Lord, but that it was so striking as truly to astonish him. These features, his full clear and gentle eye, the beauty of his complexion, which would have been remarkable even in a girl, and the voice, in which words flowed from him with such unaffected and natural eloquence as to remind the hearer of the old metaphorical description of oratory, united to produce such an effect upon his believers as you may conceive, considering that they were credulous, and he himself undoubtedly sincere. Wright had now found a man after his own heart. They were both Quietists, whom for want of a guide their own good feelings led astray, and their experiences, he says, operated with each other, as face answers face in a glass.

6.        Bryan told him of a society of prophets at Avignon, [6]  assembled there from all parts of the world. This was in the autumn of 1788. In the January of the ensuing year Wright mistook strong inclination for inspiration, and thought the Spirit directed him to join them. The same spirit very naturally sent him to communicate this to Bryan, whom he found possessed with the same impression. Neither of them had money to leave with their families, or to support themselves upon the journey, and neither of them understood a word of French. Both were determined to go—Bryan that night, Wright the following morning—such being their implicit obedience to the impulse within them, that the one would not wait, nor the other hasten. Before his departure Bryan called upon a friend, who said to him, ‘William, I have had it in my mind to ask if thou wert not sometimes in want of money.’ He acknowledged that it was this want which now brought him there; and the friend gave him four guineas. If this same friend was the person who first told him of the society at Avignon, as may reasonably be suspected, the whole collusion will be clear. One guinea he left with his wife, who was at that time in child-bed, gave half a guinea to Wright to carry him to Dover, and set off.

7.        Bryan’s wife, not being in a state of belief, was greatly offended with Wright, thinking that if it had not been for him her husband would not have left her. His own wife was in a happier temper of mind, and encouraged him to go. She had a son by a former husband who was some little support to her, and who acquiesced in the necessity of this journey. He seems indeed to have communicated something of his own fervour to all about him. A young man with whom he was intimate bought him several things for his journey, and gave him a guinea; this same person befriended his family during his absence. At three in the morning he rose to depart: his son-in-law prepared breakfast, and they made the watchman who had called him partake of it, for it was severely cold. ‘I then’, says Wright, ‘turned to my children, who were all fast asleep, and kissed them, and interceded with the great and merciful God, relating to him their situation, in which, for his sake, they were going to be left without any outward dependence;—and at that time some of them were lying on a bed of shavings that I used to bring from my shop; at the same time imploring him that he would be pleased to bless them, and if one friend failed, another might be raised up, as I did not know whether I ever should see them any more; for although our first journey was to Avignon, we did not know it would end there’.

8.        He then went to Bryan’s wife, whom his own was nursing in child-bed. The poor woman’s resentment had now given way, the quiet self-devotion of her husband and his friend had almost persuaded her to believe also; she burst into tears when she saw him, and saluted him, as he says, in the fear and love of God, in which she bade him remember her to her husband. Wright then went to the coach. Soon after they left London it began to rain and snow, and he was on the outside. He was of a sickly habit, always liable to take cold, and had at this time a bad cough. A doubt came upon him that if the Lord had sent him he would certainly have caused it to be fine weather. Besides this, he began to fear that Bryan would already have crost the channel, in which case when he got to Dover he should have no money to pay his passage. Was it not better therefore to turn back? But the testimony of God’s power in his heart, he says, was greater than all these thoughts.

9.        The wind had been contrary, and detained Bryan. They crossed over to Calais, took some food at an inn there, and got their money changed, inquired the names of bread, wine, and sleeping, in the language of the country, and which way they were to go, and then set off on their journey. They travelled on foot to Paris. Wright’s feet were sorely blistered; but there was no stopping, for his mind was bound in the spirit to travel on. They carried their burthen by turns when both were able, but it generally fell upon Bryan as the stronger man. Change of climate, however, aided probably by the faith which was in him, removed Wright’s cough. Their funds just lasted to Paris; here Bryan had an acquaintance, to whose house they went. This man had received a letter to say who were coming, and that they were bad men, Wright in particular, whom it advised him to send back. As you may suppose he was soon fully satisfied with them—he entertained them three days, and then dismissed them, giving them five louis d’or to bear them on. The whole journal of their way is interesting: it relates instances of that subsiding of overwrought feelings which bodily exhaustion produces, and which enthusiasts call desertion; of natural thoughts and fears recurring, remembrances of home, and depression which sometimes occasioned self-suspicion and half repentance:—with these symptoms the Church is well acquainted, as common to the deluded, and to those who are in truth under the influence of divine inspiration, and they prove the sincerity of this narrative.

10.        At length they came in sight of Avignon. They washed some linen in the river, sat down under the bushes till it was dry, then put it on; and, having thus made their appearance as decent as they could, proceeded to the house of the prophets, to which as it appears they had brought with them a sufficient direction. The door was opened by one of the brethren and by a person who could speak English, and who had arrived there a day or two before from another part of the world. After they had washed and shaved, they were taken across the street to another house and shown into a large room, where there was a table spread nearly the whole length; they were told that table was provided by the Lord, and when they wanted any thing to eat or to drink they were to go there, and they would find a servant ready to wait upon them. The brethren also provided them with cloth and whatever else they needed, and with money to give to the poor, saying they had orders from the Lord to do so. In a short time their Paris friend arrived, and was admitted a member of the society before them, that he might be their interpreter. I wish the form of initiation had been given. They met every evening to commemorate the death of our Lord by eating bread and drinking wine. Very often, says Wright, when we have been sitting together, the furniture in the room has been shaken as though it were all coming to pieces; and upon inquiring what was the cause, we were told that it announced the presence of angels; when these were not heard the brethren were always afraid that something was amiss, and so inquired at the Word of the Lord.

11.        You will easily suppose that they had orders to keep to society secret till the appointed time. I much wish that the book had stated how their answers from the Lord were received, but on this it is silent. The drift and character of the society are, however, sufficiently manifested by the Extracts which Wright has published from their Journals, and of which I here subjoin enough to satisfy you:

‘You will soon see the pride of the Mahometan in the field: several sovereigns will unite to lay it low. It is then that the great light will appear. These perfidious enemies of the name of God will keep themselves for a time in their obstinacy, and in the mean time will grow up he who shall destroy them. Before the end of this year they will begin to show their fierceness, and you will hear of extraordinary things and memorable feats. You will hear that the world is filled with trouble and dissension; father, son, relations, friends, all will be in motion; and it is in this year (1789) that all will have its beginning.
‘Remember that the face of the world will be changed, and you shall see it restored to its first state. The thrones shall be overturned, the earth shall be furrowed and change its aspect. They who shall be alive at that time will envy the fate of the dead.
The world will very soon be filled with trouble. Every where people will experience misfortunes. I announce it to you before-hand. The shepherd will forsake his flock; the sheep will be dispersed. He will oppress another land, and the nations will rise up in arms.
‘You will learn very soon that a part of the world is in confusion; that the chiefs of nations are armed one against another. The earth will be overflowed with blood. You will hear of the death of several sovereigns; they give themselves up to luxury, they live in pleasures, but at last one of them will fall and make an unhappy end.
‘All the events of this century have been foreseen, and no century has been distinguished by so many prodigies, but the ensuing will be filled with much greater still.
‘The fire is kindled, the moment is come, the Mahometan is going to fall. Asia and Africa are staggering; fear pursues them, and they have a glimpse of the fate that awaits them.
‘The cross of Jesus Christ shall be set up and triumph in those vast countries where it has been so long despised. Then Palestine will become again the most fortunate country on the earth; it shall be the centre of the faith of which it was the cradle, and from thence faith will spread itself all over the earth. All the people will embrace it. The world will become again what it was in the beginning. The enlightened Jews will embrace the Catholic faith. All people will acknowledge God, the only true God. They will be guided by one only Pastor, and governed by one sole Master.
‘The second Zion has contributed the most to misguide the spirits of men. She has introduced new Gentiles still more monstrous than those who have reigned upon the earth. She only wants the statues of the Gods to resemble the ancient times. Yea, they have been replaced by these carnal divinities to which they render a sacrilegious adoration, and lavish an incense to them which they refuse to God.
‘The end of this century will be a series of calamities of the people. Very few men are struck with the rapid decline of the present age. All the nations will be enlightened to see their dangerous errors. They will acknowledge how much they have been deceived by the masters who have instructed them, and they will be desolated at the thoughts of having lost so precious a treasure for having believed such rascals. But at the marked time how many errors will they not abjure, when our children every where, in the name of God, shall make their impious and monstrous errors disappear!—And thou, Crescent, who so much at this day applaudest thyself, the lustre with which thou shinest is soon to be eclipsed;—thy unjust conquests have long enough spun out the time of thy empire, and thy power from one pole to another is far enough extended. Thou dost not suspect that thy ruin is so near, and thou dost not know him who is growing up to operate it.
‘Here is the time in which God will break the laws made by the children of the earth. Here is the time wherein he will reprove the science of men, and here is the time of his justice. This is the time that we must believe all those who announce the new reign of the Lord, for his spirit is with them.
‘The ages have not now long to linger for the accomplishment of the promises of the Eternal.—The Eternal calls the times which walk in the shadows and days of darkness, without light and without strength, to come and change the face of the world, and commence his new reign. This is the time of the new Heavens and the new Earth.
‘The Eternal has spoken, I shall simplify all things for the happiness of my elect. The moment is at hand when the confusion of languages shall no more be an obstacle to the knowledge of the truth.
When the impious and his superb eagle in his fury will dare to declare war against the God of Heaven, every thing will give way immediately to his pride. He will dare to make victims for himself among the saints whom Heaven has chosen; he will dare to profane their asylums, to appropriate to himself the gifts of the Eternal by the blackest of crimes, and by his success strengthening his pride he will believe himself master of the world. Then—then—Heaven will stop him: a feeble child will subdue his valour, and his fall will testify that in the sight of the Eternal there is no other power but the power of his arm.
‘Already the measure is filled; already the times are accomplished, and the reign of the Word is at hand. Terror will precede to enlighten the blind who go astray, to humble the obstinate high-minded men, and to punish the impious.’
These are no common prophecies. Honest fanaticism has had no share in manufacturing them. Vague as the language necessarily is, there is an end and aim in it not to be mistaken; and it is almost startling to observe how much of what was designed has taken place, and how much may still be applied to these immediate times.

12.        Among these communications ‘For the Benefit and Instruction of all Mankind’, are others which are addressed to Wright and Bryan, and to those who, like them, were the unsuspecting tools of the society. I copy them with their cyphers and forms.

Question
February 9, 1789.
H. W. We supplicate thee to give us thy orders about the two Englishmen B. and W. who arrived here on Thursday the 19th instant.
Answer.
O thou who walkest before them to show them the way, Son of the Voice, tell them that very soon the instruction will grow in their souls; they will believe it and love it. Then, Son of the Voice, I shall let thee know what Heaven ordains about their fate.
Question.
March 18, 1789. By 2. I. 9.
H. W. Let me know the moment in which B. and W. should be consecrated.
Answer.
Son of the Voice, fidelity and happiness will in the first instance be the fruit of their union, the second will fill them with love and zeal. The moment hastens that is to call them near to us and to you.

Some things seem to have been inserted in their journal in condescension to the weaker brethren, who required to be amused. Such as the following instances:—

‘In the month of June, 1789, we received a letter from the Union at Rome, which informed us that the weather was as cold there as it is in England in the month of January, and the Archangel Raphael asked the brethren and sisters if the cold made them uneasy, and said, Have a little patience, and the weather will be warm enough.
‘The 17th of June, 1789, we received a letter from the Union at Rome, in which they informed us of a sister, the daughter of a Turk, whom Brother Brimmore baptized at Silesia, in the dominions of the king of Prussia, between ten and fifteen years ago; after having lived some time in the enjoyment of the Christian faith, she was suddenly taken by her father, and carried to Alexandria in Egypt, which is in the dominions of the Turk, where she lived with her father in much sorrow and trouble. After her father was dead she was ordered by the Archangel Raphael to dress herself in a soldier’s dress, and fly into a Christian country; which she did, and got aboard a Spanish ship, and from this date has been between two and three months at sea.’

But though the society occasionally accommodated itself to the capacity of the weaker brethren, its oracles were more frequently delivered to correct troublesome credulity, or repress more troublesome doubts.

Question.
April 12, 1789.
H. W. The three knocks which I. 4. 7. heard in the night, was it any thing supernatural?
Answer.
To 2. I. 9.
Ask no more questions, if thou hast none to make of more importance.
Question.
April 14, 1789.
H. W. If it please thee, I. 4. 7. would be glad to know if the offering which he made on the mountain was acceptable to the Lord his God.
Answer.
If Wisdom hath called thee, if Wisdom hath been thy guide, my son why dost thou stop? Leave to thy God the care of thy conduct; forget—forget thyself in approaching to him, and his light will enlighten thy soul, and thy spirit shall no more make the law. Believe—believe, my son, that docility is the way which leadeth to knowledge; that with love; and simplicity thou shalt have nothing to fear from the snares of Hell, and that Heaven cannot lead thee astray, for it is Heaven which hath marked to thee thy route.
Question.
July 8, 1789.
H. W. I. 4. 7. prays to know if it is the will of Heaven that he should cause his wife to come with Duché [7]  to be consecrated.
Answer.
Heaven sees thy motive, my son, and approves thy zeal: but in order that it may take place ************* do not think of it; thy hope is vain.
Question.
April 16, 1789.
I. 2. 3. prays the H. W. to let him know if the Eternal has accepted of his incense.
Answer.
Raphael is the spirit which thy heart followed, my son, when thou camest into these countries to seek for science and rest: but the spirit which confuses thy idea is not the spirit of Raphael. Mistrust, son that art called, the father of lies. Submit thy spirit to my voice. Believe—believe, my son, and thy God forgives thee, and then thy incense is accepted, and thy return will cover thee with glory.
August 11, 1789.
for the B. 12 April, 1756. Of I. 2. 3.
C. 24 March.
April 1.
If the ardour which animates thee gives at last to thy heart over thy spirit the victory and the empire; if thy desire renounces to discover, before the time, the secret of the mysteries which simple reason is not able to conceive, nothing can, my son, convey an obstacle to that happiness which awaits thee.
Walk without fear, and chase from thy soul the deceiving spirit who wants to lead thee astray. Believe—believe, my son, every thing that I reveal to our elect in the name of the Eternal, and the Eternal will make thee the forerunning instrument of his glory in the places where his clemency wants to pardon those of thy nation whom the enemy seduces by his prestiges.
Question.
August 21, 1789.
I. 4. 7. prays the H. W. to inform him if it is the will of Heaven for him also to return with I. 2. 3.*
* [I. 4. 7. and I. 2. 3 seem to mean the two Englishmen. H. W. is evidently Holy Word.]
Answer.
Yes. Son called, thou canst yet hearken to what I have to say unto thee. Thy fate is in thy hands. It will be great if thou makest haste to offer to thy God who chooseth thee the vain efforts of a useless knowledge, when it is only necessary to obey. Forget—forget thy knowledge: it fatigues thy spirits, it hurts thy heart, and retards from thy soul the influence of Heaven. Renounce, in fine, to search into the sublime mysteries of thy God. Believe—believe, and the Eternal will bless thy return, and thy simplicity will confound the knowledge, the pride, and the prepossession of the senseless man, who believeth in his own wisdom much more than in the wisdom of his God.

