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ON Tuesday the 13th of October, Mr. Whiston held his lecture, near the Royal Exchange, to an audience of fourteen worthy citizens, his subscribers and constant hearers. Beside these, there were five chance auditors for that night only, who had paid their shillings apiece. I think myself obliged to be very particular in this relation, lest my veracity should be suspected; which makes me appeal to the men, who were present; of which number, I myself was one. Their names are,
Henry Watson, haberdasher.
Henry Theobald, watchmaker.
William Bennet, D
Charles Lock, apprentices.
Mr. Whiston began by acquainting us, that (con
trary to his advertisement) he thought himself in duty and conscience obliged to change the subject matter of his intended discourse.—Here he paused, and seemed, for a short space, as it were, lost in devotion and mental prayer; after which, with great earnestness and vehemence, he spake as follows:
“Friends and fellow-citizens, all speculative science is at an end : the period of all things is at hand; on Friday next this world shall be no more. Put not your confidence in me, brethren; for to-morrow morning, five minutes after five, the truth will be evident; in that instant the comet shall appear, of which I have heretofore warned you. As ye have heard, believe. Go hence, and prepare your wives, your families, and friends, for the universal change.”
At this solemn and dreadful prediction, the whole
4. A a 4. SOC10t
society appeared in the utmost astonishment: but it would be unjust not to remember, that Mr. Whiston himself was in so calm a temper, as to return a shilling apiece to the youths, who had been disappointed of their lecture, which I thought, from a man of his integrity, a convincing proof of his own faith in the
prediction. As we thought it a duty in charity to warn all men, in two or three hours the news had spread through the city. At first indeed, our report met with but little credit; it being, by our greatest dealers in stocks, thought only a court artifice to sink them, that some choice favourites might purchase at a lower rate; for the South sea, that very evening, fell five per cent, the India eleven, and all the other funds in proportion. But, at the court end of the town, our attestations were entirely disbelieved, or turned into ridicule; yet nevertheless the news spread every where, and was the subject matter of all conversation. That very night (as I was credibly informed) Mr. Whiston was sent for to a great lady, who is very curious in the learned sciences, and addicted to all the speculative doubts of the most able philosophers; but he was not now to be found; and since, at other times, he has been known not to decline that honour, I make no doubt he concealed himself to attend the great business of his soul: but whether it was the lady's faith, or inquisitiveness, that occasioned her to send, is a point I shall not presume to determine. As for his being sent for to the secretary's office by a messenger, it is now known to be a matter notoriously false, and indeed at first it had little credit with me, that so zealous and honest a man should be ordered into custody, as a seditious preacher, who is known [Q to be so well affected to the present happy establishInent. It was now I reflected, with exceeding trouble and sorrow, that I had disused family prayers for above five years, and (though it has been a custom of late entirely neglected by men of any business or station) I determined within myself no longer to omit so reasonable and religious a duty. I acquainted my wife with my intentions: but, two or three neighbours having been engaged to sup with us that night, and many hours being unwarily spent at cards, I was prevailed upon by her to put it off till the next day; she reasoning, that it would be time enough to take off the servants from their business (which this practice must infallibly occasion for an hour or two every day) after the comet had made its appearance. Zachary Bowen, a quaker, and my next neighbour, had no sooner heard of the prophecy, but he made me a visit. I informed him of every thing I had heard, but found him quite obstinate in his unbelief; for, said he, be comforted, friend, thy tidings are impossibilities; for, were these things to happen, they must have been foreseen by some of our brethren. This indeed (as in all other spiritual cases with this set of people) was his only reason against believing me ; and, as he was fully persuaded that the prediction was erroneous, he in a very neighbourly manner admonished me against selling my stock at the present low price, which, he said, beyond dispute, must have a rise before Monday, when this unreasonable consternation should be over. * But on Wednesday morning (I believe to the exact calculation of Mr. Whiston) the comet appeared: for,
at three minutes after five by my own watch, I saw it. it. He indeed foretold, that it would be seen at five minutes after five; but, as the best watches may be a minute or two too slow, I am apt to think his calculation just to a minute. In less than a quarter of an hour, all Cheapside was crowded with a vast concourse of people, and notwithstanding it was so early, it is thought that, through all that part of the town, there was not man, woman, or child, except the sick or infirm, left in their beds. From my own balcony, I am confident, I saw several thousands in the street, and counted at least seventeen, who were upon their knees, and seemed in actual devotion. Eleven of them, indeed, appeared to be old women of about fourscore; the six others were men in an advanced life, but (as I could guess) two of them might be under seventy. It is highly probable, that an event of this nature may be passed over by the greater historians of our times, as conducing very little or nothing to the unravelling and laying open the deep schemes of politicians, and mysteries of state; for which reason, I thought it might not be unacceptable to record the facts, which, in the space of three days, came to my knowledge, either as an eyewitness, or from unquestionable authorities; nor can I think this narrative will be entirely without its use, as is may enable us to form a more just idea of our countrymen in general, particularly in regard to their faith, religion, morals, and politicks. Before Wednesday noon, the belief was universal, that the day of judgment was at hand, insomuch, that a waterman of my acquaintance told me, he counted no less than one hundred and twenty-three clergymen, who had been ferried over to Lambeth before twelve o'clock: