Part Three. Robert Matthews, and Elijah the Tishbite. False Prophets in the Early 1800’s

TheProphet

Some years ago a considerable sensation was created in the state of New York by the mad and grotesque pranks of Robert Matthews, who presumptuously laid claim to the divine character, and imposed himself as a superior being upon whom some of the most respectable members of society believed. As no account, as far as we are aware, has ever been published in Britain of this remarkable affair, notwithstanding the interest which it excited in America, we propose to introduce a notice of it to our readers.

Robert Matthews was a native of Washington County, in the state of New York, and of Scotch extraction. At an early age he was left an orphan, and was brought up in the family of a respectable farmer in the town of Cambridge, where in his boyhood he received the religious instruction of the clergyman belonging to the Anti-burgher branch of Seceders. At about twenty years of age he came to the city of New York, and worked at the business of a carpenter and house-joiner, which he had partially learned in the country. Possessing genius for mechanical pursuits, and being of active habits, he was an excellent workman, and was in constant and lucrative employment. In 1813 he married a respectable young woman, and removed to Cambridge for the purpose of pursuing the business of a storekeeper; but the undertaking, after a trial of three years, failed.

He became bankrupt, involving his father-in-law in his ruin; and in 1816 he returned once more to New York, where for a number of years he wrought at his old profession of a house-carpenter. Being at length dissatisfied with his condition, he removed in 1827 to what he thought a better field for his talent in Albany. While settled in this city, a remarkable change took place in his feelings.

Hitherto he had belonged to the Scotch Church; but now, disliking that communion, he attached himself to the Dutch Reformed congregation, and there gathering fresh ardor, at length surrendered his whole mind to spiritual affairs. While in this condition, he went to hear a young and fervent orator, the Rev. Mr. Kirk, from New York, preach, and returned home in such a frenzy of enthusiasm as to sit up a great part of the night repeating, expounding, and commending passages from the sermon. From this period his conduct was that of a half-crazy man. He joined the temperance society, but went far beyond the usual rules of such associations, contending that the use of meats should be excluded as well as of intoxicating liquors; proceeding on this notion, he enforced a rigid system of dietetics in his household, obliging his wife and children to subsist only on bread, fruits, and vegetables.

During the year 1829 his conduct became more and more wild and unregulated. His employment was still that of a journeyman house joiner; but instead of minding his work, he fell into the practice of exhorting the workmen during the hours of labor, and of expounding the Scriptures to them in a novel and enthusiastic manner, until at length he became so boisterous, that his employer, a very pious man, was obliged to discharge him from his service. He claimed at this time to have received by revelation some new light upon the subject of experimental religion, but did not as yet lay claim to any supernatural character. Discharged from regular employment, he had abundant leisure for street-preaching, which he commenced in a vociferous manner –exhorting everyone he met upon the subject of temperance and religion, and holding forth to crowds at the comers of the streets. Having made a convert of one of his late fellow-workmen, he procured a large white flag, on which was inscribed ‘Rally round the Standard of Truth;’ this they raised on a pole, and bore through the streets every morning, haranguing the multitudes whom their strange appearance and demeanor attracted around them. A young student of divinity, catching the infection, as it seemed, united himself with Matthews, and assisted in the preachings in the public thoroughfares. Matthews, however, was a remarkably bad preacher, and made little or no impression on his listeners. His addresses were incoherent, consisting of disjointed sentences, sometimes grand or bombastic, and at other times low and ridiculous, but always uttered at the highest pitch of the voice, and designed both in matter and manner to terrify and startle his hearers. The favorite doctrine which he attempted to enforce was, that Albany would be immediately destroyed, unless the people were converted; and he harped so wildly on this theme, that in a short time he became utterly distraught.

All the efforts of his poor wife to restrain him in his mania were unavailing. One night he aroused his family from their slumbers, declared that the city would be destroyed before morning, and fled from his home, taking with him three of his sons, the youngest an infant of only two years. With these he travelled maniacally on foot for twenty-four hours, till he reached the house of his sister in the town of Argyle, a distance of forty miles.

The religious wanderings of Matthews the prophet, as he was called, may now be said to have commenced. With a Bible in his hand, and his face garnished with a long beard, which he had for some time been suffering to grow, in obedience to a Scriptural command, he wandered about, collecting crowds to listen to his ravings, and frequently disturbed the peace of regular meetings in the churches. Finding that he made no impression in the old settled part of the country, he set out on a missionary tour through the western states, penetrating the deepest forests, crossing the prairies, and never stopping till he had proclaimed his mission amid the wilds of the Arkansas. Thence he turned his steps to the Southeast, re-crossed the Mississippi, traversed Tennessee, and arrived in Georgia with the view of preaching to the Indians; but here he was seized by the authorities, and placed in confinement as a disturber of the public peace. Ultimately he was dismissed, and permitted to return towards his old haunts in New York and its neighborhood where he arrived in a somewhat new character. It would appear that till about this period Matthews was simply in a state of mental derangement, and, like all madmen in similar circumstances, was perfectly sincere in his belief. The small degree of success on his journey, his imprisonment in Georgia, and his utter poverty, may be advanced as a cause for an alteration in his conduct. He now lost a portion of his frenzy, and in proportion as he cooled in this respect, the idea of imposture seems to have assumed a place in his mind. There is at least no other rational mode of explaining his very singular behavior. In the capacity, therefore, of half madman, half knave, Mr. Matthews may be viewed as entering on his career in New York in the month of May 1832.

In ordinary times and circumstances, the intrusion of such a madman into a quiet mercantile city would lead to no other result than the committal of the intruder to the house of correction or a lunatic asylum; but at the period of Matthews’s appearance in New York, a pretty large portion of the public mind was prepared for any kind of extravagance in religion, and therefore the declaration of his mission was looked upon only as another act in the drama which had for some time been performing. About the year 1822 a few ladies became dissatisfied with the existing means of religious instruction in the city, and set on foot the bold project of converting the whole population by a system of female visitation, in the execution of which, every house and family was to be visited by committees of two, who were to enter houses indiscriminately, and pray for the conversion of the inmates whether they would hear or not.