13.        The subject is so curious that I think you will be pleased to see the character of this mysterious society further exemplified by a few of the sentences, moral maxims, and spiritual instructions, which they delivered as from Heaven. The first is sufficiently remarkable:

  • ‘Woe to him who dares to cover a lie with the sacred name of the Eternal!
  • ‘One ray of light is not the entire light.
  • ‘A wise man is silent when he ought to be so.
  • ‘It is to the simple of heart that the Eternal will grant the wisdom of the Spirit.
  • ‘The night was before the day, the day is before the night.
  • ‘When God commands, he who consulteth does not obey.
  • ‘He who walketh alone easily goes astray.
  • ‘To doubt, Is that believing? and to tremble, Is that to hope?
  • ‘He who thinks himself wise lies to himself, deceives himself, goeth astray, and knoweth nothing.
  • ‘Shall man tremble when God supports him?
  • ‘The repentance of the wise is in his works, that of the fool in his tear; ‘The child of man thinks of man, the child of God thinks of God; he must forget every thing else.
  • ‘Fear leads our spirit astray; by laying a weight upon our days it overturns wisdom, it intimidates nature, and the painful seeds of uneasiness and anguish take part in our hearts.
  • ‘Heaven explains itself sufficiently when it inspires.
  • ‘Wilt thou never hear my word with the ears of thy soul, and will thou never overturn the idol of mistrust that is in thy heart?
  • ‘The Lord has placed the key of his treasure under the cup of bitterness.
  • ‘The ark of God conveys death to those who make use of false keys.
  • ‘Who is that man, saith the Lord, that will not abandon his heart to me when I have promised to guide it?
  • ‘I am One, and all that is in me is One.
  • ‘Remember, and remember well, that the Word is but One for who desires to comprehend; and there would be no more mysteries for man but for the vanity of his heart and the folly of his understanding.
  • ‘Is it in the tumult of the world that the voice of the Most High can enter into the heart?
  • ‘Do not attach any importance to your opinions: Of what avail to your fate are your very weak ideas?
  • ‘Forget all, O our friends, except Heaven and yourselves, to obey only what Heaven prescribes to you.’

14.        This narrative, and these extracts, require no comment. They prove incontestably the existence of a society of political Jesuits; they prove also, that however little may have been the religion of these men themselves, they were convinced how indispensably necessary it was for mankind; and that, instead of plotting to break up the system of social order by destroying faith and morals, faith was the engine which they employed to prepare society for some imaginary amelioration, forgetting that nothing which is founded upon delusion can be permanent.

15.        The two Englishmen remained at Avignon six months, and were then informed by the Spirit that they might return. The Brethren supplied them with money, so that they went back with more comfort than they came, and had a handsome sum left when they landed in England, where they both returned to their former employments, expecting the accomplishment of the mighty changes which had been foretold. The Revolution brake out.—They who had raised the storm could not direct it: they became its victims—and knavery reaped what fanaticism had sown, as they who lag in the assault enter the breach over the bodies of the brave who have won the passage for them. What became of the Avignon society Heaven knows. The honest dupes whom they had sent abroad, fully prepared to welcome any novelty as the commencement of the Millennium, were left to their own direction. A king of the Hebrews appeared in England, and Wright and Bryan were, as you may suppose, among the first to acknowledge him. They imagined that the appointed time was come, and published these secrets of the society which they had been ordered to keep concealed. Of the King of the Hebrews in my next.

LETTER LXIX.
Account of Richard Brothers.

1.        MY FORMER letters must have shown you that these English, whom we are accustomed to consider as an unbelieving people, are in reality miserably prone to superstition; yet you will perhaps be surprised at the new instance which I am about to relate.

2.        There started up in London about the beginning of the late war, a new pseudo-prophet, whose name was Richard Brothers, And who called himself King of the Hebrews, and Nephew of God. He taught that all existing souls had been created at the same time with Adam, and his system was, that they had all lived with him in Paradise, and all fallen with him in consequence of their joint transgression; for all things which they saw and knew were in God, and indeed were God, and they desired to know something besides God, in which desire they were indulged, fatally for themselves, for the only thing which is not God is Evil. Evil was thus introduced, and they for their punishment cast into hell, that is to say, upon this present earth; and in this hell they have remained from that time till now, transmigrating from one human body to another. But the term of their punishment is now drawing towards its close: the consummation of all things is at hand, and every one will then recover the recollection of all the scenes and changes through which he has passed. This knowledge has already been vouchsafed in part to Brothers himself, and it is thus that he explained the extraordinary relationship to the Almighty which he laid claim to, asserting that in the days of our Lord he was the son of James the brother of Christ. You know the heretics, in their hatred to virginity and to Mary the most pure, maintain that when Christ’s brethren are mentioned in the Gospels, the word is to be understood in its literal and carnal sense; consequently he was then the Nephew of the second Person in the Trinity.

3.        Human fancy, it has been said, cannot imagine a monster whose constituent parts are not all already in existence; it is nearly as impossible for a new heresy to be now devised, so prolific has human error been. This metempsychosis not only bears a general resemblance to that doctrine as held by the Orientals and by Pythagoras,  [8]  but has been held in this peculiar heretical form by the old heretic Barules, and by the Flagellants of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. [9] 

4.        Brothers had been a lieutenant in the navy, and was known to be insane; but when a madman calls himself inspired, from that moment the disorder becomes infectious. The society at Avignon had unintentionally trained up apostles for this man. Wright and Bryan had now for some years been looking for the kingdom of Christ, and teaching all within the circle of their influence to expect the same promised day. Of what had been announced to them much had been too truly accomplished. The world was indeed filled with troubles and dissension, the fire was kindled, the thrones of Europe were shaken, and one of its kings had been brought to an unhappy end, according to the prediction. The laws made by the children of the earth were broken, the reign of terror was begun, and the times disastrous to the full measure of their prophecies. They had been instructed to look for a miraculous deliverer and Lord of the earth, and here was one who laid claim to the character. There were however some difficulties. At Avignon they had been informed that he who was to be the Leader of the Faithful, and to overthrow the kingdom of the world, was at that time twelve years old, and living at Rome; even his name had been revealed. Neither in this, nor in age, nor country did Brothers answer the prophecy. One of these men [10]  therefore decided in his own mind that he was an impostor; he went to see him, with a full belief that whether he was so or not would be revealed to him during the interview, and he took a knife with him, with which, if his suspicions had been confirmed, he was resolved to deliver him such a message from the Lord as Ehud carried to the king of Eglon. [11]  Luckily for both parties, Brothers, who little knew the dangerous trial he was undergoing, supported his part so well that the desperate fanatic was converted.

5.        The new King of the Hebrews had not perhaps a single Jew among his believers. These people, who have in old times suffered well nigh as severely for their credulity in false Messiahs as for their rejection of the true one, are less disposed to lend ear to such delusions now than in any former time, and here than in any other country. Here they have no amelioration of their condition to wish for; the free exercise of their religion is permitted, what they gain they enjoy in security, and are protected by the state without the trouble of self-defence. The flesh pots of England are not less delicious than those of Egypt, and a land flowing with milk and honey not so attractive for the sons of the Synagogue as one which abounds with old clothes for the lower order, and loans and contracts for their wealthier brethren. The land of promise offers nothing so tempting to them as scrip and omnium. [12]  The King of the Hebrews therefore was not acknowledged by any of his own people; his scheme of pre-existence helped him out of this difficulty. He could tell if any person had been a Jew in any former stage of being, and even of what tribe; that of Judah, as the most favoured, he bestowed liberally upon his believers, and those whom he hoped to convert. He informed Mr. Pitt [13]  by letter that he was a Jew, some of the royal family were in like manner declared to be Jews, and J.’s friend received from Bryan the same flattering assurance.

6.        Besides the prophets from Avignon, Brothers succeeded in making two other useful and extraordinary disciples. The one, an engraver of first-rate skill in his art, who published a masterly portrait of him, with these words underneath, Fully believing this to be the man whom God hath appointed, I engrave his likeness. [14]  This was to be seen in all the print-shops. Mr. Halhed was the other of these converts, a member of the house of commons, and one of the profoundest oriental scholars then living. [15]  This gentleman was in the early part of his life an unbeliever, and had attempted to invalidate the truths of holy writ by arguments deduced from Indian chronology. The study of Indian mythology brought him back to Christianity, and by a strange perversion of intellect the Trimourtee of the Hindoos [16]  convinced him of the doctrine of the Trinity; and as he recovered his faith he lost his wits. To the astonishment of the world he published a pamphlet avowing his belief that Richard Brothers was the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, [17]  and that in him the prophecies were speedily to be fulfilled.

7.        Brothers wrote letters to the king and to all the members of both houses of parliament, calling upon them to give ear to the word of God, and prepare for the speedy establishment of his kingdom upon earth. He announced to his believers his intention of speedily setting out for Jerusalem to take possession of his metropolis, and invited them to accompany him. Some of these poor people actually shut up their shops, forsook their business and their families, and travelled from distant parts of the country to London to join him, and depart with him whenever he gave the word. Before he went, he said, he would prove the truth of his mission by a public miracle, he would throw down his stick in the Strand at noon day, and it should become a serpent; and he affirmed that he had already made the experiment and successfully performed it in private. A manifest falsehood this, but not a wilful one; in like manner he said that he had seen the Devil walking leisurely up Tottenham-Court-road;—the man was evidently in such a state of mind that his waking dreams were mistaken for realities. He threatened London with an earthquake because of its unbelief, and at length named the day when the city should be destroyed. Many persons left town to avoid his threatened calamity; the day passed by, he claimed the merit of having prevailed in prayer and obtained a respite, and fixed another.

