"A pathless Comet,
The menace of the Universe;
Still rolling on with innate force,
Without a sphere, without a course."
The year had no sooner opened than fanaticism, which had been held more or less in abeyance, now broke loose. Before this, the impending cataclysm seemed far away, but now the days were slipping by and the nerves of those who had accepted Prophet Miller's calculations began to feel on edge. Even the unbelievers and the scoffers insensibly felt the influence of the constant reiterations of the fact that the end of all things was at hand. The newspapers were full of it. The public talked of it, and discussed the possibilities of it in lecture halls; on the street corners; in all places where groups of people met together. The orthodox clergy were filled with dismay at finding a nervous dread percolating through their congregations. Wherever Prophet Miller and his co-workers held meetings, the crowds gathered, and among them were many who belonged to denominations strongly opposed to the approaching Second Advent doctrine, as interpreted by Prophet Miller. In a frantic effort to stem the tide of delusion the Bishop of Vermont, the Reverend John Henry Hopkins, D.D., wrote as follows, in an article which was published in pamphlet form and given a wide circulation:
"Full of presumption and of peril do we consider the attempt to fix the day or the year of our Lord's coming. Full of presumption because Christ himself declares, 'of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of God, but my Father only.' And again, 'It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power.' Full of presumption because one man sets himself above the thousands upon thousands of all the teachers, preachers, confessors, and martyrs that have gone before him. Full of presumption because St. Peter declares 'that no prophecy is of any private interpretation' (St. Peter, 1st-26th), and yet it is nothing but private interpretation that is offered us; and although it be, indeed, with as much confidence as if it were sanctioned by the consent of the whole Church of God.
"The scheme under consideration claims for its author a man of strong mind and much native talent. And we freely acknowledge that his lectures and chart display uncommon ingenuity and great familiarity with the Scriptures. It appears to have been the main object of his studies for several years of his life to master the difficulties of unfulfilled prophecy, and the result, whether he be right or wrong, is at least a very remarkable proof of persevering concentration of thought, and has secured for him thus far an extraordinary measure of public attention and notoriety . Many, very many visionary enthusiasts have undertaken to warn mankind of the approaching judgment - and never yet have they failed in obtaining a numerous auditory and a willing ear. Powerful excitement, extravagant wildness, the intoxication of fanaticism, the ravings of madness, have all followed in their train. And yet, alas! - these were called the fruits of the study of prophecy - as if the Word of God, in the strongest and clearest terms, had not pronounced against the possibility of our foreknowing the time of our Lord's appearing; as if in the very last chapter of Holy Scripture the Almighty had not pronounced wrath upon the 'adding to the word of prophecy' - a sin which we fear is but too often unwittingly committed by the presumptuous inferences of human calculation.
"Contemplating, therefore, the
history of the past, no intelligent or instructed mind can wonder
at the success, as it is unhappily considered, of the present
delusion. And since it has been unfortunately chosen by the Author
that a whole year shall be assigned for the fulfillment of his
prediction, instead of contenting himself with a day, like most
of his predecessors, we should naturally be led to anticipate
that the excitement would increase as the time announced draws
near to its termination - so that if already so many deplorable
examples of extravagance have occurred, it is hard to imagine
the awful extent to which they may be carried when the last week
of the allotted period begins to run. In this respect the scheme
under consideration is more mischievous than any which has yet
been inflicted on the community, for it keeps the intense fever
of fanaticism burning for more than a year, whereas in the other
cases a single day brought the disorder to its crisis, and therefore
the patients were more likely to recover." [Published
The Reverend Abel C. Thomas was another clergyman who strove to educate the public. He was a Universalist, and was settled in Lowell as pastor to the Second Church in 1843, having had a call there from Philadelphia. He was a learned man whose opinion was valued.
