Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), “The Millennium: A Tale of the Last Century,” New World (New York, NY), vol. VIII, no. 4 (whole no. 190), January 27, 1844, pp. 107-109


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[page 107:]

 

 

Original Tale.

 

 

THE MILLENNIUM.

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A TALE OF THE LAST CENTURY.

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The handsome and pleasant town of E——th is situated near the Raritan river, in the State of New Jersey, and is bounded on the north and west by a productive and rich country. It is an exceedingly healthy town, and being of easy access by water with the city of New York, had been chosen by several opulent merchants of that city as their place of residence. These persons had here erected splendid mansions, and the money thus expended had given an impetus to trade that pervaded all occupations. Every citizen was seized with a fever for building; and those who had no money to do so with were generously offered it by those who had. New houses everywhere sprang up. Churches, with towering steeples, rose as if by magic. So great, indeed, was the increase of these, that ministers could not be found in the neighborhood to take charge of them. Calls were therefore sent to other parts for preachers; and one of these was accepted by a preacher of New England. He was a middle-aged man, celebrated for his enthusiasm and knowledge of scripture; but at this time was not the pastor of any congregation, owing to having had a severe attack of brain fever, which, though he was then well, his physician thought might be brought on again if he assumed his charge for some time. On this account, he was the more desirous to accept of the invitation; as he felt that a change of air and associations would be of great benefit to him.

He came to E——th town in the beginning of the year 1798, and received a hearty welcome from the hospitable inhabitants. The Sabbath came upon which he was to preach his first sermon to his new flock. He chose for his subject a part of the twelfth Chapter of Daniel — “And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, ‘how long shall it be to the end of these wonders?’ And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven and sware by him that liveth forever, that it shall be ‘for a time, times and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.’ And I heard, but I understood not. Then said I ‘O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?” And he said, ‘go thy way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand. And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.’ ”

Upon this subject the mind of the preacher had evidently been brooding for some time — as he came prepared with various tables and charts, and numerous notes of events, to prove what he was about to advance. He commenced with diffidence, and somewhat of embarrassment; but as he progressed, he grew warm and impassioned. He appealed, he proved, he exhorted, he warned. He fired with hope, he filled with fear. He melted with pathos, he charmed with modulation, he enraptured with imagery, he enchanted with paintings of changeless bliss. He took the thunderbolt with one hand, and the morning sun-light with the other! He drew the horrors of hell with a finger of flame, and the joys of heaven with a pencil in oil. He stretched his arms above his head, and with his long hair streaming back, his upturned face pale and ghastly from his recent illness, his eyes wild and almost bursting from their sockets, he besought them to come under the wings of the preserving gospel and be saved from the condor of sin! “This, this,” [column 2:] cried he, “is the year which the prophecy foretold should be the last of the world. This completes the year mentioned by Daniel as the time, times and a half. For the ‘daily sacrifice,’ which meant the Pagan rites and ceremonies, was taken away in the year A. D. 508, and the ‘abomination which maketh desolate,’ (that is the Papal power,) ‘set up’ 30 years after, in 538. ‘Times, times and a half’ mean, a year, years, and half a year, that is, 1 year, 2 years, and 6 months — 42 months, or 1260 days; that is 1260 years; days being in the prophecies reckoned as years; and this, too, by the express command of God; for in Numbers, 14th chapter, 34th verse, we find, ‘After the number of days ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years.’ Now, if the ‘abomination were set up’ in 538, and was to continue a ‘time, times, and a half,’ that is, 1260 years, 1798 will be the year in which it and the world shall end. And in continuation of this prediction, what do we find? Why, that on the 15th of February, not two months ago, Alexander Berthier, a French General, deposed the Pope, and took him a prisoner to Paris! Thus fulfilling, to the very letter, a part of the prophecy.