8.        The business was becoming serious. All the madmen and enthusiasts in England, a land wherein there is never any lack of them, made a common cause with this King of the Hebrews. Pamphlets in his favour swarmed from the press; the prophecy of some old heretic was raked up, which fixed the downfall of the church as destined now to be accomplished; and the number of the Beast was explained by Ludovicus XVI. One madman printed his dreams, another his day-visions; one had seen an angel come out of the sun with a drawn sword in his hand, another had seen fiery dragons in the air, and hosts of angels in battle array; these signs and tokens were represented in rude engravings, and the lower classes of people, to whose capacity and whose hungry superstition they were addressed, began to believe that the seven seals were about to be opened, and all the wonders in the Apocalypse would be displayed. Government at last thought fit to interfere, and committed Brothers to the national hospital for madmen. [18]  Mr. Halhed made a speech in parliament upon this occasion, the most extraordinary perhaps that ever was delivered to a legislative assembly. [19]  It was a calm and logical remonstrance against the illegality and unreasonableness of their proceedings. They had imprisoned this person as a madman, he said, because he announced himself as a prophet; but it was incumbent upon them to have fairly examined his pretensions, and ascertained their truth or falsehood, before they had proceeded against him in this manner. Brothers had appealed to the Holy Scriptures, the divine authority of which that house acknowledged; he appealed also to certain of his own predictions as contained in the letters which he had addressed to the king and his ministers;—let them be produced, and the question solemnly investigated as its importance deserved. According to the rules of the house of commons, no motion can be debated or put to the vote, unless it be seconded; Mr. Halhed found no one to second him, and his proposal was thus silently negatived.

9.        Thus easily and effectually was this wild heresy crushed. Brothers continued to threaten earthquakes, fix days for them, and prorogue them after the day was past; but his influence was at an end. The people had lost sight of him; and being no longer agitated by signs and tokens, dreams and denunciations, they forgot him. A few of his steadier adherents persisted in their belief, and comforted him and themselves by reminding him of Daniel in the lions’ den, and of Jeremiah in the dungeon. He was lucky enough to find out better consolation for himself. There was a female lunatic in the same hospital, whom he discovered to be the destined Queen of the Hebrews; and as such announced her to the world. At present he and this chosen partner of the throne of David are in daily expectation of a miraculous deliverance, after which they are to proceed to Jerusalem to be crowned, and commence their reign. Plans and elevations of their palace and of the new Temple have been made for them, and are now being engraved for the public; [20]  and in these dreams they will probably continue as long as they live. Upon madmen of this stamp, experience has as little effect as hellebore. Their thoughts of the future are so delightful as they forget the past, and are well nigh insensible to the present just as all other objects near or distant appear darkened to him who has been looking at the sun. Their hope has neither fear nor doubt to allay it, and its intensity gives them a joy which could scarcely be exceeded by its accomplishment.

LETTER LXX.
Account of Joanna Southcott.

1.        IN THE early part of the thirteenth century there appeared an English virgin in Italy, beautiful and eloquent, who affirmed that the Holy Ghost was incarnate in her for the redemption of women, and she baptized women in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of herself. Her body was carried to Milan and burnt there. An arch-heretic of the same sex and country is now establishing a sect in England, founded upon a not dissimilar and equally portentous blasphemy. The name of this woman is Joanna Southcott; she neither boasts of the charms of her forerunner, nor needs them. Instead of having an eye which can fascinate, and a tongue which can persuade to error by glossing it with sweet discourse, she is old, vulgar, and illiterate. In all the innumerable volumes which she has sent into the world, there are not three connected sentences in sequence, and the language alike violates common sense and common syntax. Yet she has her followers among the educated classes, and even among the beneficed clergy. [21]  ‘If Adam,’ she says, ‘had refused listening to a foolish ignorant woman at first, then man might refuse listening to a foolish ignorant woman at last:’—and the argument is admitted by her adherents. When we read in romance of enchanted fountains, they are described as flowing with such clear and sparkling waters as tempt the traveller to thirst; here, there may be a magic in the draught, but he who can taste of so foul a stream must previously have lost his senses. The filth and the abominations of demoniacal witchcraft are emblematical of such delusions; not the golden goblet and bewitching allurements of Circe and Armida. [22] 

2.        The patient and resolute obedience with which I have collected for you some account of this woman and her system, from a pile of pamphlets half a yard high, will, I hope, be imputed to me as a merit. Had the heretics of old been half as voluminous, and half as dull, St. Epiphanius would never have persevered through his task. [23] 

3.        She was born in Devonshire about the middle of the last century, and seems to have passed forty years of her life in honest industry, sometimes as a servant, at others working at the upholsterers’ business, without any other symptom of a disordered intellect than that she was zealously attached to the Methodists. These people were equally well qualified to teach her the arts of imposture, or to drive her mad; or to produce in her a happy mixture of craziness and knavery, ingredients which in such cases are usually found in combination. She mentions in her books a preacher who frequented her master’s house, and, according to her account, lived in habits of adultery with the wife, trying at the same time to debauch the daughter, while the husband vainly attempted to seduce Joanna herself. This preacher used to terrify all who heard him in prayer, and make them shriek out convulsively. He said that he had sometimes, at a meeting, made the whole congregation lie stiff upon the floor till he had got the evil spirits out of them; that there never was a man so highly favoured of God as himself; that he would not thank God to make him any thing, unless he made him greater than any man upon earth, and gave him power above all men; and he boasted, upon hearing the death of one who had censured him, that he had fasted and prayed three days and three nights, beseeching God to take vengeance upon that man and send him to eternity. Where such impious bedlamites as this are allowed to walk abroad, it is not to be wondered at that madness should become epidemic.

4.        Joanna Southcott lived in a house which this man frequented, and where, notwithstanding his infamous life, his pretensions to supernatural gifts were acknowledged, and he was accustomed to preach and pray. The servants all stood in fear of him. She says, he had no power over her, but she used to think the room was full of spirits when he was in prayer; and he was so haunted that he never could sleep in a room by himself, for he said his wife came every night to trouble him: she was perplexed about him, fully believing that he wrought miracles, and wondering by what spirit he wrought them. After she became a prophetess herself, she discovered that this Sanderson was the false prophet in the Revelation, who is to be taken with the Beast, and cast alive with him into a lake of burning brimstone.

5.        Four persons have written to Joanna upon the subject of her pretended mission, each calling himself Christ! One Mr. Leach, a Methodist preacher, told her to go to the Lord in his name, and tell the Lord that he said her writings were inspired by the Devil. These circumstances show how commonly delusion, blasphemy, and madness are to be found in this country, and may lessen our wonder at the phrensy of Joanna and her followers. Her own career began humbly, with prophecies concerning the weather, such as the popular English almanacks contain, and threats concerning the fate of Europe and the successes of the French, which were at that time the speculations of every newspaper, and of every ale-house politician. Some of these guesses having chanced to be right, the women of the family in which she then worked at the upholstering business, began to lend ear to her, and she ventured to submit her papers to the judgement of one Mr. Pomeroy, the clergyman whose church she attended in Exeter. He listened to her with timid curiosity, rather wanting courage than credulity to become her disciple; received from her certain sealed prophecies which were at some future time to be opened, when, as it would be seen that they had been accomplished, they would prove the truth of her inspiration; and sanctioned, or seemed to sanction, her design of publishing her call to the world. But in this publication his own name appeared, and that in such a manner as plainly to imply, that if he had not encouraged her to print, he had not endeavoured to prevent her from so doing. His eyes were immediately opened to his own imprudence, whatever they may have been to the nature of his call, and he obtained her consent to insert an advertisement in the newspaper with her signature, stating that he had said it was the work of the Devil. But here the parties are at issue: as the advertisement was worded, it signifies that Mr. Pomeroy always said her calling was from the Devil; on the other hand, Joanna and her witnesses protest that what she had signed was merely an acknowledgment that Mr. Pomeroy had said, after her book was printed, the Devil had instigated her to print his name in it. This would not be worthy of mention, if it were not for the very extraordinary situation into which this gentleman has brought himself. Wishing to be clear of the connection in which he had so unluckily engaged, he burnt the sealed papers which had been intrusted to his care. From that time all the Joannians, who are now no inconsiderable number, regard him as the arch-apostate. He is the Jehoiakim who burnt Jeremiah’s roll of prophecies, [24]  he is their Judas Iscariot, a second Lucifer, son of the Morning. They call upon him to produce these prophecies, which she boldly asserts, and they implicitly believe, have all been fulfilled, and therefore would convince the world of the truth of her mission. In vain does Mr. Pomeroy answer that he has burnt these unhappy papers:—in an unhappy hour for himself did he burn them! Day after day long letters are dispatched to him, sometimes from Joanna herself, sometimes from her brother, sometimes from one of her four-and-twenty elders, filled with exhortation, invective, texts of scripture, and denunciations of the Law in this world and the Devil in the next; and these letters the prophetess prints, for this very sufficient reason—that all her believers purchase them. Mr. Pomeroy sometimes treats them with contempt, at other times he appeals to their compassion, and beseeches them, if they have any bowels of Christian charity, to have compassion on him and let him rest, and no longer add to the inconceivable and irreparable injuries which they have already occasioned him. If he is silent, no matter, on they go, printing copies of all which they write, and when he is worried into replying, his answers also serve to swell Joanna’s books. In this manner is this poor man, because he has recovered his senses, persecuted by a crazy prophetess, and her four-and-twenty crazy elders, who seem determined not to desist, till, one way or other, they have made him as ripe for Bedlam as they are themselves.

6.        The books which she sends into the world are written partly in prose, partly in rhyme, all the verse and the greater part of the prose being delivered in the character of the Almighty! It is not possible to convey any adequate idea of this unparalleled and unimaginable nonsense by any other means than literal transcript. Her hand-writing was illegibly bad, so that at last she found it convenient to receive orders to throw away the pen and deliver her oracles orally; and the words flow from her faster than her scribes can write them down. This may be well believed, for they are mere words and nothing else: a rhapsody of texts, vulgar dreams and vulgar interpretations, vulgar types and vulgar applications;—the vilest string of words in the vilest doggerel verse, which has no other connection than what the vilest rhymes have suggested, she vents, and her followers receive, as the dictates of immediate inspiration. A herd, however, was ready to devour this garbage as the bread of life. Credulity and Vanity are foul feeders.

7.        The clergy in her own neighbourhood were invited by her, by private letters, to examine her claims, but they treated her invitation with contempt: the bishop also did not choose to interfere;—of what avail, indeed, would it have been to have examined her, when they had no power to silence her blasphemies! She found believers at a distance. Seven men came from different parts of the country to examine—that is—to believe in her; these were her seven stars; and when at another time seven more arrived upon the same wise errand, she observed, in allusion to one of those vulgar sayings from which all her allusions are drawn, that her seven stars were come to fourteen. Among these early believers were three clergymen, one of them a man of fashion, fortune, and noble family. It is not unlikely that the woman at first suspected the state of her own intellects: her letters appear to indicate this; they express a humble submission to wiser judgments than her own; and could she have breathed the first thoughts of delusion into the ear of some pious confessor, it is more than probable that she would have soon acknowledged her error at his feet, and the phrensy which has now infected thousands would have been cut off on its first appearance. But when she found that persons into whose society nothing else could ever have elevated her, listened to her with reverence, believed all her ravings, and supplied her with means and money to spread them abroad, it is not to be wondered at if she went on more boldly;—the gainfulness of the trade soon silencing all doubts of the truth of her inspiration.

8.        Some of her foremost adherents were veterans in credulity: they had been initiated in the mysteries of animal magnetism, had received spiritual circumcision from Brothers, and were thus doubly qualified for the part they were to act in this new drama of delusion. To accommodate them, Joanna confirmed the authenticity of this last fanatic’s mission, and acknowledged him as King of the Hebrews,—but she dropt his whole mythology. Her heresy in its main part is not new. The opinion that redemption extended to men only and not to women, had been held by a Norman in the sixteenth century, as well as by the fair English heretic already mentioned. This man, in a book called Virgo Veneta, maintained that a female Redeemer was necessary for the daughters of Eve, and announced an old woman of Venice of his acquaintance as the Saviour of her sex. [25]  Bordonius, a century ago, broached even a worse heresy. In a work upon miracles, printed at Parma, he taught that women did not participate in the atonement, because they were of a different species from man, and were incapable of eternal life. [26]  Joanna and her followers are too ignorant to be acquainted with these her prototypes in blasphemy, and the whole merit of originality in her system must be allowed her, as indeed she has exceeded her forerunners in the audacity of her pretensions. She boldly asserts that she is the Woman in the Revelation, who has the Moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; the twelve stars being her twelve Apostles, who with the second dozen of believers make up her four-and-twenty Elders. In her visitation it was told her, that the angels rejoiced at her birth, because she was born to deliver both men and angels from the insults of the Devil. Let it be lawful for me to repeat these blasphemies, holding them up to merited abhorrence. The scheme of redemption, she says, is completed in her, and without her would be imperfect; by woman came the fall of man, by woman must come his redemption; woman plucked the evil fruit, and woman must pluck the good fruit; if the Tree of Knowledge was violated by Eve, the Tree of Life is reserved for Joanna. Eve was a bone from Adam, she is a bone from Christ the second Adam. She is the Bride, the promised seed who is to bruise the Serpent’s head; she it is who claims the promise made at the creation, that woman should be the helpmate of man, and by her the Creator fulfils that promise, and acquits himself of the charge of having given to man the woman in vain. The evening star was placed in the firmament to be her type. While she arrogates so much to herself, she is proportionately liberal to her followers; they have been appointed to the four-and-twenty elderships: and to one of them, when he died, a higher character was more blasphemously attributed: she assured his relations that he was gone to plead the promises before the Lord; that to him was to be given the key of the bottomless pit, and that the time was at hand when he should be seen descending in the air,—for they knew not the meaning of our Saviour’s words when he said, ‘Ye shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, in power and great glory!’ [27] 

9.        The immediate object of her call is to destroy the Devil: of this the Devil was aware, and that it might not be said he had had foul play, a regular dispute of seven days was agreed on between him and Joanna, in which she was to be alone, and he to bring with him as many of the Powers of Darkness as he pleased: but he was not to appear visibly; for, as he did not choose to make his appearance on a former occasion when some of her elders went to give him the meeting, but had disappointed them, he was not to be permitted to manifest himself bodily now. The conditions were, that if she held out with argument against him for seven days, the Woman should be freed and he fall; but if she yielded, Satan’s kingdom was to stand, and a second fall of the human race would be the consequence. Accordingly, she went alone into a solitary house for this conference. Joanna was her own secretary upon this occasion, and the process-verbal of the conference has been printed, as literally taken down; for she was ordered to set down all his blasphemies, and show to the world what the language of Hell is. It is by no means a polite language;—indeed the proficiency which Satan displays in the vulgar tongue is surprising.

10.        Of all Joanna’s books this is the most curious. [28]  Satan brought a friend with him, and they made up a story for themselves which has some ingenuity. ‘It is written,’ said they, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;’ [29]  this still worship did not suit Satan; he was a lively cheerful spirit, full of mirth and gaiety, which the Lord could not bear, and therefore cast him out of Heaven. This, according to Apollyon’s [30]  account of Heaven, could have been no great evil. ‘Thou knowest,’ he says, ‘it is written of God, he is a consuming fire, and who can dwell in everlasting burnings? Our backs are not brass nor our sinews iron, to dwell with God in Heaven.’ [31]  The Heaven therefore which men mistakenly desire, is in its nature the very Hell of which they are so much afraid; and it is sufficient proof of the truth of all this, that the Devil invites them to make themselves happy and lead a gay life, agreeably to his own cheerful disposition, whereas religion enjoins self-denial, penitence, and all things which are contrary to our natural inclinations. Satan accounted to Joanna for her inspiration by this solution: An evil spirit had loved her from her youth up, he found there was no other access to her heart than by means of religion; and, being himself able to foresee future events, imparted this knowledge to her in the character of a good spirit. This spirit, he said, was one which she had been well acquainted with; it was that of one Mr. Follart, who had told her if she would not have him for a husband he should die for her sake, and accordingly he had died. But this deception had now been carried so far that Satan was angry, and threatened, unless she broke her seals and destroyed her writings, he would tear her in pieces. The conference terminated like most theological disputes. Both parties grew warm. Apollyon interfered, and endeavoured to accommodate matters, but without effect, and Joanna talked Satan out of all patience. She gave him, as he truly complained, ten words for one, and allowed him no time to speak. All men,he said, were tired of her tongue already, and now she had tired the Devil. This was not unreasonable; but he proceeded to abuse the whole sex, which would have been ungracious in any one, and in him was ungrateful. He said no man could tame a woman’s tongue—the sands of an hour-glass did not run faster—it was better to dispute with a thousand men than one woman. After this dispute she fasted forty days; but this fast, which is regarded by her believers as so miraculous, was merely a Catholic Lent, in which she abstained from fish as well as flesh.

