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1813: Doctors Differ, or. Dame Nature against the College. * Four physicians have quarrelled in consultation over the nature of their patient's malady, and the proper mode of administering to his relief. Unable to convince one another, they wax so warm in argument that they speedily proceed from words to blows. “I say,” shouts one (beneath the feet of the other three), “ I say it is an exfoliation of the glands which has fallen on the membranous coils of the intestines, and must be thrown off by an emetic.” “I say,” says another, raising at the same time his cane to protect his head, “I say it is a pleurisie in the thigh, and must be sweated away." “You are a blockhead !" cries a third, furiously striking at him with his professional cane. “I say it is a nervous affection of the cutis, and the patient must immediately lose eighteen ounces of blood, and then take a powerful drastic.” “What are you quarrelling about?" asks a fourth, arresting the downfall of his professional brother's cane. “You are all wrong! I say it is an inflammation in the os sacrum, and therefore fourteen blisters must be immediately applied to the part affected and the adjacents.” The table is down, and the prescriptions of the learned doctors covered with the ink which flows from the ruined inkstand. The amused patient (whom nature has meanwhile relieved of the cause and effect) watches the combat from the adjoining bedroom, and makes preparations to retreat and save both his “pocket and his life.”
The year 1814 was marked by the bursting of one of the most extraordinary religious bubbles with which England has ever been scandalized. The person identified with and responsible for the craze to which we allude, was Joanna Southcott, the daughter of a farmer residing at the village of Gettisham, in Devonshire, where she herself was born in the month of April, 1750. At the time, therefore, the imposture was made patent to such of her deluded followers as retained any remnants of the small stock of com
* A caricature entitled Doctors Differ, according to Mr. Grego (published in 1785) is due to Rowlandson. It is possible, therefore, that the present one, although not in Rowlandson's style, may be a reproduction.
mon sense with which nature had originally endowed them, Joanna was sixty-four years of age.
The village girl appears to have been a constant reader of the Scriptures, which she studied with so much enthusiasm, that a strong religious bias was established, which took almost entire possession of her mind. Still, no marked peculiarity was manifested until after she had attained forty years of age, at which time we find her employed as a workwoman at an upholsterer's shop at Exeter. The proprietor being a Methodist, the shop was visited by ministers of that persuasion, and Joanna, with her "serious turn of mind,” was not only permitted to join in their discussions, but was regarded by these harmless folk somewhat in the light of a prodigy. To a mind predisposed to religious mania (for it would be unjust to stigmatize Joanna altogether as a wilful impostor) the result was peculiarly unfortunate; she was visited with dreams, which she quickly accepted as spiritual manifestations, instead of being, as they really were, indications of a disordered digestion.
Two years afterwards Joanna retired from secular business, and set up as a prophetess at Exeter. She declared herself to be the woman spoken of as “the bride,” “the Lamb's wife,” the “woman clothed with the sun.” The county lunatic asylum might have done good at this point; but its wholesome discipline, unfortunately, was not resorted to. She published in 1801 her first inspired book, “ The Strange Effects of Faith," which absolutely brought five "wise men of Gotham” to inquire into her pretensions from different parts of England. Three of these learned pundits were Methodist parsons, and these three parsons declared themselves satisfied that the mission of Joanna was a divine one. It is needless to add that in England, no matter how absurd the nature of a so-called divine mission, it is safe and certain to attract believers; and by the year 1803 the doctrines of Joanna Southcott were eagerly swallowed by numerous simpletons in various parts of the country.
Thus fortified, Joanna issued a manifesto, in which she stated her calling and pretensions : we set it out in all the original baldness of its composition :
“I, Joanna Southcott, am clearly convinced that my calling is of God, and my writings are indited by His Spirit, as it is impossible for any spirit but an all-wise God, that is wondrous in working, wondrous in wisdom, wondrous in power, wondrous in truth, could have brought round such mysteries, so full of truth, as is in my writings; so I am clear in whom I have believed, that all my writings came from the spirit of the most high God.”
Joanna was clear in whom she believed, and her followers were equally “clear” in their belief in Joanna. This incoherent nonsense was signed in the presence of fisty-eight simpletons, all of whom expressed their confidence in the inspired mission of their precious prophetess.
Her disciples rapidly increased, and she visited in her apostolic character, Bristol, Leeds, Stockport, and other large centres, ob
taining numerous converts everywhere. Among them was the i celebrated engraver, William Sharp; and to the last this man, who
out of his calling was the veriest simpleton living, and who had swallowed successively the doctrines of Richard Brothers, Wright, Bryan, and Joanna, believed in the divine mission of this unincarcerated luratic.
Although Joanna did not (like Joseph Smith) discover a book, she discovered a seal, which one of her disciples is said to have picked up in a dust-heap at Clerkenwell. With this miraculously acquired talisman the spirit ordered her to “seal up the people,” and as “the people” were limited to one hundred and forty-four thousand, and each of the elect had to pay a sum varying at different times from a guinea to twelve shillings, or even lower, for the privilege of being “sealed up,” the scheme promised at first to turn out a comfortably profitable one. Into the details of the “sealing" it is unnecessary for us to enter. Suffice it to say that the numbers of the “sealed,” up to 1808, when for some unexplained reason the process appears to have been discontinued, exceeded six thousand simpletons; the numbers of
her deluded followers in the metropolis and its vicinity alone, are supposed at one time to have amounted to a hundred thousand.
Joanna was a coarse, common-place, and somewhat corpulent woman; she dressed in a plain, quaker-like garb, in a gown of Calimancoe, with a shawl and bonnet of drab colour. The three leading preachers in her chapel in Southwark (her great stronghold), were a Mr. Carpenter, who, after learning his business, set up as a prophet on his own account; a Mr. Foley, and a lath.render named Tozer. She had chapels also in Spitalfields, Greenwich, Twickenham, and Gravesend.
The scribblings in prose and verse of this illiterate creature, instead of being committed to the waste paper basket, were solemnly preserved and received as prophecies. Attacked at last with dropsy, her delusions assumed the following objectionable form: she prophesied, and Sharp and his fellow-disciples-some of whom were men of fair education-actually believed, that Christ was to be born again under the name of “Shiloh," and that she, Joanna, at the age of sixty-five, was to be the mother. The revelation which proclaimed the miraculous accouchement was worded as follows: “This year , in the sixty-fifth year of thy age, thou shalt have a son by the power of the Most High ; which if they (the Hebrews) receive as their prophet, priest, and king, then I will restore them to their own land, and cast out the heathen for their sakes, as I cast out them when they cast out Me, by rejecting Me as their Saviour, Prince, and King, for which I said I was born, but not at that time to establish My kingdom."
One might have imagined that this gibberish would open the eyes of some at least of her votaries: their insane enthusiasm, on the contrary, increased. Joanna was absolutely inundated with the “freewill” offerings of the faithful—a costly cradle, white robes, pinafores, shoes of satin and worsted, Aannel shirts, napkins, blankets, silver spoons, pap-boats, mugs, silver tea-pots, sugarbasins, tongs, and corals, -absolutely without number. The absurdity of the simpletons who sent these offerings was severely criticised, both in England and on the Continent; and by way apparently of answering her traducers, Joanna inserted an apostolical advertisement in the Morning Chronicle of Thursday, 22nd Sep. tember, 1814, and in the Courier of Friday, 23rd, in which she stated that, in consequence of the false and malicious reports in circulation respecting herself, she was desirous of treating for "a spacious and ready-furnished house to be hired for three months, in which her accouchement may take place in the presence of such competent witnesses as shall be appointed by proper authority to prove her character to the world.” The appointed day—the 29th of October—however passed by, and the prophecy remained of course unfulfilled, although, in the manufacturing towns of the north, crowds of the faithful assembled to wait the arrival of the couches, in expectation of tidings of the great manifestation. The satire entitled, Delivering a Prophetess (in vol. 8 of “The Scourge "), has reference to the actual event which occurred on the 27th of December, 1814, when death relieved Joanna of her delusions and her dropsy; the wretched creature declaring on her deathbed that, “if she had been deceived, she had at all events been the sport of some spirit, good or evil.” Joanna forms the subject of one of Rowlandson's caricatures of 1814, Joanna Southcott, the Prophetess, Excommunicating the Bishops, published by Tegg on the 20th of September, 1814. We shall also have to refer to her again when we treat of the caricatures of George Cruiksbank.
This year (1814) the Princess Charlotte, heiress presumptive actually ran away in a hackney coach, to avoid being affianced to the Prince of Orange, to whom Her Royal Highness evinced an invincible repugnance. The event is referred to in a caricature entitled, Flebeian Spirit, or Coachee and the Heiress Presumptive (published by Fores on the 25th of July), which shows us the princess emerging from Warwick House, followed by Britannia (who raises her hands in a suppliant attitude), and the dejected British lion. “Coachman, will you protect me?” she appeals to the driver. “Yes, yes, your Highness,” replies the fellow, “to the last drop of my blood !” A servant in the royal livery holds up his hands