Southcott, Joanna

Southcott, Joanna, a noted enthusiast, was born about 1750 at Gittisham, in Devonshire. She was the daughter of a farmer at St. Mary Ottery's, in Devonshire, and, until her name became celebrated, she obtained her living as a domestic servant. Her case is a very curious one, both in the history of psychology and of religious enthusiasm. From her mother, who lived till Joanna had reached the age of womanhood, she received the most exalted religious ideas, the exuberance of which her father often felt himself called upon to check: she was still, however, a sober member of the Church of England. At length she joined the early morning and evening meetings of the Wesleyans, and in 1792 associated exclusively with that body; but she was soon expelled from it on account of her pretended visions. The religious exercises to which Joanna was thus introduced seem to have, produced, as exciting causes, her remarkable visions and dreams, which soon took the form of prophecies, and commanded universal attention. Some of her predictions received a remarkable fulfilment, especially that which she published immediately after the conclusion of the Peace of Amiens, in 1801; for she then derided the joy of the nation, and. gave the solemn assurance that a calamitous series of wars were about to break out, the events of which would be more terrible than any on record. At a later period, she as solemnly asserted that Napoleon would never land in England, and that his power would be overthrown. The visions which formed the ground of these prophecies are often very striking as dramatic pictures, and the rude doggerel of her prophetic chants as frequently becomes picturesque, if once the cultivated mind can overcome the disgust first excited by their uncouthness, and their deficiency in common grammatical correctness. She began the publication of her prophetic pamphlets in 1794, and about 1804 was brought up to London and lodged at the West End by some of her admirers, many of whom were persons of consideration in society. Soon after this event, an old man named Thomas Dowland and a poor boy named Joseph also had visions, and a paper manufacturer named Carpenter (in whose employment they were) finally published many of them. We mention them here, however, because this Carpenter, conceiving himself to be the "right man" of Joanna's prophecies, finally took her place as the chief of the sect who followed her, having first led the secession When she was believed by the more enlightened of her followers to have fallen under a delusion. That delusion consisted in the belief that she was destined to bring forth Shiloh, or the Messiah, and its origin is explained by Carpenter as the result of her believing that she was the Church, or bride, itself, instead of its shadow or representative. We may here mention that previous to its arrival at this idolatrous pitch, which it is still painful to contemplate, Joanna had occupied a year in "sealing" her followers, generally hut most unjustly regarded as a mere trick to make money. The old mall Dowland expired in 1804, ten years after the commencement of his, Joseph's, and Joanna's prophecies, and 1814 was fixed upon by her for the birth of Shiloh. She was deceived by appearances, and expired on the 27th of December in that year, having previously declared her conviction that "if she was deceived, she had, at all events, been the sport of some spirit, good or evil." The whole case, like many others of the kind, may be explained by the easily ascertained laws of psychology. The appearance which Joanna mistook for pregnancy was the result of a diseased condition, explained when her body was opened. The prevailing thought of her writings is the redemption of man by the agency of woman, the supposed cause of his fall. SEE SOUTHCOTTIANS.

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