“ ‘And from the taking away of the daily sacrifice, in order to set up the abomination of desolation in its place, until the end of this abomination, shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days;’ so runs the text. Now, my beloved friends, this ‘taking away’ occurred in 508; and one thousand two hundred and ninety years added to this, will bring us to 1798. Yes, the year is upon us, and wo unto him who sees it not. It is proved to be the last by John, in Revelations, xii., 6: ‘The woman fled into the wilderness that they would feed her, a thousand two hundred and three-score days.’ The true Christians, here represented by the figure of the woman, were obliged to fly from the Roman power, when the intolerant laws of Justinian were established in 538 — laws which deprived every citizen, who would not acknowledge the bishop of Rome as head of the church, of all rights and privileges in the empire; and which gave this new Pope power to hold courts, and try all matters of faith, and punish dissenters as he thought proper.

“Again this is proved to be the year, from Revelations, xi, 2: ‘The holy city shall they tread under foot, forty and two months’ — 1260 days. And again, it is proved by Daniel, xii, 25: ‘And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws; and they [the laws] shall be given into his hands, until a time, times, and the dividing of time’ — 1260 days, or years.

“It is proved, too, to be the year, by the fulfillment of another part of the prophecy: ‘When he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.’ Here, ‘to scatter the power of the holy people,’ means not, as many suppose, to diminish, to take from them, to cast in the dust their power; but, to disseminate, to send everywhere, TO SPREAD, as it should have been translated. And has not this power been ‘scattered,’ been spread everywhere? Has not the gospel now been preached to all nations? Have not the missionaries of Christ spread themselves over the inhabitable surface of the globe? Has not the glorious seed of Christianity been planted in the soil of every country, soon to bud and bloom with flowers of Eternal Life? Then, my friends, the time has come; and your happiness for millions of years admonishes you to prepare; to be ready when the Great Guest of time and eternity shall arrive; when the Mighty Judge of heaven and earth shall call you to the bar of justice, to receive the punishment which your transgressions demand, or the rewards which your good deeds deserve.”

He preached for two hours, to an audience listening with breathless attention; and few, indeed, could have conjectured the length of time that had flown. The effect of the sermon was powerful. Many were convinced, and those who were not, still acknowledged that strong argument and great power of thought were shown. The matter was the all-engrossing topic. Every individual became more thoughtful; and all longed for another opportunity to hear the new minister. This gratification was afforded them on the next Sunday, when he chose the third chapter and tenth verse of 2nd Peter: “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the [page 108:] night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up;” and on this text, he fully sustained the opinion created by his first sermon. He wandered through all things to find matter and argument. He called attention to the fulfillment of the prophecy respecting the signs which should precede the last day, as given by Matthew: “The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the power of the heavens shall be shaken;” xxiv., 25. “And have not all these things come to pass?” asked he. “Aye, as truly as we now live. The 19th of May, 1780, was a day of such all-pervading darkness, that beasts and fowls went to rest before noon; farmers had to leave their fields and seek their houses; lights were indispensable for the transaction of ordinary in-door business, from ten o’clock in the morning till bed-time. The moon, too, was full the night preceding; and yet, upon the night of this dark day, she gave no light at all ‘The darkness was so impenetrable,’ remarks a contemporary, ‘that if every luminous body in the universe had been stricken out of existence, the darkness could not have been more complete.’

And have not the stars fallen from heaven? On the night of the 12th of November, 1779, they fell in such myriads that they appeared like a rain of fire! I was a witness of the sight, and I can truly say that it was one of the most awfully grand I ever beheld.

“But not only, my friends, as a thief in the night, will Desstruction [[Destruction]] or Death come upon you: as a burglar and a robber will he visit you. He will not come while you are calmly sleeping, and quietly steal away your life, and you know nothing of it till it is gone. No; he will come while you are resting in the delusion of fancied security, break in upon you, and deprive you of all you possess before your eyes! And it was this consciousness that he had seized upon you, and that you were losing, minute by minute, your existence; that you saw him face to face, battling with all his might, while you could offer no resistance, and only cry for mercy, without a hope of receiving it; it was this horrid consciousness that he must soon overcome you, that would be the crushing, agonizing thought of your last moments!”