This scheme created no little noise at the time, but, like all frenzies, it only lasted its day, and was succeeded by other schemes perhaps equally well meaning, but equally visionary. Among the class of perfectionists as, they were termed, there were doubtless many estimable persons, and none more so than Mr. Elijah Pierson and his wife. Mr. Pierson was a merchant by profession, and, by a course of industry and regularity in all his undertakings, was now in opulent circumstances. Until the late religious frenzy agitated the city, he had been noted for his intelligence and unaffected piety, and not less so was his lady. In a short period his devotional feelings underwent a remarkable change. In 1828, after passing through a state of preliminary excitement, he became afflicted with monomania on the subject of religion, while upon all matters of business, as far as they could be disconnected from that on which he was decidedly crazed, his intellectual powers and faculties were as active and acute as ever. During his continuance in this state of hallucination, in the year 1830 his wife died of a pulmonary affection, which had been greatly aggravated by long fasting and other bodily severities. This event only served to confirm Mr. Pierson in his monomania. He considered that it would afford an opportunity for the working of a miracle through the efficacy of faith. By a gross misinterpretation of Scripture (Epistle of James 5:14, 15),he believed that his wife should be ‘raised up’ from death while lying in her coffin, and accordingly collected a crowd of persons, some of whom were equally deluded with himself, to see the wonder performed in their presence. The account of this melancholy exhibition, which is lying before us, is too long and too painful for extract; and it will suffice to state, that notwithstanding the most solemn appeals to the Almighty from the bereaved husband, the corpse remained still and lifeless; and by the remonstrances of a medical attendant, who declared that decomposition was making rapid and dangerous progress, the body was finally consigned to the tomb.

Such was the hallucination of Mr. Pierson, which many pitied, and some were found to approve. Among the latter was Mr. S, also a merchant in good circumstances, but who had latterly become a victim to the religious excitement which prevailed, and, like Mr.Pierson, often subjected himself to fasts for a week at a time, greatly to the injury of his health and the confirmation of his mania.

Both gentlemen being thus in a state of mind to look for extraordinary events, a stranger presented himself before them on the 5th of May 1832. He had the beard of a patriarch, a tall form, and his language was of a high-flown cast on religious topics, which at once engaged their attention and sympathy. This imposing stranger was no other than Robert Matthews. The pretensions which he made were of a nature which we can scarcely trust ourselves even to hint at. That the tale may be told with as little pain to our readers as possible, let it suffice to say, that the very highest imaginable character was assumed by this unhappy man, and that the pretense was supported merely by the perversion and misinterpretation of one or two passages of Scripture. The character which he assumed he pretended to be in the meantime incorporated with the resuscitated person of the Matthias mentioned in the New Testament; and he accordingly was not now any longer Matthews, but Matthias. He had the power, he said, to do all things, not excepting those which most peculiarly belong to the divine nature. Mr. Pierson and his friend believed all that he set forth of himself, then and subsequently, no matter how extravagant or blasphemous; and he in turn recognized them as the first members of the true church, whom, after two years’ search, he had been able certainly to identify.

He announced to them that, although the kingdom of God on earth began with his public declaration in Albany in June 1830, it would not be completed until twenty-one years from that date, in 1 851; previous to which time wars would be done away, the judgments finished, and the wicked destroyed. As Mr. Pierson’s Christian name was Elijah, this afforded Matthews the opportunity of declaring that he was a revivification of Elijah the Tishbite, who should go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; and as Elias, as everybody knows, was only another name for John the Baptist, it was assumed that Elijah Pierson was the actual John the Baptist come once more on earth, and by this title he was henceforth called.

Mr. Pierson very soon relinquished preaching, as did Mr. S, and the work of the ministry devolved entirely on Matthews, who, jealous of his dignity, would bear no rivals near the throne. The prophet was now invited to take up his residence at the elegantly furnished house of Mr. S, and acceding to the invitation, he remained there three months. The best apartments were allotted to his use, and the whole establishment was submitted to his control.

It was not long before he arrogated to himself divine honors, and his entertainer washed his feet in token of his humility. The female relations of the family were sent away by the impostor, and he allowed no one to reside there but the black domestics who were of the true faith. From fasting he taught his disciples to change their system to feasting; and having their houses at his command, and their purses at his service  loving the good things of this world, and taking all the direction in procuring supplies” he caused them to fare sumptuously every day. But this splendid style of living was not enough. The prophet was vain of his personal appearance, and proud of wearing rich clothes. It was now necessary that he should be arrayed in garments befitting his character and the dignity of his mission. His liberal entertainer, therefore, at his suggestion, furnished him with an ample wardrobe of the richest clothes and finest linens. His favorite costume consisted of a black cap of japanned leather, in shape like an inverted cone, with a shade; a frock-coat of fine green cloth, lined with white or pink satin; a vest, commonly of richly figured silk; frills of fine lace or cambric at the wrists; a sash around his waist of crimson silk, to which were suspended twelve gold tassels, emblematical of the twelve tribes of Israel; green or black pantaloons, over which were worn a pair of well-polished Wellington boots. Add to this, hair hanging over his shoulders, and a long beard flowing in ringlets on his breast, and we may have an idea of him in his public costume. In private he disused the black leather cap, and sometimes appeared in a nightcap of the finest linen, decorated with twelve points or turrets, and magnificently embroidered in gold by his female votaries. He usually preached in a suit of elegant canonicals.

Lodged, fed, and decorated in this sumptuous manner, Matthews spent his time so agreeably, that he became less anxious to make public appearances. His preaching was confined to select parties of fifty or sixty individuals, composing, as he styled it, ‘the kingdom,’ and by these he was held in the most reverential esteem. Occasionally, strangers were invited to attend his ministrations, but this was only as a great favor; and at all meetings he made it a rule to allow no one to speak but himself. He declared his rooted antipathy to arguing or discussion. If anyone attempted to question him on the subject of his mission or character, he broke into a towering passion, and said that he came not to be questioned, but to preach.

Among other of his vagaries, he declared that he had received in a vision an architectural plan for the New Jerusalem, which he was commissioned to build, and which for magnificence and beauty, extent and grandeur, would excel all that was known of Greece or Rome. The site of this great capital of the kingdom was to be in the western part of New York. The bed of the ocean was to yield up its long-concealed treasures for its use. All the vessels, tools, and implements of the New Jerusalem were to be of massive silver and pure gold. In the midst of the city was to stand an immense temple, to be surrounded with smaller ones: in the greater temple he was to be enthroned, and Mr. Pierson and Mr. S were each to occupy a lesser throne on his right hand and on his left. Before him was to be placed a massive candlestick with seven branches, all of pure gold.

Any man in his senses must have perceived that this was the vision of a madman, but by his humble votaries it was considered a sure prediction of what would speedily come to pass. As long as it was confined to mere harangues, the public were not called on to interfere; the case, however, was very different when Mr. S, in obedience to the injunctions of the prophet, commenced ordering expensive ornaments for the proposed temple from a goldsmith in the city. Matters were now going too far for S’s friends to remain any longer calm spectators of his folly, and both he and Matthews were taken up on a warrant of lunacy, and consigned to an asylum for the insane. Poor S was too confirmed in his madness to be speedily cured, and therefore remained long in confinement; but Matthews had the address to appear perfectly sane when judicially examined, and was relieved by a writ of habeas corpus, procured by one of his friends.