11.        The Moon which is under her feet in the Revelation, [32]  typifies the Devil: for the moon, it seems, having power to give light by night but not by day, is Satan’s kingdom, and his dwelling-place; he, I conclude, being the very person commonly called the Man in the Moon, a conjecture of my own, which, you must allow, is strongly confirmed by his horns. Once, when the Lord made her the same promise as Herod had done to Herodias, she requested that Satan might be cut off from the face of the earth as John the Baptist had been. This petition she was instructed to write, and seal it with three seals, and carry it to the altar when she received the sacrament! and a promise was returned that it should be granted. Her dreams are usually of the Devil. Once she saw him like a pig with his mouth tied, at another time skinned his face with her nails after a fierce battle; once she bit off his fingers, and thought the blood sweet,—and once she dreamt she had fairly killed him. But neither has the promise of his destruction been as yet fulfilled, nor the dream accomplished.

12.        This phrensy would have been speedily cured in our country; bread and water, a solitary cell, and a little wholesome discipline are specifics in such cases. Mark the difference in England. No bishop interferes; she therefore boldly asserts that she has the full consent of the bishops to declare that her call is from God, because, having been called upon to disprove it, they keep silent. She who was used to earn her daily bread by daily labour, is now taken into the houses of her wealthy believers, regarded as the most blessed among women, carried from one part of England to another, and treated every where with reverence little less than idolatry. Meantime dictating books as fast her scribes can write them down, she publishes them as fast as they are written, and the Joannians buy them as fast as they are published. Nor is this her only trade. The seals in the Revelation furnished her with a happy hint. She calls upon all persons ‘to sign their names for Christ’s glorious and peaceable kingdom to be established and to come upon earth, and his will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven, and for Satan’s kingdom to be destroyed, which is the prayer and desire of Joanna Southcott’. They who sign this are to be sealed. Now if this temporal sealing, which is mentioned by St. John in the Revelation, had been understood before this time, men would have begun sealing themselves without the visitation of the Spirit; and if she had not understood it and explained it now, it would have been more fatal for herself and for all mankind than the fall of Eve was. The mystery of sealing is this: whosoever signs his name receives a sealed letter containing these words: The Sealed of the Lord, the Elect, Precious, Man’s Redemption, to inherit the Tree of Life, to be made Heirs of God, and Joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. Signed Joanna Southcott. I know not what the price of this initiation is; but she boasts of having sealed above eight thousand persons, so that the trade is a thriving one.

13.        And these things are believed in England! in England, where Catholic Christians are so heartily despised for superstition; in England, where the people think themselves so highly enlightened,—in this country of reason and philosophy and free inquiry! It is curious to observe how this age in which we live is denominated by every writer just as its temper accords with his own views: with the infidel, it is the Age of Reason; with the Churchman, the Age of Infidelity; with the Chemist, the Age of Philosophy; with Rulers, the Age of Anarchy; with the People, the Age of Oppression, every one beholding the prospect through a coloured glass, and giving it sunshine or shade, frost or verdure, according to his own fancy, none looking round him and seeing it fairly as it is. Yet surely if we consider the ignorance of the great majority of the English, the want of anchorage for their faith, the want of able directors for their souls, the rapidity with which novelties of any kind are circulated throughout the country, the eagerness with which the credulous listen to every new blasphemy, the contemptuous indifference of the clergy to any blasphemy provided it does not immediately threaten themselves, the unlimited toleration shown to Jews, Gentiles, and Heretics of every description, above all if we remember that every person has the power of comparing these delusive books with the Bible, of which they are instructed to consider themselves competent expounders,—we must acknowledge that there never was any age or any country so favourable to the success of imposture and the growth of superstition, as this very age and this very England.

14.        I have to add concerning Joanna, that she prophesies how she and her believers are to be tried in the ensuing year, and that this awful trial will be only second to that of our blessed Lord at Pilate’s bar! What new juggle is in preparation I pretend not to divine. Thus much is certain, that her believers are proof against conviction, and you will agree with me in thinking no further trial necessary to prove that she and her abettors ought either to be punished as impostors, or silenced as lunatics.*

*[Southey’s note:] The Translator has been curious enough to inquire the event of this trial, which may be related in few words. None but her believers assembled; they provided an attorney to give their proceedings some of the ceremonials of legality, examined witnesses to prove the good character of the prophetess, signed a profession of belief in her,—and afterwards published an account of all this folly under the title of The Trial of Joanna Southcott. Joanna had predicted that at this trial she was to be cast into a trance; not thinking this convenient when the time appointed came, she had a revelation to say, that if any of her judges required it, the Lord would still entrance her, but that it would certainly be her death: and thus throwing herself upon the mercy of her own accomplices, it will easily be guessed that none among them insisted upon the proof. One of the company inquired whether Satan knew he was cast by this trial; as, in that case, it was to be presumed he would rage against her and her friends with the utmost of his fury. This gentleman would have been a good subject for a night-mare.

15.        D. Manuel might well say that nothing but literal transcript could convey an idea of this woman’s vulgarity and nonsense; witness the passages which he has selected,

So, learned men, no more contend,
Till you have seen all clear,
The Woman clothed with the Sun
A wonder to you here.
So, in amaze, you all may gaze,
5
As Adam did at first,
To see the bone to him unknown,
The woman there was placed.
The woe you see, she brought on he,
And the first woe for man;—
10
But how shall Satan now get free,
She casts her woe on man.—
Though ’twas not she, I must tell ye,
Did cast the woe on man;
The serpent was condemned by she,
15
And there her woe must come. [33] 

It is speaking within compass to say, that she has sent into the world above twenty thousand of such verses as these, as the dictates of the Spirit!

16.         What follows is in the words of one of her chosen disciples; ‘On Monday morning Joanna received a letter from Exeter, which informed her she would have Mr. Jones’s answer about Mr. Pomeroy in the evening; and her fears for him flung her into a violent agitation; every nerve in her shook, and she fell sick as though she would have fainted away. She could not keep in her bed, but laid herself on the floor in agonies, and said she knew not whether to pity or condemn him; but at last got up in a rage against the Devil, and said her revenge would be sweet to see the Devil chained down, and she should like, with a sharp sword, to cut him in pieces. She then got into bed, exclaiming against the clergy, and asked for a glass of wine; but she brought it up immediately. Soon after the bason was set upon the bed, she took it up and dashed it violently across the room, and broke it to pieces. After that she had some lamb brought up for her dinner; she tried to swallow a mouthful but could not, but spit it into another bason, and said she could neither swallow the wine nor the lamb, but found the fury of the Lord break in upon her, and she dashed the second bason on the floor. She then said she felt herself happier and easier since she had broken both the basons; for so would the Lord, in his anger, break the clergy.’