"The phrase 'the end of the world,'" he wrote, "occurs seven times in the New Testament. The Greek term rendered world is not kosmos (which signifies material world), but aion, which signifies era or age. Its meaning is well expressed when we speak of the Christian era, the Jewish era, the Elizabethan era - or Golden Age - the Dark Ages, and the like. The Disciples asked our Lord in a private interview, 'What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?' (aion.) In the reply of our Saviour he speaks thrice of the end - namely, the end of the world inquired for, and He assures His Disciples that the end would be before that generation passed away .
There is not a place
in Scripture where the end of kosmos is mentioned,
but the end of aion is seven times spoken of in the New
Testament. 'The Harvest is the end of the world' (aion). Matt.
XIII - verse 48. 'So shall it be at the end of the world' (aion)."
[A Complete Refutation
of Miller's Theory of the End of the World in 1843. Published
in 1843. See Appendix, pp. 263-64.]
It made little difference, however,
to the followers of Prophet Miller that the opposing clergy refuted
his theory. They were under the spell of a delusion that was
stronger than any argument denouncing it. They pointed to Daniel's
vision and to King Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and to their prophet's
interpretation of the ram, the he-goat, and exceeding Great Horn,
and the fulfillment of the prophecy. To this a counter-statement
was made, declaring that the eighth chapter of Daniel, which contained
the crux of Miller's theory according to his personal interpretation
of it, had nothing to do with the coming of Christ, or the setting
up of God's everlasting Kingdom. Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian
king, they claimed, was the central figure in the Prophet Daniel's
vision. The twenty-three hundred days spoken therein were to
be interpreted as half-days, amounting to eleven hundred and fifty
literal days, which were literally fulfilled by Antiochus and
his persecution of the Jews and the desecration of the Temple,
about one hundred and sixty years before Christ. [Our First
Century. Published in 1881.] But this failed to impress
the excited brains of those who were watching for the Great Day
- they believed in William Miller and his theory, and no amount
of lucid explanation from orthodox churches produced any effect
The following account of a scene that
occurred in Washington, written by a correspondent of the "Boston
Mercantile Journal" to the editor, will show how, in spite
of the efforts of the orthodox clergy to explain what they considered
to be the weak points of his arguments, the public, or a certain
portion of it, were hysterically eager to hear from Miller's own
lips his reasons for believing that the Day of Judgment was at
Washington, Jan. 22nd, 1843.
"I wrote you yesterday among other news that Mr. Miller, the end-of-the-world man, was here. It was announced yesterday, by hand-bills stuck up all over the city, that he would preach today (Sunday) at three o'clock P.M. from the steps of the Patent Office; and immediately after dinner, crowds were observed wending their way in that direction. The Commissioner of the Public Buildings, or some other officer, had had erected a barricade about halfway up the steps, for the purpose of keeping off the crowd; and when I went to the place of meeting, the space between Seventh and Ninth Streets, in front of the Patent Office, was nearly filled with people, their numbers variously estimated from five to ten thousand, of all sexes, ages, and colors. I should think there were over five thousand.
"The space above the barricades was guarded by police officers, who had permitted some few persons, principally members of Congress, to pass over, which filled some of the unfavored one with no little indignation, and the democratic spirit of the people began to work.
"A number of abortive attempts were made to pass the barrier, but, except for the privileged few, unsuccessfully. One person, however, more determined than the rest, showed fight, and was roughly handled by the officers, when the crowd, taking his part and presuming he was abused, made a rush to the barrier to break it down, but for the moment unsuccessfully. The crowd became, however, more calm until a gentleman, whom I understood to be a clergyman, stepped forward and said that he had been requested to inform the people before him 'that there was no certain information that Mr. Miller was in the city'; upon which a shout arose unlike anything I have heard since the shouts on Bunker Hill in September, 1840 - intermingled with cries of 'Hoax!' 'Humbug!' etc.
"The crowd, however, became still enough in a few minutes for the clergyman to continue his remarks which were as follows: 'As I said before, Mr. Miller is probably not in the city; but as it is a pity that such a concourse should be entirely disappointed of receiving benefit on such a day, I think it would be well for you to call on a distinguished gentleman, Mr. Briggs, a member of Congress from Massachusetts, to give you a temperance address. He is now on the platform.'
"Cries of 'Briggs!' 'Briggs!' ensued;
but Mr. Briggs had no notion of being called on in this unceremonious
manner, and though urgently solicited by his friends, declined.
The crowd, perceiving there was to be no 'fun' made for them,
determined to make some for themselves; and again rushing against
the barricade, this time successfully, succeeded in obtaining
a footing on the platform, and drove the privileged ones, ladies
and all, through the Patent Office - the door of which was
kicked open - into the basement, and from thence into the street;
and then, as far as I know, quietly dispersed."
It was thought by many that mischievous
persons had printed and distributed the hand-bills in order to
fool the public, but no authentic explanation was ever forthcoming.
Mr. Miller's biographer gives an account of the actions of a vast audience that crowded the large hall of the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia to hear the Prophet speak in February. He lectured from the 3rd to the 10th. Every evening the people flocked to the lectures, but one evening, the evening of the 7th, he had a very agitating experience. The crowd had begun to arrive very early, and the hall was filled to its utmost capacity.
"When the lecture commenced," Elder Bliss asserts, "the crowd and confusion were so great as to render it almost impossible to hear the speaker; and it was thought best, after notifying the people what was to be done and giving an opportunity for all who wished to do so to go out - to close the doors and thus secure silence. This was done, and the speaker proceeded to his subject. For about half an hour there was profound silence, and deep interest was evinced by the immense audience, with the exception of a few unruly boys. This would have undoubtedly continued, had it not been for the circumstance of a lady fainting, and it becoming necessary to open the doors for her to go out. When the door was opened, there was a rush of persons who stood outside for admittance. As soon as this was done, and a few had come into the room, an unruly boy raised the cry of 'Fire!' which threw the whole assembly into confusion, some crying one thing, and some another. There did not appear to be any disposition on the part of the multitude to disturb the meeting; but all came from the rush and the cry. The disorder arose more from the excited fears of the people than from any other cause.
"Order was again restored, and
the speaker proceeded for a few moments when another rush was
made, and the excitement became so great within as to render it
expedient to dismiss the meeting. The police of the city were
willing to do what they could, but there was nothing for them
to do; for they could not govern the excited nerves of the audience."
A few evenings later, the multitude
again assembled, and excitement again prevailed so that the owners
of the hall became alarmed and ordered the meetings to be discontinued.
When Prophet Miller announced this fact,
it was unexpected, and the audience was moved beyond expression.
"Probably more than a thousand persons arose to testify
their faith in the truth of the near Advent," Elder Bliss
continues, "and three or four hundred of the unconverted
arose to request an interest in his prayers. Mr. Miller closed
the service by a most feeling and appropriate prayer and the benediction."
In contrast to the days when, unmolested, he could preach his doctrine throughout the rural districts, Miller now suddenly found himself attacked on all sides - many even declaring him to be insane. The editor of the "Gazette and Advertiser" of Long Island commented that upon this last statement, after having interviewed him in February, 1843:
"Our curiosity was recently gratified
by an introduction to this gentleman, who has probably been an
object of more abuse, ridicule, and blackguardism than any other
man now living. A large number of the veracious editors of the
political and religious newspapers have assured us that Mr. Miller
was totally insane, and sundry preachers have confirmed this assurance.
We were somewhat surprised to hear him converse with a coolness
and soundness of judgment which made us whisper to ourselves:
'I this be madness, then there is method in it.'"
A great many articles, written for the
purpose of refuting his doctrine, were answered by Miller, but,
if this was a tax on his strength, it was as nothing to what was
now proving to be a distinct menace to his cause, namely, the
uncanny influence which was being exerted over great numbers of
persons of all ages by a Congregational minister, the Reverend
John Starkweather by name, who had graduated from the Theological
Seminary at Andover and who had now ostensibly become one of his
followers. At one time this gentleman had been pastor of the
Marlborough Chapel in Boston, and while occupying that pulpit
had acquired a reputation of very extreme sanctity, so much so
that when Elder Himes left his own pulpit to travel all over the
country to warn people that the end of the world was near at hand,
he chose him as one eminently fitted to take charge of his congregation
at the Chardon Street Chapel during his absence.
Now the Reverend John Starkweather was
noted among his parishioners as a handsome man. He had a fine
figure and prepossessing manners, and a voice that exerted a most
extraordinary influence over those who listened to it. No one
could explain what constituted the charm of it, or the compelling
power in it, but he had hardly started preaching before the chapel
was crowded to its doors. It very soon became evident that he
held strange and exceedingly peculiar beliefs of his own which
had not been put forth before, and these he proceeded to instill
into the already agitated minds of Elder Himes's flock. The one
he laid the greatest stress upon was that real conversion must
not only be of the spirit, but must be manifested in the body
as well, and before any one realized what the effect of such a
doctrine would be, hundreds who listened to him began to fall
in cataleptic trances, and others were seized with epileptic fits
and rolled upon the ground writhing as though in agony, while
still others lost all their strength and sank in heaps, apparently
too feeble to sit upright. When demonstrations of this sort happened,
he declared them to be signs of the power of God cleansing their
souls of sin. He called it the "sealing power," and
those who did not experience it immediately sought vigorously
to attain it - usually succeed so well as to strike terror and
awe in those who were not yet wholly prepared to accept this dangerous
By the time Elder Himes returned from
his travels, he found his congregation in the throes of the wildest
fanaticism, and the outside public in a ferment of indignation
and disgust. History had proved that Prophet Miller and Elder
Himes as well, were past-masters at stirring a congregation or
the crowds in a lecture hall up to a high pitch of hysterical
excitement, but neither of them was for a moment ready to countenance
any such manifestations as were induced by the peculiar influence
exerted by the Reverend John Starkweather.
At first they questioned whether he
consciously exerted this power; but it did not take them long
to find out that not only did he consciously exert it, but he
did so wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself.
They realized also that such proceedings as were now taking place
in the Chardon Street Chapel would place all of those connected
with the Miller doctrine in disrepute, as the author of the proceedings
openly called himself a follower of Prophet Miller. Elder Himes
undertook to remonstrate with him, but to no avail. Finally things
came to such a pass that something definite had to be done to
warn those who were crowding to the meetings at the chapel that
it was not a spiritual force that was throwing them into fits
and contortions, but the mesmeric influence of the Reverend John
Starkweather; - such influence being evil and to be shunned by
every one who claimed to be a Christian. Accordingly he went
to one of the meetings when as usual a crown of deluded men and
women and even children were thronging the doors, and he managed
to make a public protest against what had been happening there
during his absence. Mr. Starkweather immediately arose and became
so vehement that, according to Elder Bliss, "Mr. Himes felt
justified in again addressing the audience, and exposing the nature
of the exercises that had appeared among them and their pernicious
"This," he goes on to say,
"so shocked the sensibilities of those who regarded them
as the great power of God that they cried out and stopped their
ears. Some jumped up on their feet, and some ran out of the house.
'You will drive out the Holy Ghost!' cried one. 'You are throwing
on cold water!' cried another. 'Throwing on cold water!' retorted
Mr. Himes. 'I would throw on the Atlantic Ocean before I would
be identified with such abominations as these, or suffer them
in this place unrebuked!'"
A stormy scene ensued, the result of
which was that the Reverend John Starkweather declared that he
and "the saints," as he called those addicted to falling
into fits, would no longer meet at the Marlborough Chapel, but
would find a more congenial place elsewhere; whereupon he marched
down the aisle and out of the door, followed by the congregation
and leaving Elder Himes standing alone by the reading-desk.