Upon his release from the asylum, he was invited to take up his residence with Mr. Pierson; but that gentleman shortly afterwards broke up his establishment, though he still rented a house for Matthews and one or two attendants, supplying him at the same time with the means of living. In the autumn of 1833 he was, on the solicitations of Mr. Pierson, invited to reside at Singsing, in Westchester county, about thirty miles from town, with a Mr. and Mrs. Folger, two respectable persons, whose minds had become a little crazed with the prevailing mania, but who as yet were not fully acquainted with the character of the prophet. Mr. Pierson afterwards became a resident in the family, and thus things went on very much in the old comfortable way. Only one thing disturbed the tranquility of the establishment. Mrs. Folger, who had a number of children, and was of an orderly turn of mind respecting household affairs, felt exceedingly uneasy in consequence of certain irregular habits and tendencies in the prophet, who set himself above all domestic discipline. The great evil which she complained of was, that he always took the meal-time to preach, and generally preached so long, that it was very difficult to find sufficient time to get through the duties of the day. He often detained the breakfast-table so long, that it was almost time for dinner before the meal was over; in the same manner he ran dinner almost into supper, and supper was seldom over before midnight” all which was very vexing to a person like Mrs. Folger, who was accustomed to regularity at meals, and could not well see why the exercises of religion should supersede the ordinary current of practical duties.

The infatuation of both Pierson and Folger in submitting to the tyranny and pampering the vanity of Matthews was demonstrated at this period in many acts of weakness which astonished the more sober part of the community. The impostor was furnished with a carriage and horses to convey him to and from New York, or any other place in which he chose to exhibit himself Money to a considerable amount was given him on various pretenses; and to crown the absurdity, an inheritable property was conveyed to him for his permanent support. An allowance of two dollars a day was further made to his wife in Albany; and several of his children, including a married daughter, Mrs. Laisdel, were brought to reside with him in Mr. Folger’s establishment. After a short time, however, Mrs. Laisdel was under the necessity of returning home, in consequence of her father’s violent treatment.

Elt200903081619042937186-183x300This very agreeable state of affairs was too pleasant to last. Mr. Folger’s business concerns became embarrassed, and he was obliged to spend the greater part of his time in New York. The entire government of the household now devolved on Matthews; and he, along with Katy, a black female cook, (Sojourner Truth) who was a submissive tool in all his projects, ruled the unfortunate Pierson, Mrs. Folger, and the children, with the rod of an oppressor. Certain meats were forbidden to appear at table; the use of confectionary or pastry was denounced as a heinous sin; and the principal food allowed was bread, vegetables, and coffee. What with mental excitement and physical deprivations, Mr. Pierson’s health began to decline; he became liable to fainting and apoplectic fits; but no medical man was permitted to visit him, and he was placed altogether at the mercy of the impostor. At this crisis Matthews’s shewed his utter incapacity for supporting the character he had assumed. Instead of alleviating the condition of his friend, he embraced every opportunity of abusing him, so as to leave little doubt that he was anxious to put him out of the way. One of his mad doctrines was, that all bodily ailments were caused by a devil; that there was a fever devil, a toothache devil, a fainting-fit devil, and so on with every other malady; and that the operations of such a fiend were in each case caused by unbelief, or a relaxation of faith in Matthews’s divine character. The illness of Pierson was therefore considered equivalent to an act of unbelief, and worthy of the severest displeasure. On pretense of expelling the sick spirit, he induced his friend to eat plentifully of certain mysteriously prepared dishes of berries, which caused vomiting to a serious extent, and had a similar though less powerful effect on others who partook of them. The children also complained that the coffee which was served for breakfast made them sick. On none of these occasions did Matthews taste of the food set before Mr. Pierson or the family; and from the account of the circumstances, there can be no doubt of his having, either from knavery or madness, endeavored to poison the family, or at least to destroy the life of his deluded patron. Besides causing Mr. Pierson to swallow such trash as he offered him, he compelled him to receive the contents of a pitcher of water poured into his mouth from a height of four or five feet. This horrid operation, in which Katy the black servant assisted, brought on strong spasmodic fits, in which the sufferer uttered such dismal groans and sighs as shocked Mrs. Folger, and might have induced her to discredit the pretensions of the impostor, and to appeal to a magistrate for protection; but excellent as was this lady’s general character, she possessed no firmness to decide in so important a matter, and her sympathy was dissolved in a flood of useless tears.

The water-torture, as it may be called, hastened the fate of the unhappy gentleman, and he was shortly afterwards found dead in his bed. The intelligence of Mr. Pierson’s death immediately brought Mr. Folger from New York, to inquire into the cause of the event, and to superintend the arrangements for the funeral. The representations of the case made by Mrs. Folger did not suggest the possibility of Matthews having used any unfair means towards Mr. Pierson, but that his death was in some way caused by him through supernatural power. Matthews, indeed, boasted that he could kill anyone who doubted his divine character by a mere expression of his will. Singular as it may seem, this madness or villainy did not yet release Folger from the impression that Matthews was a divine being; and fearing his assumed power, he had not the resolution to order his departure. In a few days, however, all ceremony on the subject was at an end. An action having been raised by Pierson’s heirs to recover the property which the impostor had obtained on false pretenses, Matthews refused to resign it, and attempted to justify his conduct to Folger by reasons so completely opposed to the principles of common honesty, that that gentleman’s belief at once gave way, and he ordered him to quit the house. This abrupt announcement was received with anything but complacency. The prophet preached, stormed, and threatened; tears likewise were tried; but all was unavailing. Folger respectfully but firmly told him that circumstances required a retrenchment of his expenditure, and that he must seek for a new habitation. Matthews, in short, was turned out of doors.

He was again thrown upon the world, though not in an utterly penniless condition. The right which he held to Pierson’s property was in the course of being wrested from him, but he possessed a considerable sum which he had gathered from Folger and a few other disciples, and on this he commenced living until some new and wealthy dupe, as he expected, should countenance his pretensions, and afford him the means of a comfortable subsistence. This Expectation was not realized in time to save him from public exposure and shame. Folger, having pondered on a variety of circumstances, felt convinced that he had been the victim of a designing impostor, that Pierson’s death had been caused by foul means, and that the lives of his own family had been exposed to a similar danger. On these suspicions he caused Matthews to be apprehended, for the purpose, in the first place, of being tried on a charge of swindling. On the 16th of October 1834, this remarkable case came on for trial before the Court of Sessions in New York, on an indictment setting forth that Matthews was guilty of ‘devising by unlawful means to obtain possession of money, goods, chattels, and effects of divers good people of the state of New York; and that the said B. H. Folger, believing his representations, gave the said Matthias one hundred pieces of gold coin, of the value of five hundred and thirty dollars, and one hundred dollars in bank-notes, which the said Matthias feloniously received by means of the false pretenses aforesaid.’ Matthews pled not guilty to the charge, but upon the solicitation of Folger, who seems to have been ashamed to appear publicly as prosecutor, the district attorney dropped the case, and the prisoner was handed over to the authorities of the county of Westchester, on the still more serious accusation of having murdered Mr. Pierson.