17.        This is from a book with the following curious title:

MR. JOSEPH SOUTHCOTT, THE BROTHER OF JOANNA SOUTHCOTT, WILL NOW COME FORWARD AS DINAH’S BRETHREN DID, THAT THEY SHALL NOT DEAL WITH HIS SISTER AS THEY WOULD WITH A HARLOT, FOR SO THEY ARE NOW DEALING WITH HER. AND HE WILL PROVE TO THE WORLD WHERE THE ADULTERY IS COMMITTED, BY MEN WHO ARE UNCIRCUMCISED IN HEART AND LIFE: AND NOW HE WILL EXPEND ALL THAT HE HAS IN THE WORLD, IF REQUIRED, IN THE HONEST DEFENCE OF HER CHARACTER, TILL HE HAS SLAIN THE UNCIRCUMCISED PHILISTINES, AND ENTIRELY FREED HIS SISTER FROM THE REPROACHES OF THEIR ADULTERY. [34] 

18.        A few flowers of infernal eloquence should be added from The Dispute with the Powers of Darkness. Satan says to her, ‘Thou infamous B---ch! thou hast been flattering God that he may stand thy friend. Such low cunning art I despise.Thou wheening devil! stop thy d-mn d eternal tongue; thou runnest on so fast all the Devils in Hell cannot keep up with thee.—God hath done something to chuse a b-ch of a woman that will down-argue the Devil, and scarce give him room to speak.’ [35] —It may truly be said, in Joanna’s own words, ‘If the woman is not ashamed of herself the Devil cannot shame her’. [36] 

19.        If the language of Joanna herself is grovelling in the very mud and mire of baseness and vulgarity, one of her elders has soared into the sublime of frenzy. The passage is long, but deserves insertion, as, perhaps, there does not exist elsewhere so complete a specimen of a prophet rampant. The gentleman begins in some plain prose reflections upon the Fall, and goes on addressing the Devil, till he has worked himself up, and begins thus to rave in rhythm.

‘—Then where’s thy ground on earth? receive thy doom, the pit, there twist in flames, and there thy like deceive!—Then Cain receive thy doom from Abel’s blood. Then where is Pharoah and his host? Judge then, need Moses fear! Where is the Lion fallen! and the pit has oped its mouth,—the covering’s dropt; the Lamb has nought to fear—then roar no more to shake the earth and sea. Where now’s the eagle and vultur’d host—thy wings are pluck’d on earth, she stands defenceless, the fatal net beneath.—The Dove now has protection; she ranges earth and sea, and soars aloft unhurt, unfeared, to carry peace to all.—The Ark is opened now, she brings the olive branch,—the floods are past, where’s now the giant race?—Who pressed on Lot? ’Twas thee the proud oppressor! Where art thou now?—Where is thy pride and city? Knowest thou the words, come out! come out! let Sodom feel its doom. Where now is Lot? At Zoar safe! Where is his wife? Is she not salt all?—The writing’s on the wall.—Thou lewdly revellest with the bowls of God.—Thy kingdoms past away—Now see my Daniel rise—Who cast him in his den?—’Twas thee—Thou rolledst the stone, thou sealedst his doom—the roaring Lion thee! Then let the stone return, the seal be broke, and go thou in his stead. Where is the image gold and Bel? Where is proud Babel’s builder? Confusion is thy name: confusion is thy doom! Let Bel asunder burst! the pitch, and tar, and walls of wood expose thy make, deceit, and craft,—and pass in flames away. The God of Daniel stands—Daniel rise up! Six days are past—the seventh now is here—seven times refined and purified in innocency come.—The emerald, unhurt in fire, displays great Judah’s son.—Let Urim’s light and Thummim shine in bright perfection’s day. The twelve men stand upon the plate—the fourth denotes great Judah’s son, who is the rightful heir. The stones denote all Jacob’s sons, their light and quality—they shine as stars in Jesus’ crown upon the Woman’s head.—The Sun unveil’d shall now arise—The Moon from scarlet shall emerge—The stars from darkness now appear to light the midnight hour—Then where art thou, O Satan! Where are thy heads, and horns, and dragon’s tail, which slew and hurt the living stars! Where are thy rays of fire—thy watery floods—behold they are past away—The woman’s fears of thee are o’er—the wilderness receives her child, whose iron rod now feel. The pit has oped its mouth—thou art now cast, shut up and sealed—the saints now judge the earth. The Omnipotent is here in power and spirit in the word—The sword, white horse, and King of Kings has drawn the flailing sword! Rejoice, ye saints, rejoice! The Beast and Dragon, mountain, tree, no more shall hurt, devour, becloud, the Saint, the gold and vine. The gold and gems appear—The mighty earthquake now displays the hidden son of God. The rod and smitten rock gush forth, and smite and slay, and make alive, now saves and now destroys. The cloud and glory, Jonah’s sign, display the virtues of the word, the light and darkness shews. The Gospel brings the light, and life, and death—and death as men obey or mock. The six denotes the suffering time to show the Son of Man—The sign within the Sun—The fowls now feast on thee! Then where’s thy former reign? Beneath the rod of Moses see thy fall from Heaven’s height. Son of the Morning, Lucifer, no more oppress—be thou a fallen star! Great Gog and Agag, where are ye? The walls of Jericho art thou; fall flat! Joshua’s ram’s horns, the seven and twelve, pass Jordan’s stream.—Where is the Lion, Bear, Goliath huge, but in the center thee. David appears, a stripling youth, now tears and slays, and slings the stone, and smites thy dragon’s head. Now see great David’s reign—The temple’s stones, unhewed by man in those days, unite, the King of Peace amidst the seven in oil unite, and in a stone with seven eyes appears, The stately fabric now is laid, founded and topped with gems of every hue. The ark of Moses now is built—The words, the laws, the sceptre, all unite, and Aaron’s budded rod—He now is chosen; eat the bread, prepare the sacrifice. John eats the book, which sweet and bitter is—He prophecies; the temple metes, and stands before the Lamb. The temple measures, and anoints, and Moses’ tabernacle. The witnesses, Matthew and John, as olive trees appear.—The broken stones of Moses now uplift, renewed in books arise from death.—The Lord’s anointed reigns—The rods, or laws, of Ephraim ten, unite is one and hold by Judah’s skirt—The Son of Man o’er Israel reigns—The dry bones now arise—Here ends thy earthly reign—The bond of union now is come—The marriage ring appears—The Bride is come—The Bridegroom now receives the marriage seal—The Law and Gospel now unite—The Moon and Sun appear—Caleb and Joshua pass the stream in triumph to restore. Where now thou Canaanite art thou? Where all thy maddened crew?
‘Hittites, be gone! no more appear to hurt or to annoy;
Now Israel’s sons in peace succeed, and Canaan’s land enjoy.
Behold from Edom I appear with garments dipt in blood;
My sons are freed and saved, and wash’d amidst the purple flood.
The law, of moon, imperfect was to save—
5
But now the star points dead men to the grave.

‘Mercy benign appears—The Gospel Sun embraces all—The Spirit and the Bride invite, and offer wine and milk—but not to mockers here. Infinity of love and grace! Gentiles and Jews unite, no more from love to part. Six days are past—Peter, and James, and John, behold my glory in my word.
‘The Law and Prophets now are seen with Jesus’ word to shine,
But what hast thou, thou serpent here, to do with love benign?

‘Tremble and flee, ’tis done. The seals are burst—the vials pour and end thy destiny.
‘These are a small part of the thoughts of the judgments of God pronounced on Satan,’ concludes the writer, who is a gentleman of vast respectability.

20.        One of her books has the title printed on the last page, because it was ordered that the book should contain neither more nor less than forty-eight pages. Another has a seal in the middle of it bearing the letters J. C.—the J., it is said, being meant for Jesus and Joanna!!