From this time on the Reverend John
Starkweather gathered about him a following wholly his own, but
Prophet Miller had to bear the brunt of the criticism aroused
by their immoderate behavior owing to the fact that the former
gentleman was as insistent that the world was coming to an end
as he was, therefore the public always supposed them to be true
The following anecdote gives an idea of the direful effects of Mr. Starkweather's mesmeric influence on the mentality of his admirers:
"As a specimen of the hallucination," Elder Bliss informs us, "on returning from a meeting a young man by the name of M_____ imagined that he had power to hold the cars from moving on the railroad by the mere effort of his will. As they were about starting, he said, 'Don't you go!' The wheels of the locomotive made several revolutions before the heavy train started. 'Now, go!' he said - and it moved. 'There!' said he, 'did I not stop the train?'"
The question was addressed to his father, who was duly impressed, and on their way home the young man became ambitious to make another demonstration of the power of the Spirit.
"'Father,' said he, 'do you believe I have the power of God?'
"'Yes,' said the father, who had been fascinated at the meeting.
"'Well, then, drive the horse on
to that rock by the roadside!' And he was obeyed - somewhat to
At another meeting, held at Windsor, Connecticut, something equally senseless occurred of which Elder Collins gave an account that same year in the "Signs of the Times":
"One female believed that as Peter walked on the sea by faith, so she, by faith, might walk across the Connecticut River, and resolved to make the attempt, but was prevented."
As a result of this interference Elder
Collins goes on to say: "They kept the meeting in confusion
for an hour or two, and would listen to no remonstrances."
It was now forced upon Prophet Miller's
mind that he was beginning to lose control of the situation.
He had, indeed, "sown the wind," and from every quarter
was coming the rumblings of the whirlwind.
In a state of hysterical enthusiasm
the self-made preachers of his doctrine now let loose their own
imaginings, and every town and village had its own version of
the great prophecy. Moreover, he was besieged by requests from
his impatient followers to name the day when the end was to come.
The indefiniteness of his prophecy in giving it a year in which
to fulfill itself made them restive.
About this time, according to Elder
Bliss, the "New York Herald" announced through its columns
that the Millerites had fixed upon April 3rd as the
day when the end would come, and this bit of news went the length
and breadth of the land. This led Professor Moses Stuart, who
had published a pamphlet refuting the theory upon which the prophecy
was based, to refer to Miller and his followers as "the men
of April 3rd, 1843."
"I would suggest," he says
in this pamphlet, "that in some way or other they have in
all probability made a small mistake as to the exact day of the
month when the great catastrophe takes place - the 1st
of April being evidently much more appropriate to the
arrangements than any other day in the year." [Hints,
2d ed., p. 173.]
To which the "New York Observer"
of February 11, 1843, responds approvingly, declaring that Professor
Stuart's suggestion was conducive to "quieting every feeling
The "Sandy Hill Herald," a paper published in Miller's own county, took up his cudgels to the extent of remonstrating with a certain amount of sympathy against such ridicule:
"We are not prepared to say how
far the old man is from correct, but one thing, we doubt not
that he is sincere. Certainly all who have heard him lecture,
or have read his works, must acknowledge that he is a sound reasoner,
and, as such, is entitled to fair arguments from those who differ
with him. Yet his opponents do not see fit to exert their reasoning
powers, but content themselves by denouncing the old gentleman
as a 'fanatic,' a 'liar,' deluded old fool,' 'speculator,' etc.
Mr. Miller is now, and has been for many years, a resident of
this county, and as a citizen, a man, and a Christian, stands
high in the estimation of all who know him; and we have been pained
to hear the grey-headed, trembling old man denounced as a 'speculating
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, "Gazette" took up more or less the same vein, and in one of its issues of that year made the following comments:
"We do not concur with Mr. Miller
in his interpretations of the prophecies; but we see neither reason
nor Christianity in the unmerited reproach which is heaped upon
him for an honest opinion. And that he is honest we have no doubt.