To bring to a conclusion this melancholy tale of delusion, imposture, and crime, Matthews was arraigned for murder before the court of Oyer and Terminer at Westchester, on the 16th of April 1835.

The trial excited uncommon interest, and many persons attended from a great distance, to get a view of the man whose vagaries had made so much noise in the country. The evidence produced for the prosecution was principally that of medical men, who had been commissioned to disinter the body of the deceased, and examine the condition of the stomach, it being a general belief that death had been caused by poison. Unfortunately for the ends of justice, the medical examiners could not agree that the stomach shewed conditions of a poisonous substance, some alleging that it did, and others affirming the reverse. On this doubtful state of the question, the jury had no other course than to offer a verdict of acquittal. On the announcement of the verdict, the prisoner was evidently elated; but his countenance fell when he found that he was to be tried on another indictment for having assaulted his daughter, Mrs. Laisdel, with a whip, on the occasion of her visit to him at Singsing; her husband was the prosecutor. Of this misdemeanor he was immediately found guilty, and condemned to three months’ imprisonment in the county jail. In passing sentence, the judge took occasion to reprimand him for his gross impostures and impious pretensions, and advised him, when he came out of confinement, to shave his beard, lay aside his peculiar dress, and go to work like an honest man.

Of the ultimate fate of Matthews we have heard no account, and therefore are unable to say whether he renewed his schemes of imposture.

I conclude now some of the more remarkable early-modern prophets, and I will next look at some of the more dangerous ones of the latter 1800’s, and how their delusions have left their mark upon society, today.

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Taken and adapted from, “Chambers’s Miscellany” (sp) Vol. IV.
Written by William Chambers

“The New York History Blog,”
Written by Miguel Hernandez

Part Two. Female Prophets and their Followers of the 1700’s

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During the seventeen hundreds the religious world was scandalized by the wild fancies and pretensions of several female fanatics; being as equally mad or self-deceiving as with the most visionary impostors of the male sex. To continue our survey, we shall first look at…

ANN LEE

Ann Lee, the founder of the religious sect commonly called Shakers. She was the daughter of a blacksmith, who lived in Toad Lane in Manchester; a very poor man, who gave her no education, and sent her while a mere child to work in a cotton-mill. She seems to have been a violent, hysterical girl, ambitious of notice, and fond of power, and to have always possessed, in virtue of her strong will and vehement temper, a great deal of influence over the people around her. Marrying, while very young, to a blacksmith named Stanley, she had four children, all of whom died in infancy, and to this, perhaps, may be ascribed the preference of the celibate to the married life, which she ultimately raised into a part of her religious system. She became one of the earliest believers in a prophetess, who appeared the town of Bolton-on-the- Moors, in Lancashire –a poor woman, named Jane Wardlaw, the wife of a tailor, who believed she had ‘received a call’ to go forth and testify for the truth. The burden of Jane Wardlaw’s message was, that the end of all things was at hand, that Christ was coming to reign upon the earth, and that his second appearance would be in the form of a woman, as prefigured in the Psalms. In subordination to this, she took up several of the tenets of the Society of Friends, to which she and her husband originally belonged; “thus the strange American sect, the Shakers, sprang indirectly from the society of Friends. She converted Ann Lee, a poor woman of Manchester, to her faith. Ann Lee gained disciples, and led them to America, where they multiplied, until there were six thousand of them in eighteen village settlements.

Jane Wardlaw especially raised her voice against war and against profane swearing.  Her followers believed that she was filled with the Holy Spirit; they received her utterances as the voice of God; and she acted as if all the powers of earth and heaven had been given into her hands.

Ann Lee, on her conversion (about 1758), began to preach the same message in Toad Lane and the adjacent streets of Manchester; but she soon went beyond her teacher, and gained the leadership of her co-believers for herself. It happened that she was brought before a magistrate, charged with an obstruction of the streets, caused by the crowd collected to hear her preach, and she was sent to the Old Bailey Prison in Manchester. When she came out of prison, she gave forth, that one night a light had shone upon her in her cell; that the Lord Jesus stood before her; and that He became one with her in form and spirit (1770). Her pretension was, that Christ was come to reign in her person. It was favorably entertained by the followers of Jane Wardlaw; and they acknowledged her as their Head, or Mother, in place of Jane, whose pretensions had never gone so far. She found, however, that among her neighbors and fellow workers, her claim to be the Bride of the Lamb seen in the Book of Revelation by St John, excited only jeering and ridicule; and she received a revelation that she should seek in America a home for herself and her few disciples –and that it was in America that the foundations of Christ’s kingdom were to be laid. So she went to New York in 1774, accompanied by seven disciples –five males and two females.

Her husband also went with her; but he seems to have had no faith in her, and he left her soon after their arrival, in consequence of one of the features then introduced into her system. This was the practice of celibacy, which she had not previously enforced upon her followers, though she had commended it. Her teaching was, that men called into grace must live as the angels do, among whom there is no marrying or giving in marriage; that no form of earthly love could be allowed in the Redeemer’s kingdom. Finding a populous city unfavorable to her designs, she removed, with her followers, first to Albany, then far into the wilderness to Niskenna, and there founded the settlement of Wafer Vliet.

It was in the spring of 1780 when she had been three years and a half at Niskenna, looking for new believers to come in, but making no attempt to win them, that the first American converts joined her Society. A revival had taken place at Albany, and had spread through the surrounding districts; and from Hancock and New Lebanon a deputation was sent to Niskenna, to see what light its inhabitants enjoyed as to the way of salvation. The deputation consisted of Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright –subsequently the heads of the Shaker Society. These persons became believers in Ann Lee; and through their agency, other converts were won, and a Shaker Society established at New Lebanon. Towards the close of 1780, the revolutionary war being then in progress, notoriety was given to Ann Lee’s pretensions, through an incident seemingly unfavorable. Owing to her British origin, her denunciations against war, and her refusal to take the colonial oaths, Ann was imprisoned for some time at Poughkeepsie, on suspicion of being a British spy.