Notes

[1] Abbé Augustin Barruel (1741-1820), a French Jesuit who had fled France after the revolution and was living in Britain, was in 1797 the author of Mémoires pour server à l’Histoire du Jacobinisme, translated as Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism. In this highly popular conspiracy theory, he attributed the revolution to a series of societies holding mystical beliefs and observing secret rituals—the Illuminati—and dedicated to destroying the Catholic Church and the states that supported it. BACK

[2] The novels of Madelaine de Scudéry (1607-1701) featured unlikely plots, in which the heroines suffered multiple abductions at the hands of Oriental despots. BACK

[3] The Swedish mystical author Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), who claimed, after a spiritual awakening in 1758, to be able to visit heaven and hell and communicate with spirits, died in London. There, a number of Protestant dissenters and Anglican clergymen proved receptive to his books and in May 1787 the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church was established and began to send missionaries across the country; by April 1789, when the first General Conference was held in Eastcheap attended by Bryan’s fellow engraver William Blake, several churches had been established. BACK

[4] A converted Jew named Samuel. See John Wright, A Revealed Knowledge of Some Things That Will Speedily be Fulfilled in the World (London, 1794), p. 4. BACK

[5] Southey himself met Bryan, probably in Bath at the house of one of Brothers’ supporters—either Samuel Whitchurch, ironmonger, or James Crease, picture framer and restorer, to whose pamphlets hailing Brothers as a prophet he alluded in a letter of 9 May 1795 (Romantic Circles, Collected Letters of Robert Southey, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, Tim Fulford and Ian Packer, Vol. I, Letter 126). Whitchurch, a poet as well as an ironmonger, paid tribute to Southey’s poem Joan of Arc (1795) in 'Lines on the Crucifixion' in his collection Hispaniola (Bath, 1804). BACK

[6] The history of the Avignon Society remains disputed by scholars: most now agree that it was established in 1786 by Don Antoine Joseph Pernety (1716-96) a former Benedictine monk influenced both by Freemasonry and by Swedenborg, whose writings he translated into French while working as the librarian to Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Berlin. In 1763-64 Pernety had been part of the scientific voyage into the South Atlantic commanded by Louis Antoine de Bougainville. On his return he published Journal historique d’un voyage fait aux îles Malouines en 1763 et 1764 pour les reconnoître et y former un établissement et de deux voyages au détroit de Magellan avec une relation sur les Patagons (1769). Pernety’s Avingon scheme was aided by Count Thaddeus Leszczy Grabianka (1740-1807), another Swedenborgian whom he met in Berlin. Following a visit to English Swedenborgians, Grabianka joined Pernety in founding the Société des Illuminés d’Avignon, a group whose spiritual practices took elements from freemasonry, alchemy, mesmerism, Catholic mysticism and Swedenborgianism. The Society was dispersed in the early 1790s during the upheavals of the Revolution. BACK

[7] According to J. F. C. Harrison, The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism, 1780-1850 (Piscataway, NJ, 1979), p. 243, probably Thomas Spence Duché (1763-90), an artist who visited the Avignon society, and son of the preacher, former American revolutionary and Swedenborgian Jacob Duché (1737-98). Duché’s Swedeborgian meeting had been visited by Grabianka in 1785-86. BACK

[8] Brothers’ supporter, the Orientalist Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), noticed similarities between Brothers’ doctrine of transmigration and the Hindu Trimourtee, or ‘triad of Energies’, Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. See Halhed, Testimony of the Authenticity of the Prophecies of R. Brothers and of his Mission to Recall the Jews, 2nd edn (London, 1795), p. 10. A fragment by Xenophanes suggests that the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 495 BC) believed in the transmigration of the soul into different bodies. BACK

[9] The Barules believed that the Son of God had only a phantom body and that souls were created before the world and all existed at the same time. The Flagellants, a fourteenth century middle-European sect, believed that human souls transmigrated into animals. BACK

[10] Bryan, as he himself recorded in his A Testimony of the Spirit of Truth concerning Richard Brothers ... in an address to the people of Israel, &c., to the gentiles called Christians, and all other gentiles. With some account of the manner of the Lord’s gracious dealing with his servant W. Bryan (London, 1795). Bryan also told Southey personally of his plan. See Southey’s letter of 7 July 1807 to John MayBACK

[11] In the Book of Judges 3: 12-28 the Israelite Ehud, on the pretext of taking the annual tribute to the Moabite King Eglon, stabbed him in the stomach with a short sword. BACK

[12] Terms for marketable purchases of instalments of stock and government securities. BACK

[13] William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), Prime Minister 1783-1801. BACK

[14] William Sharp the engraver (1747-1824), already interested in Mesmerism and Swedenborgianism, became a follower of Brothers and, in 1795, engraved Brothers’ image above the title ‘Richard Brothers Prince of the Hebrews’. After Brothers’ confinement, Sharp became a follower, and subsequently one of the elders, of Southcott. He published An Answer to the World, for putting in print a book in 1804, called, Copies and parts of Copies of Letters and Communications, written from Joanna Southcott (London, 1806). BACK

[15] The Orientalist scholar and M.P. Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830) astonished the educated classes by declaring himself a believer in the prophetic mission of Brothers. See Halhed, Testimony of the Authenticity of the Prophecies of R. Brothers and of his Mission to Recall the Jews, 2nd edn (London, 1795). BACK

[16] Halhed noticed similarities between Brothers’ doctrine of transmigration and the Hindu Trimourtee, or ‘triad of Energies’, Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. See Halhed, Testimony, p. 10. BACK

[17] Halhed, Testimony of the Authenticity of the Prophecies of R. Brothers and of his Mission to Recall the Jews, 2nd edn (London, 1795). See the prophecy of a coming apocalypse in Revelation 5: 5, ‘Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof’. BACK

[18] Brothers was arrested on 4 March 1795 and examined by the Privy Council. On 27 March, he was declared insane and confined as a criminal lunatic. From 4 May, he was held in Fisher House, Islington, a private asylum. BACK

[19] Halhed published the text of his Commons speech as Mr. Halhed’s Speech in the House of Commons (March 31st 1795; being a motion for the printing and distributing of Mr. Brother’s Prophecys, etc. for the use of the Members;) his Reply to Dr. Horne’s Sound Argument and Common Sense; with cursory observations on the Age of Credulity, and his Calculation on the Millennium (London, 1795). BACK

[20] Engravings of this kind featured in Brothers’ A Description of Jerusalem: its houses and streets ... with the Garden of Eden in the centre as laid down in the last chapters of Ezekiel. Also the first chapter of Genesis verified (London, 1801). Further engravings appeared in the work printed for Brothers’ supporter John Finleyson: The New Covenant between God and His People; or, the Hebrew constitution and charter; with the statutes and ordinances, the laws and regulations, and commands and covenants (London, 1830). BACK

[21] In 1802 the Reverends Thomas P. Foley, of Old Swinford, Worcestershire, Thomas Webster of St. George’s the Borough, London, and Stanhope Bruce, of Inglesham, Gloucestershire, having interviewed Southcott, declared their belief in her prophetic mission. In 1805 Foley published The Answer of the Rev. Thomas P. Foley, to the World, Who Hath Blamed His Faith in Believing It Was a Command from the Lord to Put in Print Such Parable, As He Printed Last Year at Stourbridge, under the Ttitle ‘What Manner of Communications are These?’ (Oldswinford, 1805). BACK

[22] The Saracen sorceress who enthralled the Christian hero in Tarquato Tasso’s poem Gerusalemme Liberata (1580). BACK

[23] Saint Epiphanius (ca. 310/320-403), Bishop of Salamis, compiled a huge compendium of heresies. BACK

[24] Jeremiah 36: 1-32. Jehoiakim (c. 635-597 BC), King of Judah, had the manuscript of one of Jeremiah’s prophecies burned, as it criticised his rule. BACK

[25] Southey refers to William Postellus, whose identification of Mother Johanna of Venice as the female redeemer led to his dismissal by the Jesuits and persecution by the Inquisition. Fleeing Italy for France, he published several heterodox works under the protection of Charles IX, and died in a monastery there in 1581. BACK

[26] The Franciscan friar Francesco Bordoni da Parma (1594-1671), author of numerous works of theology, ecclesiastical history and law. Bordoni argued for women’s spiritual inferiority to men in Opus posthumum, de recenti primò in lucem proditur, quod consistit in duas appendices ad Manuale consultorum in causis Sancti Officii contrà haereticam pravitatem occurrentibus ... in prima diffusè ostenditur quasi omnem excogitabilem blasphemiam ... In secunda verò explicantur essentia, qualitates, ac diversitatum genus omnium sortilegiorum...Ad cujus calcem subsequitur nova reimpressio Tractatus de legatis ejusdem auctoris denuò revisus, ac ... correctus ... industria (Parma, 1703). BACK

[27] From Matthew 26: 24. BACK

[28]A Dispute between the Woman and the Powers of Darkness (London, 1802). BACK

[29]A Dispute, p. 6. BACK

[30] In Revelation 9:11 Apollyon is the destroyer, ‘the angel of the bottomless pit’. BACK

[31]A Dispute, p. 48. BACK

[32] Revelation 12: 1. BACK

[33]A Dispute, p. 66. BACK

[34] (London, 1804), pp. 30-31. BACK

[35]A Dispute, p. 32. BACK

[36]A Dispute, p. 34. BACK

Published @ RC

July 2012

Continent