True, we think him in error, but we believe he is honestly so.
The truth is, as far as we apprehend, that many of those
who are so indecorous and vituperative in their denunciations
of Miller are in fearful trepidation, lest the day being so near
at hand 'should overtake them unawares,' and hence, like cowardly
boys in the dark, they make a great noise by way of keeping up
their courage, and to frighten away the bugbears."
One of the greatest trials to William
Miller, however, was the evidence that came from every quarter
that he no longer wholly controlled his followers. Brother Knapp
(a most fiery man), Brother Litch, Brother Storrs, Brother Fitch,
Brother Kirk, Brother Bliss, Brother Patten, Brother Beach, Brother
Whitney, Brother Hook, Brother Galusha, and a host of others ostensibly
preaching according to his doctrine, were, in reality, taking
matters a good deal into their own hands and asserting their own
ideas with apparent authority. He wrote the following words of
warning to them:
"This year, according to our faith, is the last year that Satan will reign in our earth. Jesus Christ will come, and bruise his head. The kingdom of the earth will be dashed to pieces, which is the same thing . The world will watch for our halting. They cannot think we believe what we speak, for they count our faith a strange faith; and now, beware, and not give them any vantage-ground over us. They will perhaps look for the halting and falling away of many. But I hope none who are looking for the glorious appearing will let their faith waver. Keep cool, let patience have its perfect work . This year will try our faith; we must be tried, purified, and made white; and if there should be any amongst us who do not in heart believe, they will go out from us; - but I am persuaded that there cannot be many such . I beseech you, my dear brethren, be careful that Satan gets no advantage over you by scattering coals of wild-fire among you; for, if he cannot drive you into unbelief and doubt, he will try his wild-fire of fanaticism and speculation to get us from the Word of God. Be watchful and sober, and hope to the end . Let us stand strong in the faith, with our loins girt about with truth, and our lamps trimmed and burning and waiting for our Lord - ready to enter the promised land, the true inheritance of the saints. This year the fullness of time will come; the shout of victory will be heard in heaven; the triumphant return of our Great Captain may be expected, the new song will commence before the throne, eternity begin its revolution, and time shall be no more.
"This year - O glorious year!
- the trump of Jubilee will be blown, the exiled children will
return, the pilgrims reach their home, from earth and heaven the
scattered remnants come and meet in middle air - the fathers before
the flood, Noah and his sons - Abraham and his, the Jew and Gentile
This year! the long-looked-for of years! the best! - it has come!"
But the warning to "keep cool"
fell upon deaf ears - it had come too late. Already the wild-fire
spoken of was leaping from heart to heart and from brain to brain
throughout the entire host of credulous human beings now under
the spell of Miller's prophecy. It made no difference that no
specific day had been set by him during that fateful year; his
followers took counsel together and fixed on days according to
their liking - some inclining toward the dates of the Passover
and the Crucifixion, while others looked forward to the season
of the Ascension, or the Feast of the Pentecost, as the most probable
time for the Lord to come. In the villages and hamlets - in the
towns and cities - men and women gazed upward with eager eyes
- waiting for the signs of what was to come.
The tension and nervous exhaustion were
too great for Prophet Miller. While lecturing in the vicinity
of Saratoga Springs, he was seized with an attack of what was
supposed to be erysipelas in his right arm, and his son was hastily
sent for to take him to his home in Low Hampton. On April 6th
he wrote as follows to Elder Himes: "I am now at home; was
brought home six days since. I am very weak in body, but, blessed
be God! my mind, faith, and hope are yet strong in the Lord -
no wavering in my belief that I shall see Christ this year
He was unable to finish his letter,
but his son forwarded it just as it was to Elder Himes - writing
a few lines himself in which he said: "Father is quite low
and feeble, and we fear he may be no better."