Before she was let out of prison, in December 1780, all the colonies had heard of ‘the female Christ. In the following year, she started upon a missionary tour through New England and adjacent colonies; she found the people everywhere curious to see her, and she made not a few converts. She did not return to Water Vliet until September 1 783, and about a year after, she died. Her death was a surprise to many of her followers, who believed that she was to live among them forever; but her successors, the Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright already mentioned –to whom, on her death-bed, she had made over the headship of the Society, were ready with a theory accounting for it. ‘Mother Ann,’ they said, could not die, and was not dead, and had not ceased to live among her people. She had only withdrawn from the common sight; she was still visible to eyes exalted by the gift of grace; she had cast the dress of flesh, and was now clothed with a glory which concealed her from the world. So it would be with every one of the saints in turn; but the spirits of those who ‘passed out of sight’ would remain near and be in union with the visible body of believers. This explanation was generally accepted, and has become a vital part of the Shaker creed, which thus falls in, in so far, with a more recent doctrine of ‘Spiritism,’ as it is called.

By Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright, the successors of ‘Mother Ann,’ the Shakers were gathered into settlements, ten in number; and a covenant was drawn up embracing the chief points of their creed, and of the social system since associated with it. Their head was, of course, ‘Mother Ann’ ” the second incarnation of Christ -of whom Joseph and Lucy were temporarily the representatives: elders and deacons, male and female, were appointed; the institution of celibacy was confirmed; and a community of goods was introduced. On the death of Joseph Meacham in 1796, ‘Mother Lucy’ became the sole head of the Society, and she governed it with ample powers for twenty-five years. She named a female successor with the title of Elderess; and the name of ‘Mother’ has not, since that time, been applied to the female head of the community.

The Shakers were, at the census of 1860, more than six thousand in number, included in eighteen societies; of which three are in the state of New York, four in Massachusetts, two in New Hampshire, two in Maine, one in Connecticut, four in Ohio, and two in Kentucky. Their numbers have increased considerably since 1860; the influence of their opinions has greatly increased; and the eighteen separate settlements continue to form a united and peaceful Society.

Their doctrine has been to some extent developed as well as systematized since the death of ‘Mother Ann.’ They believe that the kingdom of heaven has come; that Christ has appeared on earth a second time, in the form of ‘Mother Ann,’ and that the personal rule of God has been restored. Then they hold that the old law has been abolished, and a new dispensation begun; that Adam’s sin has been atoned; that man has been made free of all errors except his own; that the curse has been taken away from labor; that the earth and all that is on it will be redeemed. Believers, ongoing ‘into union,’ die to the world, and enter upon a new life, which is not a mere change of life, but a new order of being. For them, there is neither death nor marriage; what seems death is only a change of form, a transfiguration which does not hide them from the purified eyes of the saints; and in union, as in heaven, there is no marrying or giving in marriage” the believer owes love to all the saints, but his love must be celibate in spirit and in fact. The believer, living in union, is in heaven. The Shakers believe that the earth, now freed from the curse of Adam, is heaven; they look for no resurrection besides that involved in living with them in ‘resurrection order.’ The believer, upon entering into union, leaves behind all his earthly relationships and interests, just as if he had been severed from them by death. Those who have ‘passed out of sight’ are still in union; and the Shakers live in daily communion with the spirits of the departed believers.

It being the work of the saints to redeem the earth from the effects of the curse, labor is a sacred and priestly function, especially when bestowed in making the earth yield her increase, and in developing her beauty. It should be done in a spirit of love; the earth, they say, yields most to those who love it; and love and labor will in time restore it to its primitive state. According to Mr. W. Hepworth Dixon, from whose New America (London, 1867) the materials of this sketch have been chiefly derived, they bestow upon their gardens and fields the affections which other men bestow upon family or worldly goods. Their country they regard only as it is a part of the earth, which they love, and as the favored land in which God’s kingdom is first to be established. In its politics and its fortunes, they take no interest; and, indeed, their whole system is a protest against the existing constitution of society, as well as against the ordinary lives of men. Consistently with their belief in the second appearance of Christ in the form of a woman, the Shakers seem to hold that there is a female as well as a male essence in the Godhead –to believe in the motherhood as well as the fatherhood of God.

Their mode of worship is thus described: ‘The two sexes are frequently arranged in ranks opposite to and facing each other, the front ranks about six feet apart. There is usually an address by one of the elders upon some doctrinal subject, or some practical virtue, after which they sing a hymn; then they form in circles around a band of male and female singers, to the music of whom they “go forth in the dances of them that make merry,” in which they manifest their religious zeal; and at times the excitement and fervency of spirit become very great, and their bodily evolutions, while maintaining the order and regularity of the dance and the music, are almost inconceivably rapid.’ It was in ridicule of the bodily movements accompanying their worship that the name of Shakers was given to them; the name by which they designate themselves is, The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. In their church-service, music bears a prominent part; the hymns and chants which are used being all of Shaker origin, communicated to believers in dreams and reveries by the spirits with whom they have communion. The spirits, it is said, show no great regard for rhyme or grammar.

They do not consider a life of celibacy as a duty for all, otherwise the race would soon come to an end. There are two orders in the world –The Order of Resurrection, and the Order of Generation.

Those who have entered the Society are of the Resurrection order, for whom there is no marriage ; they claim, says Mr. Dixon, to be a sort of priesthood of saints, appointed to serve God, and to redeem the world from sin. The outside world is of the Generation order, and for them marriage is still, for a time, allowed.

A Shaker settlement is, for convenience, divided into families, consisting of the brothers and sisters, who live in the same houses, each governed by an elder and an elderess. There are two orders of members –Probationers and Covenanters –that is, novices and full members. It is on becoming a covenanter that the Shaker puts his property into the common stock. On entering upon residence, he becomes subject to all the rules of the society; but he is free –whether a covenanter or a probationer –to leave the body whenever he pleases. Both men and women wear a dress of prescribed cut.

Some latitude is allowed as to the materials of the dress. Men and women, it is said, have the look of persons at peace with earth and Heaven. All labor with their hands, both men and women; but the latter do only indoor work. Every man, whatever his rank in the church, follows some manual occupation, and most of them have more than one. Working not for gain, but with loving care, and with the sense that they are exercising a priestly function, the Shakers are unrivalled among their neighbors in the arts to which they apply themselves, especially the culture of their land, and the production of fruits and flowers. They pay great attention to ventilation and to all sanitary conditions; they live almost entirely upon the produce of the soil, and drink only water; they employ no doctors, and take no drugs, and are, nevertheless, among the healthiest of communities. Their Society is recruited mostly by young men and girls; but occasionally, married persons with their children come ‘into union.’ Husbands and wives, when they have come ‘into union,’ become as brothers and sisters. The education of the children attached to the Society is the work of the sisters, and they do it exceedingly well. The brothers and sisters take their meals in a common room, eating at six in the morning, at noon, and at six in the afternoon. Their meals are taken in silence, any direction that has to be given being given by a gesture or in a whisper.

