Richard Brothers.

Original title page

As we have just seen, Mr Ingram believed that the Israelites would return to the Holy Land soon after 1792. Richard Brothers went one step further: he expected to lead them there, for he was the “Revealed Prince and Prophet” in the title of this extraordinary product of delusion.

There was a Part 2 to this work, whose title page is also reproduced here. The two parts together caused quite a stir when they were published in 1794, and in the following year they inspired quite a number of religious tracts, some in favour of Mr Brothers’ claims, some against. To give a better picture of this eccentric corner of English history, we shall refer to some of these other tracts in addition to Mr Brothers’ own work.

Richard Brothers was not the most well-balanced of men. According to Joseph Moser, who knew him and wrote a little tract about him entitled Anecdotes of Richard Brothers (1795), he had for several years suffered from “a mental derangement”. For example, he was in the habit of instructing his landlady to prepare tea for himself and “a lady visitor”, whereupon he would sit by the open window until it went dark. Puzzled by this, his landlady ventured to ask him “if he expected the lady would fly in at the window?” This elicited the reply that “there were mysteries above her comprehension”, and there was an end of the matter. His ‘visitor’, it seems, was to “descend from the clouds”, but who she was or whether she ever turned up, I have been unable to discover.

Mr Moser believed that Mr Brothers had spent too much time alone in the earnest study of religious books, and that these had had “the same effect upon his brain that romances and books of chivalry….had had upon that of Don Quixote.” It is possible, of course, that Mr Ingram’s tract was among these books. It is not known why Mr Brothers periodically set fire to his books, but apparently he did.

His hermit-like seclusion ended in 1792, when he started to circulate in the outside world again. At this stage of his career he got it into his head that he could restore sight to the blind, and he attracted a considerable number of blind people to his lodgings on this account. It would seem, though, that it was not so much the prospect of a cure which attracted them, as the gifts of money which went with it!

By 1794, of course, he was in close contact with God and firmly convinced that he was destined to lead the Israelites back to Jerusalem. The result was A Revealed Knowledge parts 1 and 2.

The books are heavily larded with biblical quotations, but are nevertheless quite readable for the hilarity of Mr Brothers’ direct contacts with God. Book 1 opens with a revised computation of the age of the world. Apparently God had dropped in on our author and commanded him to revise the generally accepted chronology, as it was all wrong. Naturally Mr Brothers did as he was told, and worked out that as of 1794 exactly 5913 years had elapsed since Creation.

He then proceeded to tell his readers that the exceptionally loud thunder heard in January 1791 was the voice of the angel prophesied in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation. Apparently God was angry and all set to destroy London “with fire from heaven.” But Mr Brothers pleaded with Him, and, ten days later, “from the middle of a large white cloud”, God announced that He would spare London after all, adding, “in a strong clear voice”, that “there is no other man on earth that could stand before me to ask for so great a thing.” If his entreaties hadn’t been heeded by the Almighty, Mr Brothers added, the place where London now stands would have ended up at the bottom of a newly created inlet of the English Channel, “all the Lands between Windsor and the Downs…sunk, including a distance of eighteen miles each side…to a depth of seventy fathoms.”

On May 17th 1792, as commanded by God, Richard Brothers turned up at the Houses of Parliament to “acquaint the members of their own personal safety and general benefit of the country.” Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let him in, and he was turned away with “unfeeling contempt and incivility.”

By August 1793 God was really angry again, and the thunderous voice of the angel of Revelation chapter 19 was heard. This, apparently, foretokened world desolation on the 15th of that month, but, as Mr Brothers put it, “from HIS GREAT MERCY and regard for ME, that I may be esteemed in this country and by all others when I am revealed” God had “suspended His Judgement for a Time.”

As I’ve already said, by being “revealed” Mr Brothers meant that he would be proved to be the Prince and Prophet of Israel, and that he would lead the Jews back to Jerusalem. As he put it:

“I am the Prophet that will be revealed to the Jews to order their departure from all Nations to go to the Land of Israel, their own country, in a similar manner to Moses in Egypt, but with additional power.”

This restoration of the Jews to their native land, as we have seen elsewhere, is supposed to be prophesied in verses like Jeremiah 23.3, and Mr Brothers believed himself to be prophesied, albeit obscurely, in Isaiah 11.1. He thought that his “revealing” as Prince of the Jews would take place in November 1795, and he calculated, from the eighth chapter of the Book of Daniel, that the Jews would be restored to Jerusalem some time in 1798.

As for his qualifications for this unique task, we should add that Mr Brothers believed himself to be directly descended from David, King of Israel. He explained:

“It is fifteen hundred years since my family was separated from the Jews, and lost all knowledge of its origin; the last on record in the Scripture is James: 13th chap. 55th ver. of St Matthew. Told me by Revelation.”

On the basis of this, in 1793 Mr Brothers actually began to refer to himself as the Nephew of the Almighty.

But trouble was looming just around the corner. At the end of the edition of his book which was published in February 1795, he printed the following paragraph:

“The Lord God commands me to say to you, George the Third, King of England, that immediately on my being revealed in London to the Hebrews, as their prince, and to all nations as their governor, your crown must be delivered up to me, that all your power and authority may cease.”

This, of course, was treason, and Mr Brothers was arrested and imprisoned on March 4th, 1795. (Actually it would seem that he was confined as much for criminal lunacy as treason.)

By this time, however, he had attracted the support of Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, the MP for Lymington. On March 31st 1795 Mr Halhed delivered a speech to the House of Commons, “Respecting the Confinement of Mr Brothers, the Prophet.”

Mr Halhed argued that governments have always had an unfortunate habit of “frequent and palpable inattentions….to discoveries of the utmost importance, and which have afterwards given a new turn to the affairs of mighty empires.” Far from turning Mr Brothers away from Parliament back in May 1792, they should have brought him in and let him speak. Mr Halhed concluded with the motion that “there be laid before this House a copy of the books written by Richard Brothers.” No-one seconded the motion, however.

Origianl title page of Part 2

In a second speech on April 21st 1795, Mr Halhed denied not only the charge of treason laid against Richard Brothers, but also the charge of insanity. Far from being a lunatic, he argued, Mr Brothers had “that versatility of thought and sentiment which in all other writers is deemed one of the first essentials of genius.” He went on to move that a copy of the warrant for the apprehension of Richard Brothers be put before the House, together with a copy of the information on which this warrant was grounded. No-one seconded this motion either.

Also in April 1795, Mr Halhed published a tract. It was entitled Testimony of the Authenticity of the Prophecies of Richard Brothers and of his Mission to Recall the Jews.

On May 4th 1795 Mr Brothers was placed in an asylum, where he continued to write prophetic pamphlets. But once 1795 had come to an end, without any palpable sign from God that he was indeed the Prince of the Jews, Mr Halhed apparently lost faith, and abandoned him. His release was eventually secured in 1806 by another disciple called John Finlayson, with whose family he eventually went to live, until his death in 1824.

There is an interesting article on Richard Brothers in the Dictionary of National Biography.