Converts were now made in great numbers, and their zeal was as boundless as the supposed greatness of their cause could demand. All business by them was neglected; they met daily and nightly to exhort and confirm; they thought and talked of nothing but the end of all things. “The millennium! the millennium!” as they called it, came from every mouth, sounding, like the voice of warning in the wilderness, “Prepare!” Farmers would not sow nor reap; and, Mr. Conklin, one of the wealthiest and most respected farmers in the neighborhood, gave away all his produce, and his valuable farm, having no further need of them. People prayed for each other whenever they met; chaunted the songs of David in all their walks; and, “Black Sam,” one of Mr. Conklin’s slaves, collected daily his fellow slaves and sang psalms throughout the streets — led off by Sam, who now became indeed a famous psalm singer. The excitement daily increased. Groups could be seen standing at every corner in earnest conversation; signs in the heavens were visible to all. Mr. Austin was everywhere; his enthusiasm had increased with the number of his followers; his sermons were many, and an immense concourse of people collected at each. The whole surrounding country became infected, and he and his members almost wild. All things appeared to them to be changed; even the waters in the rivers had lost their purity; for a citizen, having been some distance to visit an acquaintance, there became intoxicated, and, upon returning home, fell upon the brink of E——th creek and was unable to rise. Mr. Austin, soon after, happening to pass by, and seeing the man lying there nearly insensible, imagined that the water had been turned to liquor, and that the man had been made drunk by partaking thereof. Accordingly he immediately procured a coal of fire and attempted to set the creek in a blaze!”*

Months rolled on, and summer came, but it was a cold and unpropitious [column 2:] one. Vegetation had made but little progress when the middle of June arrived. This was attributed to the influence of the great event soon to take place, and was but another confirmation of the many other signs. Frost was looked for as certainly as we now look for rain; and, those who were not believers, and who wished to enjoy the merriment which the delusion created, had ample opportunity. For, Mr. Austin himself, when waggishly asked, on the 20th of June, if he did not think it would snow, replied, “Certainly, it is nothing more than we may expect.” “Yes,” continued the interrogator, “I, too, think it would snow if it wasn’t so confounded cold that, every time a flake starts to come down, it runs against another and there freezes fast, until the clouds are suspended mountains of ice! When it begins to thaw, you know, Mr. Austin, they must fall, and then wo betide us, for we shall be nothing but human icicles perambulating the streets.”

The time fixed upon as the last day was the 30th of July; and it was determined that, on that night, all the believers should repair to the church near E——th creek, and there await the coming of the end, and the dawn of the beginning! Accordingly they began to assemble toward the close of the afternoon; and, before the going down of the sun, every part of the building was filled to overflowing. The afternoon was warm and cloudy; and, at about seven o’clock, it commenced raining with violence, and so increased until a little before eight, when it somewhat abated and began to blow. The clouds almost touched the earth, and moved in various directions: east, west, noth-east [[north-east]], north-west — marshalling themselves for the dreadful battle about to take place. At last they met, and the onset was terrific; the largest trees were torn up by the roots, as if they had been reeds. Sheds, barns, and houses were levelled with the ground, and their roofs, some of them of the heaviest kind, carried for miles. Rows of brick houses were completely razed — not a brick left standing — and the unfortunate inmates buried alive. The shrieks of the fearful and the dying, mingled with the crash of falling walls and prostrate habitations. The church was in the track of the tornado, and its sides rocked like a ship in a storm. The top was unroofed and carried beyond the stream. The shouts of the congregation now went up, above the howl of the tempest and the noise of its desolation; their cries for mercy and their shouts of joy were heard afar off. The rain came down in torrents. and the lightning’s blaze was almost incessant; the intervals exhibiting a most wonderful phenomenon. Balls of burning matter shot forth in all directions; and, at last, one mighty ball rose in the east, and after ascending to a considerable height, gradually descended so as to form an arch, and set on fire the part of the town it touched! “The wreck of matter and the crash of worlds,” seemed about to take place. The church began to fill with water, and the ardor of the inmates increased. In the lower part they stood to their knees in the flood, and gazed through the roof for the coming of the Messiah. Momentarily it rose upon them, and every few minutes did they witness, passing down the creek by them, cows, horses, and other animals; and, now and then, the domicil [[domicile]] of some unfortunate settler, swept away by the torrent, the wife and children clinging to its sides — passengers for eternity — while the husband hung to the branches of a tree, unable to render them any assistance! Then would go up the shrieks of the beholders, to be answered by the heart-reading cries of the mother and her little ones. Then did the faithful seem to realize what they had so long looked for. Then would they shout aloud for mercy to their unbelieving brethren. Then would they proclaim. in extatic delerium, the annihilation of sin, and the advent of righteousness and endless happiness. Then would they stretch out their arms, and, with upturned faces, spring toward the roofless building’s top, to meet their Saviour and be transported beyond the skies.