Such is this singular body, which is described as having exerted a powerful influence on the course of American thought and sentiment. And yet, strange to say, all this originated in the morbid visions of an illiterate, hysterical factory girl.

Jemima Wilkinson

Jemima Wilkinson was another American fanatic who flourished at the same time as Mrs. Lee. She was the daughter of a member of the Society of Friends of Cumberland, Rhode Island. Mentally deranged, her first visions occurred in 1775, when she pretended that she had been ill, and had actually died. Her soul having gone to heaven, as she alleged, she there heard the inquiry: ‘Who will go and preach to a dying world?’ Whereupon she answered: ‘Here am I, send me.’ Her body, as she said, was then reanimated by the spirit of Christ, upon which she set up as a public teacher, to give the last call of mercy to the human race. She declared that she had arrived at a state of perfection, and knew all things by immediate revelation, that she could foretell future events, heal all diseases, and discern the secrets of the heart. If any person was not healed by her, she conveniently attributed it to the want of faith.

Mrs. Wilkinson made many other extravagant pretensions. She assumed the title of universal friend; declared that she had left the realms of glory for the good of mankind, and that all who would not believe in her should perish. She pretended that she should live a thousand years, and then be translated without death. She preached in defense of a community of goods, and took for herself whatever ‘the Lord had need of.’ Multitudes of the poor, and many of the rich, in New England believed in the truth of these frantic assumptions, and made large contributions to her. Some gave hundreds, and one even a thousand dollars for her use. In a few instances wealthy families were ruined by her. No detection of her fallacies undeceived her willing dupes. She pretended that she could walk on water, in which she signally failed. She pretended that she could raise the dead to life, but a corpse placed in a coffin remained dead in spite of all her efforts. Her own death occurred in 1819, and thus her claims to immortality were completely falsified. Yet her followers would not at first believe that she was dead. They refused to bury her body, but at last were compelled to dispose of it in some secret way.

Elspeth Buchan

Mrs. Buchan, a resident in Glasgow, excited by a religious mania, announced herself in 1783 as a mother and leader of the elect. She likewise was resolute in proclaiming that she was the woman spoken of in the Revelations; that the end of the world was near; and that all should follow her ministrations. For some time she wandered from place to place, attended by hundreds of half-crazy dupes. This woman appears to have been one of the least selfish or arrogant of the class to which she belonged. She seems simply to have been a lunatic, whom it was cruel to allow to go at large. She announced that she was immortal, and that all who believed in her should never taste death; but in time, like all other mortals, she died; and this event staggered the faith of her followers. The Buchanites, as they were termed, are now, we believe, extinct. Perhaps some of them were absorbed by the next impostor-fanatic who appeared in England.

Joanna Southcott

Joanna Southcott was born in Devonshire about the year 1750, of humble parents. In early life, and till near her fortieth year, she was employed chiefly at Exeter as a domestic servant. Having joined one of the Methodist bodies, her religious feelings were powerfully awakened, and becoming acquainted with a man named Sanderson, who laid claim to the spirit of prophecy, the notion of a like pretension was gradually impressed on her mind.

Possessing a very inferior education, and naturally of a coarse mind, her efforts at prophecy, whether in prose or verse, were uncouth and unworthy of the notice of people enjoying a sane mind. There being, however, always persons of an unsettled turn ready to give credence to pretensions confidently supported, her influence extended; she announced herself, like her predecessors in England and America, as the woman spoken of in the Book of Revelations; and obtained considerable sums by the sale of seals which were to secure the salvation of those who purchased them.

Exeter being too narrow a field for the exercise of her prophetic powers, Mrs. Southcott removed to London, on the invitation and at the expense of William Sharp, an eminent engraver, who had become one of her principal adherents. Both before and after her removal to the metropolis, she published a number of pamphlets containing her crude reveries and prophecies concerning her mission.

Towards the year 1813 she had surrounded herself with many -credulous believers, and among certain classes had become an object of no small importance. Among other rhapsodies, she uttered dreadful denunciations upon her opposers and the unbelieving nations, and predicted the speedy approach of the millennium. In the last year of her life she secluded herself from the world, and especially from the society of the other sex, and gave out that she was with child of the Holy Ghost; and that she should give birth to the Shiloh promised to Jacob, which should be the second coming of Christ. Her prophecy was, that she was to be delivered on the 19th of October 1814, at midnight; being then upwards of sixty years of age.

This announcement seemed not unlikely to be verified, for there was an external appearance of pregnancy; and her followers, who are said to have amounted at that time to 100,000, were in the highest state of excitement. A splendid and expensive cradle was made, and considerable sums were contributed, in order to have other things prepared in a style worthy of the expected Shiloh. On the night of the 19th of October a large number of persons assembled in the street in which she lived, waiting to hear the announcement of the looked-for event; but the hour of midnight passed over, and the crowd were only induced to disperse by being informed that Mrs. Southcott had fallen into a trance. On the 27th of December following she died, having a short time previously declared that ‘if she was deceived, she was at all events misled by some spirit, either good or evil.’ Under the belief that she was not dead, or that she would again come to life, her disciples refused to inter the body, until it began to be offensive from decomposition. They then consented, with much reluctance, to a post-mortem examination, which fully refuted Joanna’s pretensions and their belief. The appearance which had deceived her followers was found to have arisen from dropsy (which was the old term for the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water).

The pretended mission of Joanna Southcott might be expected to have been now thoroughly abandoned; but whether influenced by fanaticism or shame, her disciples clung to the cause of the deceased. They most reluctantly buried the body, without relinquishing their hopes. Flattering themselves that the object of their veneration would still, in some way, reappear, they formed themselves into a religious society, under the name of the Southcottian Church. The members affected a peculiar costume, of which a brown coat of a plain cut, a creamy-brown hat, with a long unshaven beard, were the chief features. Joanna Southcott was unquestionably in the last twenty years of her life, in a state of religious insanity, which took the direction of diseased self-esteem. A lunatic asylum would have been her most fitting place of residence.

