Days of Delusion - A Strange Bit of History
By Clara Endicott Sears, 1924
Having lived part of each year for many years
in the very heart of what was once one of the most vital rural
centres of the great excitement in 1843-44, when William Miller
prophesied the coming end of the world; having had long conversation
with many of the old people who live along the ridges overlooking
the wide sweep of the Nashua Valley and listened to what they
had to tell of days long past, and what they had heard from those
of the generation before them; and having become deeply interested
in the strange psychological influences that swayed thousands
away from the beaten track of normal activities during those years
of atmospheric disturbances and overwrought spiritual and mental
emotions, it occurred to the author that there must be a good
many still living, in various parts of the country, whose recollections
would be of value, and that all these gathered together would
bring before us at close range a vivid picture of one of the most
peculiarly emotional and hysterical episodes in the ins and outs
of our past history. Consequently the following "Notice"
was inserted in the columns of many of the leading newspapers
issued in the States where the delusion had its strongest foothold.
It reads as follows:
Has any reader of this paper any
recollection of having heard parents or grandparents tell of the
great religious excitement in 1843, the year that William
Miller predicted the end of the world?
The immediate response was proof of the interest
now widely prevalent in preserving everything relating to bygone
days, whether of concrete facts or mental states, that can help
to interpret the times to which they belonged. Members of Historical
Societies in various places suggested ways and means of acquiring
material, and gave the names of persons who could give reliable
information. This assistance, as well as a spontaneous response
from many quarters from those who love to recall the past and
hold it in tender memory, has enabled the author to turn her account
of this strange bit of psychological history into more or less
of a human document. No attempt has been made to unravel the
various points of William Miller's doctrine. A few explanations
regarding his prophecy have been necessary in order to make clear
the reasons that started the wave of agitation, which, gaining
headway, carried thousands of over-impressionable men and women
out on to a sea of dreams and delusions. First and foremost of
those carried out was William Miller himself - an honest and sincere
man, held fast in the throes of a fixed idea.
Any anecdotes of that period,
or any information however trivial will be
gratefully received by
Clara Endicott Sears.
Address, etc., etc.
Out of a great number of letters received,
the author has quoted only from those giving personal recollections
or recollections received directly from near relatives, and has
made sure of the sources from which she has drawn. The dating
of the letters varies from 1920 to 1923.
The rest of the book needs no explanation -
it tells the tale through the testimony of the writings and various
outside reminiscences of that day, and through data collected
by the author during years of neighborly intercourse with many
of the dear people of Worcester and Middlesex Counties. She has
tried to write the book in such a way as to give offence to none,
and at the same time draw a truthful picture of those hysterical
days with the aid of the material acquired by her through her
appeal to the public.
The collection of original letters, many of
which have in them material which the author would have liked
to use, but which her limited space did not permit, will, after
being bound, find a niche in the library of the Society for the
Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston.
Clara Endicott Sears