But at last the rain ceased, the fire was put out, the sky cleared, and the stars shone forth. The congregation remained in the church until after daylight; and then, finding that the sun rose as usual, departed for their homes, there to brood over their disappointment and the extent to which they had been duped.

The ruin, everywhere next day visible, was immense. The streets of the town were filled with the fragments of the innumerable prostrate buildings; and, along the creek, not a solitary habitation [page 109:] escaped being carried off by the rush of waters. Beneath and around, all was destruction; but above, all was calm and perfect. Many had lost all they possessed, but yet they laughed at their former fears of their common destruction. Mr. Austin, however, was so chagrined at the non-fulfillment of his phrophecy [[prophecy]], that he never attempted to preach again; but soon after gathered together all his property — and he had some thousands of dollars in had [[hard?]] money — and left the place, never to return.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 108, column 1:]

*  A fact.


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Notes:

This slight item was attributed to Poe by Jonas Winchester in an advertisement for the January 27, 1844 issue of the New World. The advertisement appeared in the New York Daily Tribune for January 26, 1844 (p. 3, near the bottom of col. 4), and lists twelve items from that issue. The second item is noted as “2. THE MILLENNIUM — A Tale of the last Century, by E. A. Poe, Esq. — founded on facts.” The item in the New World itself is printed without a byline, and the table of contents was presumably on the printed paper wrappers, which have generally been removed in having the full volume bound. The index for the volume lists items, but does not give the names of authors. The advertisement is signed by J. Winchester, who, as the publisher, was certainly in a position to know who had written the article. There is no sense of hoax or a parody, as for “The Ghost of a Grey Tadpole.” About this time, Poe was a bit between jobs, having broken his association with the Philadelphia Saturday Museum earlier in 1843, and had not yet joined the staff of Willis’s New York Mirror, which he would do later in 1844. Beginning in June 1844 he submitted a series of seven gossipy “letters” to the Columbia Spy, now know collectively as “The Doings of Gotham.” In this context, an item such as the present one is not unthinkable, although no one reading it would necessarily think of Poe as its author, and indeed no scholar seems to have noticed the advertisement and commented on the “tale.” One section that does call Poe to mind, in his humorous writings, is the increasingly emphatic list of “He appealed, he proved, he exhorted, he warned. He fired with hope, he filled with fear. He melted with pathos, he charmed with modulation, he enraptured with imagery . . .” Consider the sequence of exclamations in “Lionizing” and the rapid-fire opening of Poe’s criticism of T. S. Fay’s Norman Leslie.

Rev. David Austin was dismissed by the Presbytery in 1797 for preaching questionable prophecies about the impending end of the world and the second coming of Christ. He continued to preach until May 1808. The “pleasant town of E——th” was Elizabeth, NJ, historically sometimes also called Elizabethtown.

Information about Austin is available in Historical and Biographical Concerning Elizabethtown, Its Eminent Men, Churches and Ministers, by Nicholas Murray, Elizabeth, NJ: E. Sanderson, 1844. It refers to “the insanity of Mr. Austin.” Austin born in 1760, graduated at Yale in 1779, and ordained September 9, 1788. In 1795, he suffered an attack of scarlet fever, which is thought to have affected his mind. Substantially regaining his senses about 1808, and was appointed to a church again as minister in 1815, in Bozrah, CT. He died in Norwich, CT on February 5, 1831.


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