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Taken and adapted from, “Chambers’s Miscellany” (sp) Vol. IV.
Written by William Chambers

Also adapted from, “The Quakers”
Written by, Frederick Storrs Turner

A Selective Look at False Prophets and the Faith of their Followers: Part One. From the Reformation to the 1760’s

Taken and adapted from, “Chambers’s Miscellany”  Vol. IV.
Written by William Chambers

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ALL excesses are dangerous…

…and none perhaps more so than an excess in devotional feeling. Of religious excesses, originating either in imposture or the delusions of an overheated temperament, the world has had many lamentable examples. During the last thousand years, there have appeared as many as twenty false Messiahs, besides an incalculable number of persons who have presumed, with equal impiety, to declare themselves to be prophets specially sent by God. History abounds in accounts of these deluded beings, and of their temporary success in working on the credulity of followers. For the sake of general information, and, if possible, to guard simple-minded people from being deceived by the claims of all such pretenders, we present the following account of a few of the principal religious impostors, or at least self-deceived fanaticism of  modem times commencing with:

MUNZER AND BOCKHOLT

In the year 1525, amid the turmoil of the Reformation, there arose a remarkable sect in Germany, headed by a fanatic named Thomas Munzer, who declared himself to be an inspired prophet. The members of the sect pretended to be the peculiar favorites of Heaven, the chosen instruments of God to effect the millennium reign of Christ on earth. They believed that they had familiar personal intercourse with the Deity that they were on an equal footing with the prophets and apostles of old, and were armed against all opposition by the power of working miracles. Their pretended visions, miracles, and prophecies soon kindled the flame of fanaticism in the minds of the peasants. Their prophet and leader at length took the field, attended by his deluded followers, with the intention of overturning all governments and laws, giving as a reason that the world was now to be governed by the founder of Christianity in person. The Elector of Saxony and other princes raised an army to withstand the dangerous pretensions of the sect.

About five thousand were slain in battle, the leader of the mob was executed, and the fanaticism apparently quelled.

A few years later a similar delusion was propagated in Westphalia, a district in Lower Germany, by John Bockholt, a tailor by profession, and a native of Leyden, in Holland “hence his popular name of John of Leyden. This man, with the aid of a few equally infatuated zealots, began to spread his doctrines in Munster, the capital of Westphalia, in the year 1533, and, as in all similar cases, soon gained listeners, some of whom became believers in his pretensions.

John of Leyden, like a number of his predecessors, assumed the character of a temporal prince. He persuaded his credulous followers that a new spiritual kingdom was to be established, and that Munster was to be its capital, whence laws should be sent forth to govern all the kings of the earth. This presumptuous idea was flattering to the mob, and the Leyden tailor gained continual gathering of adherents. As he went on, even the learned, including some monks, joined his sect, until at length he found himself powerful enough to venture on his great project. His followers rose suddenly in arms, attacked and deposed the magistrates, and became masters of the city. Immediately afterwards John of Leyden was proclaimed king of the New Jerusalem.

We have said nothing of the doctrines or personal doings of the man who thus got the sway of a great city containing many thousands of people. His extravagances are almost incredible. He married eleven wives, to shew his approbation of the polygamy which prevailed in the times of other kings of Jerusalem; and to further compare himself to a particular king of the Hebrews, he ran or madly danced, without apparel, through the streets of Munster.

Other most offensive and pernicious acts were daily committed by this mock-monarch, whom it is charity to set down as insane. He of course saw visions and dreamt dreams in abundance. In one dream it was communicated to him, he said, that the cities of Amsterdam, Deventer, and Wesel were given to him as his own.

He accordingly sent disciples or bishops thither to spread his new kingdom. In the state of the public mind at the period, these religious embassies were not, as they appear now, ridiculous. The Amsterdam envoy gathered so many proselytes, that he attempted to seize on the city. He marched his followers to the town-house on a given day, with drums beating and colors flying. Having seized on the house, he fixed his head-quarters there; but the burghers rose, and with some regular troops surrounded the fanatics; the whole of them were put to death in a severe manner, in order to intimidate others of the class.

It may well be imagined that the city of Munster was in a dreadful condition under John of Leyden, it being a doctrine of the sect that all things should be in common among the faithful; and they also taught that civil magistrates were utterly useless. Hence enormous crimes, as well as ridiculous follies, were practiced continually –real enthusiasm of belief adding to the evil rather than diminishing it. The following incident is the only one descriptive of the insane and scandalous practices of the sect which we shall venture to record –a specimen is enough. Twelve of them met, five being women, in a Private house. One of the men, a tailor by trade, having prayed for four hours in a sort of trance, then took off his garments, and throwing them into the flames, commanded the rest to do the same. All did so; and the whole subsequently went out to the streets, which they paraded, crying, ‘Woe! Woe! Woe to Babylon!’ and the like. Being seized and taken before a magistrate, they refused to dress themselves, saying, ‘We are the naked truth!’ Were it not for the sequel, we might simply feel disgust at this, as the doing, possibly, of shameless profligates. But when these very persons, instead of being placed in lunatic asylums, were taken to the scaffold, they sang and danced for joy, and died with all the marks of sincere religious enthusiasm.

John of Leyden did not long enjoy the throne of Munster. Its rightful sovereign and bishop, Count Waldeck, aided by other petty princes of Germany, assembled an army and marched against the city. The fanatics shut its gates and resisted; nor was it until after an obstinate siege that the occupants were overcome. The mock-monarch was taken, and suffered a cruel death, with great numbers of his wrong-headed associates.

The popular hallucination, however, did not end here. The severe laws which were enacted after the deaths of Munzer and Bockholt, in order to check the spread of their principles, were of no preventive value; perhaps the reverse. We are told by Mosheim, that immediately after the taking of Munster, ‘the innocent and the guilty were often involved in the same terrible fate, and prodigious numbers were devoted to death in the most dreadful forms.’ There is proof, too, as in the single case detailed, that even where great profligacy characterized their peculiar course of conduct, there was often mixed up with it such an amount of sincerity as ought to make us think of them with pity as beings laboring under a strange delusion, rather than blame them as persons erring under the common impulses leading to vice. ‘In almost all the countries of Europe, an unspeakable number of these wretches preferred death in its worst forms to a retraction of their errors. Neither the view of the flames kindled to consume them, nor the ignominy of the gibbet, nor the terrors of the sword, could shake their invincible but ill-placed constancy, or induce them to abandon tenets that appeared dearer to them than life and all its enjoyments.’ The more enlightened policy of modern times would either leave alone such unhappy beings, or consign them to the humane treatment of a lunatic asylum.

RICHARD BROTHERS

Richard Brothers was born in Newfoundland in 1760, and for several years served as a midshipman and lieutenant in the British royal navy. In the year 1784 a reduction of the navy took place, and he was paid off, to live for the future upon an allowance of three shillings a day. No particular eccentricities of conduct were described or noticed.

Brothers up to the year 1790, when his understanding, according to his own shewing, began first to be really ‘enlightened; although,’ says he, ‘I had always a presentiment of being some time or other very great.’ The enlightenment took the shape of an objection to the oath which he was obliged by form to take in receiving his half-yearly pay, and which bears to be a ‘voluntary’ attestation that he had not received the benefit of public employment during the term for which he draws his salary. Mr. Brothers found here a difficulty which seems really somewhat puzzling. ‘I do not wish,’ he reasoned, ‘to take any oath if I can possibly avoid it, and yet part of my attestation is, that I swear voluntarily. This makes me utter and sign a falsehood, as the oath is compulsory, my pay not being procurable without it.’ The head of the Admiralty (the Earl of Chatham) would not depart from the ordinary form in such cases, and Mr. Brothers was left half starving, for the space of a year or so, on the horns of this dilemma. Anxiety of mind appears to have given the decisive bent, at this period, to his awakening fanatical tendencies.

The next tidings which we have of Mr. Brothers result from the application, in 1791, of Mrs. Green, a lodging-housekeeper in Westminster, to one of the workhouses in that district, expecting a lodger of hers who owed her thirty-three pounds, and whom she was unable to keep any longer, as his conscience would not allow him to draw the pay due to him from the Admiralty. The workhouse board pitied the poor woman, who spoke highly of the honesty, good temper, and moral conduct of her lodger. They sent for Mr. Brothers. ‘His appearance,’ says a writer who was present, ‘prepossessed me greatly in his favor. He seemed about thirty years of age, tall, and well-formed, and shewed in his address and manner much mildness and gentility.’ He answered questions calmly, though his replies were all tinctured with fanaticism. The issue was, that the board took him off Mrs. Green’s hands for a time, and stated the case fully to the Admiralty; which body, on the score of the eccentricities deposed to by the widow, granted the pension to Mr. Brothers for the future without the oath.

Richard Brothers, comparatively easy in worldly circumstances, now came before the world as a prophet. He did not publish his ‘great’ works till 1794; but long before that time his prophetic announcements had been spread abroad, and he had made a mighty stir in the world. His house was constantly filled by persons of quality and fortune, of both sexes, and the street crowded with their carriages. There was at least one Member of Parliament, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, a gentleman known as a profound oriental scholar, and author of some highly valued compositions, who openly espoused the views and cause of Brothers, sounding his praises in the British senate, and supporting him by learned dissertations from the press.

Oxford divines did not disdain to enter the field as opponents of the new prophet; scores of pious enthusiasts ‘testified’ in his favor; thousands trembled at his denunciations of woe; and, in short, Richard Brothers became, what he ‘had always a presentiment of being some time or other –a very great man.’

To glance at the mass of absurdities –blasphemous in the extreme, if viewed as the outpourings of mental sanity –which men thus allowed to arrest their attention, excites a sense alike of the painful and ludicrous. That the man was neither more nor less than a confirmed lunatic, appears on the face of every chapter. If there was any admixture of imposture in the case, certainly self-delusion was the prevailing feature. The following selections, which, so far from being the most gross specimens of his ravings, are only such as may without impropriety be set down here, will satisfy every reader of the diseased organization of the prophet’s head. He calls his work, which appeared in two books, A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies and Times, with a further heading which could scarcely be repeated. He had found out in his visions that his ancestors had been Jews, though ‘separated from that race for fifteen hundred years, such a length of time as to make them forget they ever belonged to the name.’ The discovery of his Hebrew descent was an essential point, as the prophet was to be the ‘prince and restorer of the Jews by the year 1798.’ Absurd enough as this assumed genealogy was, what term should be applied to the further assumption, was defended by Mr. Halhed in parliament, –that such a descent would render him ‘nephew’ to the Divine Being!

One of Brothers’s more important prophecies was, that London would be destroyed in 1791; and will it be credited that such a piece of nonsense should at the time have created great uneasiness in the minds of many persons in the metropolis? To finish the farce, London was not destroyed at the time predicted; but that only gave the prophet grounds for self-laudation: it was saved by his interposition! He describes minutely what the state of things would otherwise have been, in order, no doubt, to make the sense of the escape stronger. ‘London would have formed a great bay or inlet of the channel; all the land between Windsor and the Downs would have been sunk, including a distance of eighteen miles on each side, to the depth of seventy fathoms, that no traces of the city might be ever found.’

Mr Brothers had many visions of solid temporal power and honors. In a vision he was shewn ‘the queen of England coming towards me, slow, trembling, and afraid. This was communicated to William Pitt in the month called June 1792. ‘In another vision he saw the English monarch rise from the throne, and humbly send him ‘a most magnificent star.’ What this meant the prophet could not at first tell, but it was ‘revealed’ to signify that entire power was given to him over the majesty of England. A letter describing the vision,’ with others to the king, queen, and Chancellor of the Exchequer were put into the penny post-office to, be sent by that conveyance, according to the directions I received on that head by revelation.’ But Brothers was still more direct in his announcements to the king of his coming fall. In his book he plainly says: ‘I tell you, George the Third, king of England, that immediately on my being revealed in London to the Hebrews as their prince, and to all nations as their governor, your crown must be delivered up to me, that all your power and authority may instantly cease.’ The ‘revelation’ spoken of was to be effected openly and visibly. ‘I am to take a rod and throw it on the ground, when it will be changed into a serpent; to take it in my hand again, when it will be re-changed into a rod.’

Can it be possible that ravings such as these, which are among the least objectionable in the book, brought carriages full of admiring people of quality to the door of Richard Brothers, and were defended by a learned senator of Britain? That they did so is undeniable; and here lies the apology for yet holding the case up to ridicule. But space and time enough have now been occupied with the task, and we must speedily draw to an end with Richard Brothers. He shewed most fully the extent of his self-delusion, perhaps, on the occasion of his visit to the House of Commons.

After formally announcing that he was about to do so, he went to that place for the purpose of prophesying to the members of wars and rumors of wars, and of directing them, as their true ‘king and minister of state,’ how to avoid the coming perils. Strange to say, the reckless speaker sent back the letter of the prophet with a messenger, who set him off with what he felt to be, ‘in such a public place particularly unfeeling contempt and incivility.’ But the House of Commons had not yet seen the last of Richard Brothers. On the 4th of March 1795 the poor prophet was taken into custody, ostensibly to answer a charge of high treason, founded on the printed passages relating to the king, but in reality to try the sanity of the man in a regular way. He was tried, and was declared by a jury to be insane. The imputation both of insanity and high treason was combated, in two long speeches in the House of Commons, by Mr Halhed, and these speeches shew both learning and ingenuity in no slight degree. But the case was too strong for Mr Halhed, and his motions fell to the ground unseconded.

Richard Brothers now fell under the care of the lord-chancellor as a lunatic, and passed the whole of his remaining days, we believe, in private confinement. Doubtless he would there be much more happy than in the midst of a world for which his unfortunate situation unfitted him. The victims of such illusions create a world of their own around them, and in imaginary intercourse with the beings that people it, find more pleasure than in any commerce with the material creation. Richard Brothers, as far as he lived at all for the ordinary world, lived only to give another proof of the strength of the superstitious feeling and love of the marvelous in man, as well as of the difficulty which even education has in repressing their undue exercise.

NEXT: Part Two. FEMALE FANATICS