to other English cities in the early 1790s. The poet and illustrator, William Blake, was drawn to the Swedenborgian belief in the coming of the New Jerusalem. Some visionaries revived the teachings of the Muggletonians, an obscure seventeenth-century sect; for them, the age of the Holy Spirit had begun and the reign of the saints was imminent. Others were drawn to the belief, rooted in the eschatological claims of the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, that the Second Coming of Christ would be immediately preceded by the restoration of the Jews to the holy land. The rational Dissenter, Joseph Priestley, came to believe that the restoration of the Jews was imminent. In 1793, he declared in a sermon that the three great prophecies of Scripture -the fall of the papal Antichrist, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the restoration of the Jews to the holy land - were now being fulfilled. He was convinced that he would personally witness Christ's return in glory.
In the mid-i79os, Richard Brothers, a retired naval officer, proclaimed himself to be the nephew of God and king of the Hebrews, and prophesied the destruction of London by earthquake. He promised to gather all the Jews, including the 'hidden Jews' who had assimilated into gentile society and lost their identity, and lead them back to the holy land in anticipation of the millennium. His prophetic claims attracted a following. All the madmen and enthusiasts in England', observed the poet Robert Southey in 1807, 'made a common cause with this King of the Hebrews'. 'One madman', Southey continued, printed his dreams, another his day-visions; one had seen an angel come out of the sun with a sword drawn 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 . . . began to believe that the seven seals were about to be opened, and the wonders of the Apocalypse would be displayed.12
Brothers was declared insane in 1795 and placed in a private asylum, where he remained until 1806. By then, his influence was eclipsed by that of a new prophetess, Joanna Southcott, a labouring woman from Devon, who had begun conveying divine messages in 1792 and who came to London in 1802. Claiming to be the 'woman clothed in the sun' as described in Revelation 12, she also insisted that she had been called by the Holy Spirit to 'seal' believers in advance of the Last Judgement, which was fast approaching. For her, the French Revolution was a visitation from God, a final summons to the world to turn from sin. By 1814, some 20,000 people, mainly from the London artisan classes, had received her seal. Southcott promised to give birth to Shiloh, a
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