According to his biographer, Elder Bliss,
"His complaint manifested itself in a multiplicity and succession
of carbuncle boils, which were a great drain on his system and
wasted his strength rapidly."
On May 3, 1843, he made another attempt to write to Elder Himes:
"My health is on the gain as my
folks would say," he wrote. "I have now only
twenty-two boils, from the bigness of a grape to a walnut, on
my shoulder, sides, back, and arms! I am truly afflicted like
Job and have about as many comforters, only they do not come to
see me as Job's did."
After this as there was no improvement,
his son notified Elder Himes as follows: "Father's health
is no better in the whole. He continues very weak and low, confined
to his bed most of the time."
The fever which now took hold of him
in addition to his other trouble proved almost too much for Prophet
Miller. He came very near to leaving the earth before the allotted
time left for its existence was half exhausted.
Blank consternation marked the faces
of his followers. Elder Himes and Brother Storrs, Brother Litch,
Brother Fitch, and all the brotherhood of preachers and lecturers,
stood in the breach and exhorted them with ringing voices to stand
firm in the faith.
It was a critical moment. Then without
warning something unexpected happened that turned the tide and
swept it onward toward its flood. At noonday, when the sun shone
brightly, a great rival light appeared in the sky blazing out
against the blue! People ran out of their houses to look at it;
pedestrians stood in the streets gazing upward in amazement; news
of it spread like lightening, and in the cities and towns, and
along the highways and byways leading to distant villages and
secluded hamlets, groups of excited men and women and frightened
children stood staring at the celestial stranger.
It was a comet! The great resplendent
comet of 1843! - famous in history as one of the
greatest ever seen to approach our sphere.
Its appearance created a sensation everywhere,
but the exaltation of Miller's followers knew no bounds. Here,
indeed, was a sign to justify their confidence in the near approach
of the end of all things terrestrial! Breathlessly they hastened
to and fro "sounding an alarm to be on the watch for what
was now evidently nigh unto the doors."
There are various accounts to be found
of the great comet of 1843. The following is taken from "Our
First Century," published by C.A. Nichols & Co., in 1881:
"SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF A GREAT AND FIERY COMET IN THE SKIES AT NOONDAY, 1843.
"The comet of 1843 is regarded
as perhaps the most marvelous of the present age, having been
observed in the daytime even before it was visible at night -
passing very near the sun, exhibiting an enormous length of tail;
and arousing interest in the public mind as universal and deep
as it was unprecedented. It startled the world by its sudden
apparition in the spring in the western heavens, like a streak
of aurora streaming from the region of the sun, below the Constellation
of Orion. It was at first mistaken by multitudes for the zodiacal
light, but its aspect and movements soon proved it to be a comet
of the largest class. There were, too, some persons who, without
regarding it like many of the then numerous sect called Millerites,
as foretokening the speedy destruction of the world, still could
not gaze at it untroubled by a certain nameless feeling of doubt
When its distance from the sun allowed it to be
visible after sunset, it presented an appearance of extraordinary
The sight of the awe-inspiring and mysterious visitor brought to the minds of many apprehensive persons a description of the Last Day which appeared in a book called "A View of the Expected Christian Millennium," by Joshua Priest, published in 1828, but which was being read with especial interest at this time. One extract will be sufficient to show how it served to intensify the uneasiness caused by the appearance of this wanderer of the Universe:
"For lo! the planets will begin to wander from their orbs, and dash one against the other; for now is lost the latent principle of the centrifugal power which operates on all the planets, and inclines them to fly off in straight lines into interminable space, which necessarily will give them a tremendous centripetal force toward the sun. That body being the centre, or lowest point in the system, is therefore the centre of attraction to all the planets.
"Here, then, in their descent toward the sun will be a horrible realization of the stars falling from heaven, and of the power of the heavens being shaken; and long before they reach the sun, will dash one against the other, and will be a wreck of matter and a crush of worlds on fire!"